Birthday Memories

Getting Older Isn’t Easy

Holidays don’t mean much to me. Birthdays mean even less. I can’t say that I can even remember one.

Yesterday was my birthday. It was the worst and the best.

I’m the youngest of my mother’s kids. By the time I was old enough to understand anything my brother was already a doctor. My mother always talked about how he decided to be a doctor at 9 and that never changed. He was a practicing OB/GYN for 35 years.

But then he moved back home to Ohio. He was sick and he kind of knew it.

He took over the patriarchal role because my father had passed. The houses and the family became his responsibility in a way. But he was sick.

He’s stubborn so he decided to do nothing about it. And no one fought him because he was okay enough.

Until he wasn’t.

Last fall I got an apartment in LA for my son and he to live in for 3 months so my son could intern during his gap year. My brother could be near his daughter in LA. He lived for these opportunities so I knew he loved it.

But he never showed up. It started with excuses about the house in Ohio needing work. Then it was something in Northern California. But he was stalling so I stopped asking.

I wasn’t pissed because he let us down. I was pissed because he was lying and I couldn’t say anything because I didn’t want him to lose face. It was a pride thing.

So when we went to Ohio for Christmas and saw how sick he was and that he’d packed a bag for 3 months in LA that was never used. We knew it wasn’t good. He’d lost 20 pounds and didn’t look well. He said it was the flu. No one believed him but we had to respect he had his reasons. I told him if I had to come back because he wasn’t any better then I would be making the decisions.

Now two weeks before my niece’s graduation from NKU my younger step-brother tells me I need to come home. He’d gotten worse and it was too much for my mother to deal with. Amazing how well my mother and sister held up as he was continuing to shut down.

So I go home and tell him what to do. Period. He said he’d lost another 20 lbs. because he had a pneumonia. But now his legs were so swollen he could barely walk. He was becoming annoyed with my mother that was merely trying to help. He didn’t want anybody’s help. He was getting better and he wanted everyone to leave him alone.

He wasn’t.

So I was in charge now. We go to a doctor and get blood work back on his birthday.

No fun.

The results arrive on my birthday — 2 days later — and the doctor calls me and says to take him to the ER immediately because his kidneys have shut down. My mother wonder if we should tell him where we’re going.

I don’t ask my brother. I tell him we are going.

He doesn’t argue and we go. On my birthday. For 3 years my brother hadn’t as much had a check-up and wouldn’t use a cane even though he could barely walk.

But as soon as the nurse rolled up to him with a wheelchair at the hospital he sat down. Respectfully and thankfully.

Where he’d fought losing independence for 3 years he willingly and somewhat joyfully enjoyed every step of the process from checking in to testing to waiting. He chatted with the nurses and doctors like he’d know them. He even liked the food. All of it. Every person who came in the room was a friend. Like he’d known them for 35 years.

The doctors were confused and concerned considering his condition. He was a physician so they immediately went into help mode. It wasn’t the typical doctor-patient back and forth. It was peer-to-peer. He was at home and they were going to help him.

We sat together for 8 hours while he sat in his gown while nurse after nurse poked him and doctor after doctor questioned him. Normally he complains about the service everywhere he goes. Not at the hospital. He thanked everyone for doing their job and they appreciated it. He was at home.

The entire time I was there I was sending texts to my sister and brother to tell them what was happening so they could tell our mother. I kept the vibe entertaining because on some level it was.

He told me it was okay for me to leave but that wasn’t happening. I pulled up a chair with my laptop and worked so he wouldn’t think I was hovering over him. I had shoes to draw so it was cool. I still watched over everything and reported it to my family.

However, I did leave one thing out.

Three times throughout the day the doctors asked him knowingly about his wishes on the DNR code. They did it in a way that was private even though I was in the room. “Don’t,” he told each doctor. They responded with an appreciative smile and said, “I understand.”

By 8 PM he was sleeping peacefully and I left him with his people. There’s more tests to look at and well get results this morning. They have to treat his swollen legs and decide how to treat his kidneys. But he’s at peace with whatever happens and so are the rest of us.

I got to see my brother be a doctor (though as a patient) for my birthday and I can’t imagine a better day.

Update: My brother is doing much better now. He doesn’t enjoy being cared for, so we get of complaints. That means he’s definitely getting stronger.