Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Little Deathly Humor - Part 1

I come from a family of wiseasses. My Dad was a real ballbuster. My Mom, the quiet one, played Dad's straight man but her own sense of humor, if you listened carefully, was witty and wise. My brother took after my father, but with a little more finesse. Dad was the loud, animated "look at me" type, whereas my brother was exactly the opposite, blending in, being quiet and making others laugh with words that cut like a knife. My sister is the comeback kid. She's got a mouth like a truck driver and a look that could knock you into next week. But she can also be silly and kid-like. You never know what she's going to do next, like try to order pancakes at McDonald's at 2pm in silly voice just to amuse the kid in the backseat or blow mini-marshmallows out her nose. Me? Well, maybe I'm a little bit of all of them, I don't know.... But the point is, there was always laughter in the house growing up and I don't remember ANYTHING that was off limits, including death. In fact, one of my moms favorite jokes went something like this:

An elderly woman answers the door and a man tells her she has a telegram. 
Is it a singing telegram?
No Ma'am
Ohhh... I've never had a singing telegram
Sorry Ma'am, if you could just sign here
Can't you please sing it to me?
I'd rather not Ma'am
Oh please? Please make it a singing telegram???
Are you sure Ma'am?
Yes! I'd love it!
He open the telegram, clears his voice and starts to sing...
"Your sister Rose is dead... She died in her bed... she was 98 and feeling great...."

So you see, death can be funny...

Back in the fall 2009, my brother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. From the beginning, he knew his chances of a full recovery were slim. It had already spread to his liver and there was a suspicious spot on his lung. When he came downstairs to tell me about his diagnosis, he sat across from me and said "I got the results back from my colonoscopy and I have cancer". My first words were "Welcome to the club!" (I had cancer a long time ago). I didn't cry and neither did he. We talked about the plan, which was surgery then chemo. We talked about time lines and work schedules. All very matter of fact. I teared up a few times, but didn't.

Over the next two and a half years, my brother battled cancer. To look at him, you never would have known. He continued to be his usual self. He NEVER complained. He NEVER missed a day of work by calling in sick, having arranged his schedule so that he would be off on his chemo days. In the spring of this year though, it caught up to him. The chemo stopped working, so they stopped giving it to him. He was a great candidate for some trials out of Dana-Farber but they couldn't seem to get his side effects and trial start dates in sync. A few months went by and he missed a few opportunities for different studies. Eventually, he was no longer a candidate as he passed that "invisible" marker where you're too sick to be a guinea pig.

From the beginning, my brother was clear that he wanted no life saving measures. He drew up a health care proxy, a living will, a regular will (Dead will?). He wanted NO heroics and he said that when the time came, he was ready to die. He was so adamant about it, I offered to kill him right there and then! He laughed and said no, thanks anyway.

So the beginning of June 2012 he was feeling pretty bad and per his usual self, called a cab for a ride to the hospital. That in itself is funny to me. He had 2 sisters that drive and would have been more than willing to drop everything and bring him, friends that repeatedly told him to call, and even neighbors that would have brought him. And of course, this thing called 911. But no, not Rick, "It was faster this way" he said. He was admitted and diagnosed with ascities or something like that and we all pretty much saw the writing on the wall at this point. He thought that he'd still be able to go home and spend his last days there though, and we went along with that, encouraging him to think positively, but with the shape he was in, pain wise, we didn't truly believe it.

Eventually, there was nothing the hospital could do and it was suggested he be admitted to a rehab facility to try to regain enough strength to go home. Now his only experience with "rehab" was from going there to exercise and regain the use of his hands after a particularly bad chemo reaction. So he thinks they are going to send him to Northeast Rehab to exercise and he can't even walk. He called me in a panic, the first time I really heard "weakness" in his voice and I was so glad I was able to talk him down and explain about the different kinds of rehab. I told him that Academy Manor, where I work, has a rehab unit and if he were admitted there, they would work with him just to increase his strength, not to make him run a marathon. And with the help of my awesome co-workers, we got him admitted to the Manor in just a few days.

Up next, the humor of my brothers death...

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