I awoke a couple of mornings back,and the first thought that came to mind was that father’s birthday is in 2 weeks time. I never have an issue trying to figure out his age as it is an easy addition of 30 to mine. This year he would be 75. A milestone which we would have celebrated with family and friends. A highlight for the year.
My father passed 16 years ago and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him. Like many others,ours was a relationship that was marked by high and lows, of changing levels of parenting and independence, of the trials of growing older and that of letting go.
As a father myself, I see the evolution of the child that you bring to earth become an individual with their own unique personalities and traits. My son, who already reaches up to my chin, reminds me of myself when I was his age. His personality and interests might be different, but the way he gets lost in his books, his love of certain fruits and sports, unmistakably me in a different guise. There are times though, like when he is busy preening his hair in the mirror, the face that I see reflected back is that of my father’s. I can’t help thinking that are all lifes just the same? Subtle manifestations of previous generations, repeating itself again and again?
My fathers’s last couple of years was marked by the disease that had been gnarling at his body since he was in his thirties.The medical term for it is Diabetes Mellitus, or simply diabetes.
Though his blood sugar levels was controlled by medication, the disease had eroded his vision. After years of living with dark spots on his retina, he lost his vision. Not being able to read or watch television, he spent his days keeping my mother company in our house kitchen,the radio providing background music to their punctuated conversation.
After the eyes, it was the kidneys that came under attack. Diabetes is a disease that attacks the organs, creating havoc to the smaller blood vessels in them. He was put on what seemed a complicated process of dialysis to keep him alive. He took upon this task diligently, his punctilious trait coming to fore. Even then, I could see that he was growing weaker, at times needing my support when we made our monthly visits to the hospital. His food intake was curtailed and even his water consumption was closely monitored. With all the medication and dialysis, the disease still had the upper hand. He couldn’t partake his favourite foods and a change of diet to bland sustenance was another blow to his spirits. Was is the meaning of living, if the process of living itself has to be adjusted beyond the norm, I oft thought to myself.
One morning, over breakfast, he turned to mum and said, “Our story is done, it’s now their turn to write theirs”, looking at me and my new bride.They say that we will know when our time has come, perhaps this was what he had sensed that day. His last month with us was one which is typical of today’s dying process. A sudden emergency, a hurried rush to hospital, anxious wait for the assessment, and then a miraculous recovery, a reprieve.
The time in between hospital visits became shorter. For no matter what, in reality, the baseline for what is considered “Good Enough” for a hospital discharge gets lower and lower after each visit.
A massive stroke prompted our last trip to the hospital, and though they knew the chances were slim,the doctor’s did everything they could and more to keep his body alive. Wires and tubes, mask and machines, holes and bags. A modern hospital is a wonderful mix of software and hardware. Doctors with immaculate bedside manners trying their best to keep a patient alive with the latest technological advancement in equipment and medication. Humans however are biological creatures with a finite life span, though they understand that, Doctors do their best to prolong the inevitable. More for the family members benefit than the patients perhaps.
He slipped into a deep coma, breathing laboured, and all of us family members, exhausted and drained, slept on the hospital room floor, a couple of feet away. At around 2 am that morning, my mother woke us up.She had an uncanny feeling that he was ready to leave, so she gathered us around him to say our final goodbyes and watch him breath his last.
As I blew the candles on my last birthday cake, I looked at my wife and remarked that I am now the age her oldest brother had passed, also due to diabetic. And as I write, there is an uncle in hospital, shot full of antibiotics by doctor’s desperate to save his leg, ravaged by the same disease that has also taken 2 grandparents and numerous other close relatives.
With my family medical history, I have been told that diabetic is a train that is heading to my station. I can’t stop it, only to try my very best to slow it as much as possible. I see it as a responsibility of mine to delay the disease for as long as possible, not just for me, but for my children as well.
We have changed our diet as a family, made effort to include exercise as a daily routine and made mandatory full blood check ups to catch the disease as early as possible. The fight though is uphill. The food that we consume is full of hidden sugars and carbohydrates. Though I am accustomed to reading between the ingredient lines, more can be done to highlight the dangers of diabetic and how the food and drinks that we consume effect it.
The statistics are out there on the number of people who will suffer from this disease, and yet, when I see the amount of processed carbohydrate and sugar that we consume, it appears that we have not done anything to change what is ahead of us. Everyday, the power of marketing and the billion dollar industries deploying them are pushing us towards a direction that cannot end well.
We often think that we can beat the odds and be the exception. Hope, we call it. As humans it’s one of those things, plus resilience and perseverance that we consider as a positive trait for survival. There is a downside to hope however. We can underestimate our chances of getting the disease or overestimate our ability in handling it. And when that happens, it might be too late.
I pray I don’t become one of those.