My Uncle Tommy was a high school athlete back in the early fifties, when I was his small, adoring nephew. Then at the age of 19 he got polio and wasn't expected to survive. He did. He was told he'd never walk again. He did that, too. He lived with the effects of the disease, a vastly diminished lung capacity and a body that wouldn't let him move with the ease and grace of his younger years.
He lived through hard times, physically and personally, but in his later years he dedicated himself to service to others. In midlife, however, some of the polio symptoms began to return, not only to him but to many who had suffered from the disease in the forties and fifties. It became harder for him to walk again, and harder to breathe. It was several years before post-polio syndrome was identified as the cause.
As his body failed him, his mind stayed sharp. He was always a keen observer of the world around him and a fiery commentator on the political scene. Through all of his physical problems, this part of him hasn't changed. Today Suzanne and I took Mom to the Napa Valley to see her brother for the first time in about a year. (Or maybe it was Suzanne and Mom who took me.) A few weeks ago he was diagnosed with kidney and bladder cancer, and he's scheduled for surgery in October.
The first thing you notice when you see him, bedridden and with very little mobility, is that his mind is still as sharp as it's always been. It's frustrating to him to live inside an almost useless body, but he has a companion who cares for him and takes care of the physical needs that are within her power to manage. He has his Web TV connection to keep himself in tune with the larger world. And he still has a family that cares about him.
It was a good visit. We stayed for a couple of hours, long enough to wear him out a bit more than we should have, perhaps. Two of his own grown children are coming to California, from Colorado and Arkansas, in the weeks before his surgery. Nan is with him every day and through all his frustration he knows how lucky he is to have her.
He doesn't know what the future holds, any more than any of us does, but he seemed on this day to be in a positive frame of mind. We'll try to help him enjoy the good days when they come, and hope for more in the future. Whatever that future holds, I'm glad we saw him today and happy to be his nephew.