Reality Bites

Another autobiographical bit you probably should skip.

I am the 7th of 9 children of a mother who lived 87 years and was sharp as a tack until the day she died, and a father who lived 88 years, the last decade or so in slow decline into dementia. She had knee replacement surgery, but otherwise generally avoided the medical community. He retired young, after a massive heart attack almost killed him at 59. Fortunately, his little sheet metal company had done well enough that he could comfortably retire at 60. His standard 12-14 hour work days, 6 days a week for 15 years, had a lot to do with both his success and his heart attack. He spent much of the next 37 years catching up on the sleep he missed, although he remained a farm boy workaholic until he could no longer take care of himself.

We kids are not faring as well.

Both my parents had arthritis. Mom’s hands and knees hurt; dad once had an X-ray due to some back pain, and he turned out to be one of those people who have serious arthritis yet don’t experience much pain, and he was just the sort of old-school tough guy who wasn’t going to say anything unless the pain was killing him. His spine was riddled with arthritic growths.

We kids evidently inherited a genetic disposition to arthritis. Several of us have been tested, and came out positive. This has turned out to be a bad thing, much worse than it was for either parent, fatal, even:

Oldest sister: died of cancer at age 73. Cancer is a side effect, if you can call it that, of the immunosuppressants one takes for rheumatoid arthritis. Suppress the immune system because rheumatoid arthritis is an immune disorder, and if you don’t suppress it, you get to lie around in agony until you die. She had been houseridden for almost 30 years when she died; even with the drugs she could barely move and was in a lot of pain. She had a Master’s in Chemistry and a J.D., but the progress of the disease made it impossible for her to pass the bar. Permanently disabled by age 47.

Next sister died of cancer at age 46. Not sure if arthritis had anything to do with it.

Oldest brother, now in his early 70s, was permanently disabled in his early 50s, and has been in generally poor health for years. Arthritis.

Next oldest brother has somehow dodged the bullet so far.

Next sister is in hospice now. Cancer. She had a different form of arthritic condition, but was also on immunosuppressants.

Next sister recently lost an eye to cancer. Not sure if arthritis is involved, but I’d almost be surprised if it isn’t. Weirdly, one’s eyes often get affected, and there’s the cancer stuff.

Then there’s me. So far so good – just a little arthritis in my knees, not surprising for a fat 61 year old guy who played a lot of basketball.

Older little brother has been on permanent disability since before age 50. Arthritis.

Youngest brother first came down with Reiter’s Syndrome – a form of arthritis – around age 20. He got a full-ride basketball scholarship, but then was unable to play starting in his sophomore year. Mostly it’s in remission, but he has lost a job due to a flare-up, and had other problems as well. Still working at age 55, making him one of only 5 of us to pull that off.

So here I am, remarkably healthy in context. Even though I’m coming off a couple years of being constantly exhausted and sick – I’m doing much better now, some of it was probably depression-related – I’m having a bit of survivor’s guilt. lf things continue as they have, I might just outlive all my siblings. This was not on my bucket list.

Also, I worry about our kids – are they going to have problems? So far, so good, but they’re all still young – oldest daughter is just 25, youngest son just turned 15. Wife’s side of the gene pool seems clean of serious arthritis. I don’t know how the inheritance works – do you need genes from both sides? I’m thinking there must be all sorts of complicated interactions, as nothing this extreme happened to either of my parents. Lots is suspected but little is known about the vast family of arthritic/immune disorders, less about their genetic roots. For example, many people with the known genes don’t get any diseases, some without them do, and in one case – people with AIDS – having the genetic markers corresponds to *lower* incidents of some varieties.

The funny part is I never even thought about this until maybe 15 years ago, when tests revealed both my little brothers have the same genetic disposition to arthritis. Two older sisters were in the same boat. The rest of us, I don’t know, but it doesn’t look good.

Anyway, life is still good for me. I have a wife and kids to love, and they all love me back, so, whatever happens, I’ve had a really good run, no complaints. I just feel terrible about my siblings.

Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

4 thoughts on “Reality Bites”

  1. I’m not familiar with the genetic aspect of arthritis, but for other stuff: you almost always need it on both sides.
    The almost is from the switch-over after the DNA strands split.

  2. And I thought my family had problems!

    Am I right that your faith was passed on to you by your parents? You’re not an adult convert or something?

    1. Thanks. I often think of families where the sons all die in war, or some other tragedy takes a bunch of kids – and I’m like, it’s just not so bad. It’s just gives me pause.

      My mother’s family were all Moravian Catholics; by dad was a convert from very lapsed Methodism. So, yes, I was raised Catholic.

  3. So glad to have stumbled across your interesting and lively blog. Good stuff!

    It’s also perversely comforting to know that I’m not the only arthritic fellow out there….

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