Thursday, July 28, 2011

Feed my pets, change my sheets

My younger brother, Bob, has had type-1 diabetes (adult onset) for over seventeen years.

Since his first diagnosis — actually, he was originally misdiagnosed as type-2 — he has had a kidney replaced, the nerves in his legs have atrophied (diabetic neuropathy), his stomach and intestines have suffered similar damage (gastroparesis), the bones of his left ankle have softened, distorting the joint (Charcot foot), and his skin is becoming ever more fragile. If that weren’t bad enough, he recently suffered a fracture of his right tibia and his right eye has developed an ulcerated cornea.

Since my mother is elderly (I say that with trepidation; she might actually read this blog) and has advanced arthritis in one of her hands, her ability to take care of Bob is becoming more limited. So taking care of my brother is almost literally my new job … one for which I have little to no practical training.

I don’t tell you all this to fish for compliments or admiration. Rather, it’s to set up the context for the rest of the story.

And I’m not the hero of it. More like the comic relief.

I’ve admitted that one of my besetting sins is gluttony. But I’m also lazy, so that’s two cardinal sins (gula et acedia). Moreover, I’m somewhat self-centered, which I’m certain is the root of all sin. If you can envision a scale, with “totally self-centered” equaling -10 and “totally other-centered” +10, I’d say I usually hover about -2.

With Bob’s complex of health issues, there are currently many things he can’t do for himself. With one leg in a brace and the other in a special boot, he can’t use a walker, which means that his other muscles grow weaker as he sits around all day. The ulcerated cornea ruins his vision, so he can’t see clearly past his nose.

So much of my day consists of getting up from my computer three dozen times a day to do things such as turn on/turn off/adjust the speed of the ceiling fan, change disks in the DVD player, put on/take off the knee brace and crow boot, get drinks, put him on and take him off the commode (the bathroom is not wheelchair accessible) and wrestle him into and out of the car and the wheelchair … not to mention changing dressings, changing clothes, running errands for him and taking him to and from doctors’ appointments.

Somehow, I still manage to write one or two posts, read tweets, post comments on other blogs and talk with friends on Facebook. But when Bob’s calls come, all too often I find myself grumbling about being torn away from my fascinating Internet life and my growing rep as a writer to do some piddly-ass bulls*** thing like “Tony, could you put my legs up on the bed?” Poor, pitiful, put-upon me.

Bob had been in the hospital this last week with a blood clot in the broken leg. When he came home last night, he was in the throes of a gastroparetic diarrhea attack; I was up until 3:30 a.m. or so helping him on and off the commode, not to mention changing his clothes (thank goodness for Assurance disposable undergarments!). So when he started bellowing for Mom at 7:10, I was less than my usual cheery self … especially considering that my cheer needs a couple of cups of coffee for a jump-start. And my self-pity was in full bloom.

Then, in my usual morning check of the blogosphere, I found a post by the Curt Jester referring to the incoming auxiliary bishop of Montreal, Fr. Thomas Dowd, who has also been blogging for some time. So I went to check out his blog, Waiting in Joyful Hope, where I found The Cat Story.

It seems Father Dowd got a page (this was some time ago!) to visit a patient immediately, just as he was getting ready to leave the hospital for another of his jobs. However, the patient wasn’t in dire need of Last Rites or confession … or even just a good chinwag. The patient didn’t know anybody, and needed someone to feed his cat.

That’s right … feed his cat.

At one point, as I was heading back to the hospital, I asked the Lord what the point of all this was. And the Lord answered, in one of those moments of clarity that you just know is a divine response. “Tom,” He said, “if I had asked you to do something extravagantly important for this man, something heroic, you would have done it without question. Yet now, when I ask you to merely show him a very simple kindness, you are full of doubts and questions and annoyance. Does that make sense?”

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man feed a complete stranger’s pet.

If it makes no sense to whine and burch about doing something so little for someone you don’t know, then how does it make sense to gripe and kvetch about doing a bunch of things for your brother? If you’re willing to die for someone you love, shouldn’t you be just as willing to help him change his clothes … even more willing, since we’re not talking anything dangerous?

Katrina Fernandez has a statement on her blog, The Crescat: “The time of persecution is coming. If brought up on charges of being a Catholic I hope there’s enough evidence to convict me.” I should think part of that evidence would go beyond church attendance and daily devotions, and into actually living Jesus’ equivalence: “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

In the end, I think, the answer to “How do you get to Heaven” is the same as the answer to the old joke, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” We practice our faith in the hopes that we may someday get it right.