Thursday, April 23, 2009

Family Matters

Radio Operator George Perry
Aboard the USS Norris, 1945
South China Seas

Destroyer, USS Norris

So my father, in his eighties, developed pneumonia and had to be hospitalized a few days ago. My sister called, and it was serious -- ICU kind of serious -- but the doctors  seem to think he was not quite ready to shuffle off, and no need to gather the family to say good-bye.

After repeatedly pulling out his IVs, his breathing mask off, and being his usual cantankerous self, he got well enough to be transferred off the ICU to a room, and, is eating, walking around, and being his usual cantankerous self. Will probably be released to go home in a couple days.

He has Alzheimer's, doesn't exercise at all, doesn't eat much, and is still smoking cigarettes, though he' s down to half a pack a day.

After sixty-odd years of coffin nails, he does have emphysema, which is why the pneumonia was dangerous, but why the cigarettes haven't killed him by now is purely genetic. I had to guess, we're probably talking somewhere north of four hundred thousand cigarettes smoked. (Every time somebody tries to get him to quit, he points at his grandfather. Great-Grampaw Johnson lived into his nineties, died from pneumonia he developed in the hospital after he fell and broke his hip, and smoked Camels and drank Old Crow up until then. Puffed away for more than eighty years, started with hand-rolled before he could afford the store-boughts, and none of those sissy filter things ...)

I have mentioned that the lack of oxygen to Daddy's brain due to smoking probably hasn't helped his mental state, but he's not gonna quit, and that's that. 

My sister, bless her, has been running around taking care of things, shuttling my mother back and forth, and the like, and calling me daily to fill me in. What she gets for living near our parents.

I'm gonna have to fly down there once things settle a bit, and see what the situation is. My mother is hardly in shape to be taking care of my father as he loses his ability to think, and I believe it's time for my sister and I to talk about eventualities.

My father was never an easy man to be around when I was a boy. He had a short and hot temper, no patience, and came from a generation in which the men earned the livings and the children were raised by the women. I have to reach to find some fond memories of hunting or fishing or doing man things. There are a few.

He was a better grandfather, and an even better great-grandfather, from what I hear, mellowed some, but he knew everything and was never, ever wrong. My job, from the time I could remember, was to keep the peace, to keep things calm so Daddy wouldn't get upset. And the quickest way to upset him was to disagree with him about anything. 

One of my favorite stories is when I went home to visit and my mother and I were discussing birds. I told her about the magpies we have in eastern Oregon. I described the critter, and my father allowed as how it was some kind of barn swallow. My mother went and fetched the birdwatcher's book, probably Peterson's Guide, and showed it to him, to which my father said, "The book is wrong!"

I grew up with that. 

But, he's my father. And I'm the oldest son, so I need to go and see what's what.

Tolstoy had it: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way ...


Worg said...

You're probably one of those guys who is just lucky with old age. I guess I kind of am too, I take after my dad and he's still benching and looking pretty damn good, I'm going to try to keep in better condition over time though.

Something that's really hard for me to see is the antiaging drugs that are just around the corner, and knowing that both of my parents will probably miss them. But you never know.

steve-vh said...

My father has smoked for at least 45years and has only quit breifly a few times. He's on his fourth wife, my mother died 20yrs ago after trying hard to keep HIM healthy so they could die old together.
All the men on my dad's side have had their first heart attack by 57, that ain't gonna be me.
He's already had two triple bypasses, keeps on smoking. Now his heart muscle is slowly dieing but he figures it's too late I guess.

Dojo Rat said...

My Dad is going in for his third heart surgery next week.
He smoked a tobacco pipe years ago, drank lightly, but got very little exercise and Had a desk job.
I suppose being a poor martial artist with a manual labor job (farm & landscape work) is my best bet to improve on his health record. He's still tickin' along though!

Dan Moran said...

My dad died of throat cancer at 72, brought on by cigarette smoking in his 30s. But the decade plus prior to that point, we got along.

Our family was moderately unhappy when I was a teenager, but things got better when the bunch of us made it to adulthood. Unhappy families can become happy families, is sort of my point, though certainly it's not guaranteed. If my dad had died at 44, when he hadd his first heart attack, my memories would be balanced pretty well good and bad. If he'd died in his 50s, they'd have been mostly negative. But he died in his 70s, and they're mostly positive, though I admit, there's some math involved to get to that point ... :-)

Some guy said...

For me the whole aging thing is a wild card, because I never knew my biological father (at least not since I was old enough to remember). My family on my mother's side seems to be reasonably long-lived but I don't have any data on the other. But my system seems to be ridiculously homeostatic (or maybe I'm just lazy) and I seem to be aging reasonably well cosmetically speaking, so I have hopes that the important internal things are proceeding as slowly. Reverse race, anybody?