Sunday, July 03, 2011

The Spiral and the Plunge

My stepmother is in the hospital. It is not trivial. She is currently on a respirator, because she is unable to breathe on her own. The doctors are keeping her in a forced coma, so that she will not dislodge her feeding and breathing tubes. If it weren't for the occasional involuntary swallow, you could mistake her for a corpse having air forcibly pumped into her lungs.

Which is not to say that she is as good as dead. Her heartbeat and blood pressure are good, and the CT showed no evidence of a stroke, which they initially feared. It appears to be pneumonia, and the doctors hope that once they have cleared up the infection, they can back off the respirator and let her breathe on her own again. Past experience tells me that people apparently at death's door can fight back and live well for several more years.

But it brings home so many things. The thing is, she and my father and my mother and my step-father have all experienced rapid and lingering declines in health over the past year or so. My wife's grandmother as well. I mean, they've all had problems for decades--heart problems, bowel problems, osteoarthritic problems. Bad knees, bad backs, bad teeth, thinning hair... The same slow downward spiral that I'm now starting to experience. But recently, the decline has accelerated into a plunge.

It's scary to see them all deteriorate so quickly, and all at once. Scarier still to show up at the hospital and see my step-brother for the first time in several years--his head shaved nearly bald to hide his natural hair loss, pudgy, with glasses and a stark-white goatee. My dark-haired athletic brother has somehow morphed into Burl Ives. And when I look in the mirror, it's hard to deny the evident miles on my own odometer.

Just as I am starting to feel optimistic about my possibilities for the future, I am reminded that my time is finite, and there's a good possibility that much of it will involve a frustrating downward slide that I'm helpless to stop. My dad and I talked a lot yesterday, about the past and the future. He spoke with some bitterness that I've never sensed from him before. He is a private man, secretive, like me only more so, because he doesn't have the same inclinations toward being a raconteur that I have.

He told me about how much weight he has lost recently. I felt his arm and his thigh and was shocked. My father spent most of his life on one crutch, because polio had rendered one leg useless. He walked on one leg and one arm and used the other arm to carry what other people used two to do. His arms were steel, his good leg an oak. Now his limbs are thin and frail. It's hard to accept, and harder still to accept that I'll be there too, and sooner than I like to think.

But at the same time, I published the final chapter of Hero Go Home on Friday, and got a comment that said, "AWESOME!!!!!!!!!! THIS WAS EPIC!!!" and another, more reasoned comment that was also very complimentary, so even while I'm scared and contemplating my own and others' mortality, I'm also feeling pretty good. Life refuses to be pinned down to one emotional response at a time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm only 39, but I have started to feel it too - mortality. Often not a good feeling, no. It creeps up on you, like the blob, and suddenly kids you saw born are teenagers and people you think of as young have their own children and aren't exactly young anymore. I'm sure hanging out with us kids doesn't help that any. ;)