The arrival of the aneurysm

Soon after I got home tonight, my mother called. I immediately suspected that something was wrong. Mom uses email to keep me updated on just about everything—she only uses phone calls when she's not comfortable conveying something through text.

Sure enough, something's up. My dad's last yearly physical turned up something abnormal, which further tests have indicated is an aortic aneurysm, size currently unknown. Judging from the fact that Russell (my family's doctor, and Mom's second cousin) has requested that Dad's tests be run as soon as possible, things point toward this aneurysm being something of a large one.

I'm not terribly close to my father, but I worry about him. I worry about his health. I look at him and my mother and I fully expect that my father will die first. He smokes heavily and I don't even bother deluding myself that he will ever be able to quit. He is only 56 but looks significantly older; his shock of frizzy pure-white hair and deeply lined face makes him look years older. There is a feeling of age about him, of outward health being gradually overshadowed by inner frailty.

I know that Mom and Dad have known about this diagnosis for a couple of weeks now but have chosen not to tell me until they had more details. After all, Mom pointed out tonight, what could I have done? I asked her to please make sure that Dad takes it completely easy until the tests come back, so that he knows what he's up against. My parents live in a very rural section of Arkansas. They live a good twenty minutes from the nearest hospital—I'm too much of a realist not to acknowledge my knowing that most people with a burst aneurysm don't have the luxury of those twenty minutes.

I also know, though, that this can be corrected with surgery, and that things will most likely be fine. It's just ironic that this crops up now, right as he is preparing to retire.

Dad's been with Alcoa for nearly 32 years now. The problem is that he started working there at a young age, and while he's got the accumulated years to retire, he technically isn't old enough to do so with full benefits. He's put in for early retirement, and he's slated to get it in June 2001. How incredibly ironic that an immediately life-threatening condition would come up right as he nears his retirement.

Both of my parents are actually planning on retiring next year. Mom is fifty-seven and sick of teaching second-grade children. I joke with her that they have spent so little time together over the years that as retirees they will not know what to do with each other.

Both of them have worked incredibly hard throughout their lives, and I think it is only fair and right that now they get a chance to rest. They own their house and a significant chunk of land. Mom says they'll have the last vehicle paid off before she retires. They've put back a good chunk of money over the years, and they should have enough to live comfortably—albeit not extravagantly.

Whatever my differences with them have been over the years, I cannot deny that they have earned their time to rest and enjoy life. They have a red-headed grandson and two stepgrandchildren that seem to be quickly losing the step- aspect.

My father has worked swing shift for around two decades now. Swing shift is beautiful for your bottom line and brutal on your body; I blame it for much of the tiredness I see in him now. I become just a little bit angry at the prospect of something so swift and silent as a ballooning artery threatening to infringe on a retirement that he has looked forward to for so many years.

I realize that I'll complain when my parents come to visit. They smoke heavily and don't quite know what to make of me these days. But in the grand scale of things it's kvetching—they have worked so hard, so diligently, for so long that I cannot begrudge them the time to travel and just be themselves.

Despite my loud and frequent protestations to the contrary, I find myself needing to believe that there's some fairness somewhere out there, because this seems to be as good of a test case as any.

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