Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Personal Doom Strikes My Immediate Family
This past weekend I received the kind of news that strikes out of the blue like lightning bolt and knocks the wind right out of you. My younger brother is 42-years-old, father of a young son and daughter, and a physician who was recently able to open his own clinic and is just now entering the prime of his medical career. Being much more focused than I as a young man, he decided while still in high school that he wanted to become a doctor. His primary motivation was to help people, and he has always looked down on those among his colleagues who got into the medical profession primarily for the money.
Though sickly as a young child after having been born severely premature, as an adult he's always been in excellent health and kept himself in great shape. We both ran our first marathon together five years ago, before I suffered a torn ACL that put an end to my distance running days. Though his children are still quite young, he ensured that they got plenty of exercise as soon as they were old enough to walk. The family built their dream house in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, and there is nothing my brother loves more than taking the kids hiking on the many trails that snake through the area.
Back in June, my brother developed a chronic illness that began sapping him of his physical energy. Because he lives in a semi-rural community, the initial diagnosis was that he had contracted Lyme disease. He had been undergoing treatment for that for that past few months, but didn’t seem to be getting any better.
Finally, this past week his doctors decided to give him an MRI. The verdict could not possibly have been worse: the most positive scenario is that he has contracted Multiple Sclerosis, but more likely the verdict is Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known colloquially as Lou Gehrig’s disease. As I have since learned to my horror, the median survival time from onset to death of this disease ranges from 2 to 3 years. Even if the patient is lucky enough to survive longer than that, they become bedridden and virtually helpless.
Lou Gehrig’s disease is very rare, with only around 5,000 new cases reported annually in the U.S. And here is the real horror, right out of Wikipedia: "because the disease usually does not affect cognitive abilities, patients are aware of their progressive loss of function and may become anxious and depressed." Gee, ya think?
Frankly, a diagnosis of cancer would have been easier to take. At least in many cases with cancer, you still have a chance of survival and complete recovery if it’s caught early enough.
Though we’ve had our spats and fights over the years, my brother and I have been fairly close as adults. He was one of the first people I confided in after becoming aware of peak oil back in 2008. He read the copy of Jim Kunstler’s, The Long Emergency, I gave to him, and fully understands the severe implications of what our society is facing from peak oil and resource depletion. In fact, he remains the only person I can talk to in meat space about these issues without couching my words or holding back my real thinking on the subject.
It all serves as a stark reminder that no matter how much any of us think we have got it figured out and no matter how prepared we think we might be for the future, none us knows how much time he or she has left. You may think you have considered every possible scenario, only to get blindsided by some horrible thing you never even saw coming.
Fate is a cruel mistress that cares not one whit about us as individuals. When your time comes, it comes. There is no court of appeal upon which you can go to beg for mercy, however unfair it all might seem.