Fella never got a fair shake. Youngest child in tough times, wanting food and attention when Europe was busy exploding. A part of it exploded in his face, and he wasn’t expected to live.
But he did anyway. He was planning to throw himself into the river if his hearing didn’t come back, but it did. So he lived. He could only see properly out of one eye, but that still seemed pretty reasonable. What’s depth perception to a twelve year old? Nothing but a special effect. You can learn around it. Neuroplasticity is a wonderful thing.
Late bloomer, bullied by the bigger kids. Reminded repeatedly that he was worthless, and a burden. Nobody ever listened to what he had to say. His siblings mocked him.
He got tall. He got a family. He ran like hell. He became a diver in South America. He helped to discover Hepatitis C, by suffering from it. His doctors said he would die. But then he didn’t. He tried to go back to his family but they didn’t want him anymore.
Somewhere in there he started going a little bit crazy. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, he had the wrong kinds of chemicals holding sway over his brain. Some couple go a lot crazy, so going a little crazy wasn’t all that bad. It just meant he got very, very angry at people in a pattern that was hard to predict.
He got another family. Same kind, with one boy and one girl and a wife. This time things went a bit better. He got good jobs as a skilled tradesman, and used his keen problem-solving ability to day by day engineering concerns.
But he also got very mad, so one day he had a disagreement with a fellow tradesman who – and forgive me that I’m fuzzy on the details, but it’s not my story – caved in the front of his brain with a metal girder.
The doctors said he was extremely nearly dead. They said they were clinically sure he would be definitely dead pretty soon, but hedged their bets by offering that if he weren’t quite all the way dead he would at least become a permanently comatose decorative object, like Han Solo frozen in carbonite except needing things.
But he woke up anyway. His brain rebooted and he even knew who he was and who won the war and everything. He couldn’t work, though.
I married his daughter, and her strange European customs included keeping old people around instead of hiding them or dodging them. She said Old Oak wasn’t nearly as very very angry as he used to be, for his brain injury had mellowed him. Sometimes that happens, but usually it doesn’t. This time it did.
But he was still pretty crazy. Certainly, he was the craziest person I knew. I admit that in my initial naïveté I was startled and left a bit helpless when I learned that his condition was immune to reason.
Mental illness can be hard to grok in this way.
I mean, I was using my very best superpower I had and it got me nowhere. I don’t box. What other conflict resolution strategies exist?
Anyway, I figured it out. I learned a lot of patience, and how to gracefully absorb verbal blows…how to stand in the face of somebody’s wrath and stay on mission. That was especially good because it’s very hard to take a class for.
That was all old hat for my wife. She’d learned how to handle him when she was teenaged. She tutored me through it. I read about bipolar disorder. Learning is fun!
Still, things were a little rocky between us until one day I hauled up and punched him in the gut. It’s been pretty much smooth sailing ever since. Which goes to show you that there is a method of negotiation between reason and violence: it’s patient empathy mixed with the occasional wallop.
Cancer slowed Old Oak down a bit, but they clipped it out. Old Oak kept on going.
But his right hand was curling in, and his coordination was decaying. He started tipping over and falling into things like the sides of schoolbuses and also county highway roads, on several occasions giving himself nasty scalp lacerations and narrowly avoiding becoming roadkill.
My wife is very good with a laceration. I intend to keep her at close hand whenever I become injured.
Old Oak had contracted Stephen Hawking cooties, otherwise known as ALS, the degenerative nerve diseases known as Lou Gehrig’s disease by people who remember who the fuck Lou Gehrig was, and how to spell his name.
Like Stephen Hawking, Old Oak’s response to the disease was atypical. Instead of having his brain go (top down), he was losing sway over himself starting from the extremities (bottom up). If you have very clever things to reckon about black holes this is a real advantage. If you are old and sick it sucks, because instead of dying straight away you get to sit back and watch yourself become progressively paralyzed. It’s like a bad book where you know how it ends, but you’re never allowed to stop reading.
The only cure is space aliens, or Auror magic, or something illegal.
Some people think he should die in a hospital but Old Oak thinks he should die at home. This is one of those subjects folks disagree on, like whether embryo murdericide is wrong or if “global” warming “is” a sham.
Some people said palliative care is too tough to hack alone, so you should apply to get Glorious Soviet Canuckistan to foot the bill for house calls from pretty nurses. And since I am a very cheap bastard and also lazy I was so into that. The nurse is not pretty but she is very friendly and does a good job.
But then…fella is finally getting around to dying all properly when suddenly nurse-face ups and calls the wahmbulance.
Littlestar hands over all the appropriate paperwork to ensure the desired level of resuscitation, which is none at all. The very professional and excellent paramedics rush Old Oak to the hospital and the very important medical-type persons there decided that resuscitating him is probably the best thing to do.
So once again Old Oak wakes up in the hospital, just like when the bomb exploded at him and when his liver canipted and his forebrain got mashed.
But this time he’s not pleased to come around. The hospital is very disappointing when you’re hoping for the afterlife.
He offers some opinions to the medical professionals on hand that are perhaps overly familiar in their phrasing, strictly speaking. And, despite it being a very touchy subject like circumcision or feminism, Old Oak even lights on some end of life issues.
There are some disagreements among the points of view present. I’m not there. I’m at home looking out the window at the police cruiser sitting in the driveway, waiting to see whether or not the Old Schoolhouse is a crime scene because unauthorized death has happened. Later on he’ll drive away to question our pharmacist.
When Littlestar goes back to the hospital Old Oak has been assigned a two man security detail and is in restraints. His shoulders are purple and bruised from people holding him down while they jammed tubes down his throat. The nurses feel that Old Oak is not playing along nicely. They’re just trying to save his life, after all.
Littlestar gets him the fuck out of the hospital.
Today he came home. He was ferried inside by three paramedics with a bunch of nifty equipment for managing stairs and so on. It’s the same sort of hardware they used to extract him from the Old Schoolhouse when he was nearly all the way dead. It was all new to him this time around.
Once he’s in the coolio robot bed with the upsie-downsie humming motor and all that the paramedics leave. It isn’t appropriate to tip them in my country, so the whole parade costs nothing. It turns out to be a relatively inexpensive venture to have a slightly dead person escorted into your house. What an age we live in!
What they never show you in movies is how stinking heavy people without functioning nerves are. It’s just pounds and pounds of meat and narrow. Plus, like, whatever he ate I guess. Anyway he’s the size of Slozo, like Viking sized or whatever, so I appreciated the paramedics awesome gizmos all the more when we didn’t have them but still had to manoeuvre Old Oak around. Holy crap! It’s like a bag of rocks – a bag of rocks that kind of needs a bath.
(I call out, “…Bobo?”)
As I drag him along, figuring each move like a puzzle, trying desperately to devise a working urination solution because it’s too late, I wonder whether I will be called upon to cross the final frontier. You know what I’m talking about. I don’t have long to wonder about it.
Yes, tonight I changed his diapers.
I don’t know if this makes me now an uber-daddy or something, but it’s surely some kind of rite of passage – at least in the elder care realm. For years I’ve put up with elders when they try be needlessly helpful, I’ve pretended to respect them when they try to tell me stuff I know better about, and even listened to long boring stories about crap that nobody on television cares about. But this particular pop is a new cherry for me. There ought to be a badge I could intend to sew on something and forget about and later throw out. That kind of recognition is priceless.
Later, I stayed on for punch and pie with Missus Oak. Now I am drunk. The end.
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