I was meeting with a friend of my father’s today, and he said,
“I used to drive your father around to doctor’s appointments over 20 years ago, because he was always complaining of problems, so finally I just said to him, ‘Bill, you’re a fucking hypochondriac, there isn’t a god damn thing wrong with you. You’re just driving up the cost of OHIP. Geezus.”
All I could do is smile,
“That was my father…always a little needy…”
He huffed, then laughed.
“I guess that’s one way of looking at it. It drove me fucking crazy.”
As painful as his words were, it was kind of like my father was shining a little light down on me,
You were right, Tara. You were right all along.
I reconnected with my father in the spring of 2006, because I had barely lived through a hellish fall of 2005. Barely. Hours away from death.
Doctors: “How is everyone’s health in your family tree? Mother? Father?”
Both of my mother’s parents were still alive, into their 80s, but my father…I guessed he was okay, I hadn’t spoken to him in years. I think he’s okay.
But I knew his father had died when he was young, in the 1960s, and I also knew that my father had a brother, Bobby, who was sick. I also knew Bobby was gay, so I had just assumed he had HIV or something like that. I had never met my Uncle Bobby then, so I wasn’t exactly sure what was wrong.
By the spring of 2006, I knew there was something very, very, seriously wrong with me–
It was time to dig up my father and learn about his family tree.
In the summer of 2006, my son’s godfather was making a movie in Vancouver, Canada, where my Uncle Bobby lived, so my newly reconnected father put me in touch with Uncle Bobby.
And oh, did Uncle Bobby have a story to tell.
When I arrived in Vancouver in the summer of 2006, ironically, he had just spent 6 months in the hospital, for various problems including internal bleeding they were never able to determine the source.
And here this mysterious niece shows up, complaining of strange and mysterious health problems,
and boy oh boy was Uncle Bobby glad to hear from me.
You can’t make this shit up.
Here I was, I had never met Uncle Bobby in my life (he said he met me once when I was a only a few weeks old ‘good thing I didn’t drop you on your head’),
and here we were, with very similar problems. Never spoken to each other, even once.
As much as I had wanted to think all of those doctors I had in the 2005 were just assholes,
I’m smart enough to know that if this many doctors–who are all above average in intelligence and well educated–keep screwing up my medical case,
clearly there is something very very unusual going on.
And talk we did…and talk and talk…
“Never forget Tara, it’s not that doctors hate you personally, it’s that they’re frustrated they don’t understand your medical case.”
“I’m healthy, I’m fine, I’m healthy, I’m fine.”
I’m no rocket scientist, but last I checked I couldn’t have inherited this problem from my uncle. If I had it, and my uncle had it, and his father (my grandfather) had it, and his grandmother (my great-grandmother) had it,
then that means my father has it too.
With time, my father started to talk…here and there…sometimes cryptically….
Once he started to get jealous that Uncle Bobby and I were talking and swapping doctor stories together, then he really started to talk.
“Hey, I have problems too.”
Of course you do Paw. I didn’t believe for one second you’ve been magically healthy for all of these years when the rest of us are so fucked up. Especially when you say things like, “I’ve been seeing my doctor once or twice a month for 20 years” and “my previous doctor I saw once a week for 7 years”
Doctor burnout was a favorite topic of conversation in the MacKay family. Doctors just burn out on us sometimes.
I don’t know if my father ever would have opened up, if Uncle Bobby hadn’t started talking first–
but I also know that my father put me in touch with Uncle Bobby for a reason…it was like he understood I needed information, but he didn’t want to talk about it himself…
I asked Uncle Bobby at what point in his life did he know he had something seriously wrong with him, and he said,
“I always knew. Because my father was going in and out of the hospital all the time. I just knew whatever was wrong with him was wrong with me too.”
And then he talked about some weird bird infection his father had once. The kind that normally only aids patients get.
After my Uncle died, my father stopped talking about his medical history as much, the source of his jealously now gone, which was okay, because I had already gotten enough information to know for sure that I had gotten this problem from my paternal side.
Over the remaining years, I brought it up a few times here and there, but my father didn’t like talking about it.
So for the first one of his friends I’ve meet with, post Memorial, to loudly laugh and reminisce over how much my father was a ‘hypochondriac’ 20 years ago?
A little light bulb moment, direct from heaven: you were right Teddy. Never doubt that you were right.
I hear you, Paw, I hear you. Your pride and dignity didn’t allow you to discuss strange problems with no answers. I get it. I don’t talk about it with most people too. What’s the point? If doctors don’t understand, how the fuck could the average person possibly understand either.