MAKING CHOICES: A LIFE CUT TOO SHORT
If ever there lived a biggest joker, jovial family clown, greatest sense of humor icon, zest for life spirit, willing to take his shirt off his back for you, always someone you can depend on, loyal to family, most willing computer tech helper, best jack of all trades and master at all, do you any kind of favor good guy, it was my youngest brother Mario. He was a man who gave more than he ever expected in return. "Everybody" loved Mario because he was an endearing relative and friend to all who always made his presence known in the most unforgettable and inspirational ways. From old generations to young, Mario touched our hearts never ending and will always be remembered as one of the greatest treasures of life in our family. My brother was 66 years old when his life was struck short because of multiple strokes that took his life.
My brother had his first stroke in February 2011. This is when he first found out of some undetected minor strokes that had caused another for which he was being hospitalized. I was in the ER with him when the doctor diagnosed him, and with the biggest face of disbelief he said, "Dang!" It was my brother's first reality check of what happens when you do not take medications or go see doctors regularly to manage your health when you have diabetes, PAD (Peripheral Arterial Disease) , and are a heavy smoker. Yet, all of this could have been avoided if only he took the precautionary measures to prevent his stokes.
Doctors explained to my brother that he had to stop smoking. He was diagnosed with PAD that causes a lack of blood flow to your body's extremities, affecting usually your legs and causes pain when walking. In addition, it is a condition that accumulates fatty deposits in your arteries (atherosclerosis). This condition may reduce the blood flow to your heart and brain, as well as your legs. Smoking doubly increases the risks of heart attacks or strokes. My brother did not listen to doctor's advice to quit smoking and continued with his habit.
Mismanagement of his diabetes was a silent killer lying in wait to lash out and strike at its moment of defeat. My brother did not see doctors to help him manage and monitor his diabetes or diet, which created more health complications such as renal disease, cognitive disorder, beginning stages of dementia, insulin dependency, and higher stroke risks. With proper medications and regular doctor checkups, he could have prevented the domino effect it had on his overall rapid health decline, which aggravated his stroke condition.
After his first stroke, doctors informed the family that my brother could no longer drive or take care of himself. He moved to Arizona to live with his son and wife who agreed to be his primary caretakers. He liked the idea and told me that it was "a move in the right direction." I was sad to see him leave California but he had plenty of family there to care, support, and overlook his health care needs. He said, "Don't worry sis, I'm going to be okay." Little did I know that moving there was going to be his "death sentence."
Be cautious of who you select as your caretaker(s)...
In June 2011(4 months after he moved to AZ), he had his second stroke, which affected his brain and weakened him even more. His caretakers had ample time to get his medical care situated to ensure his stable health. There was no excuse for his health decline other than he lacked the proper health care support for his needs. Nobody took him to the doctors for his routine checkups or to buy his medications. He was on a graduated scale for his insulin intake and nobody monitored his blood sugar, prepared his injections, or gave them to him. My brother guessed how many units he needed without checking his blood sugar and injected himself even though he suffered from blurry vision. He was never taken for routine eye checkups, dental checkups, podiatry checkups, internal medicine checkups, heart checkups; all of which he was in dire need to maintain his diabetic care and prevent strokes. Instead, he administered his own medications, when and if, they were sporadically provided. They did not provide a proper diet, nutrition, and encouraged him to exercise. Due to lack of education, support, or professional help, my brother's health began to rapidly decline. It's not until he kept getting strokes that they took him to the ER to fix him up. After that, he went back home until it happened again. This was the way of doing things for his caretakers. One can only imagine how much of a critical impact it made on his health.
My brother gave up when his caretakers did not care for him properly and when he realized he was a burden to them. He became depressed and began to refuse to care for his health. He continued smoking heavily and purposely proposed to cut his life short. His behavior changes went unnoticed and treated as retaliation and lack of concern on his part. This made things more hostile for him at home putting higher expectations for him to act on his own behalf. What they didn't notice is how much he really needed them to care and this is when things began to spiral down hill.
In July 2011, when he was released from the hospital in Arizona, he needed Plavix to prevent more strokes. Yet, his prescription was not filled because it was too expensive and lack of money. My brother's funds were misused for purposes that did not meet his health care needs. Instead, he came to California to see doctors and get insurance to receive his medications. He received a 90 day supply of medication. After his medication and insulin ran out, my brother received no known medical care for his condition to save his life. Instead, he did the next best thing to make his medications stretch. He took incorrect dosages of insulin and medicines from old doctor visits in California. When it ran out, he stopped taking medicine and insulin altogether.
To keep him isolated from talking to family, all means of communication were cut and everyone out of state who loved him and wanted to communicate with him could never get a hold of him. There were incidents when he complained about his wallet, cell phone, and money being taken away. His bank accounts were drained leaving him literally penniless and only with enough to buy cigarettes. He confessed that he was left home alone because he had bladder incontinence and they were too embarrassed to take him anywhere. Rather than take him to doctors for his problem, they let it go until he got bladder infections, which are very dangerous to diabetics. It was only when he came to visit us in California that he ever got health care that put him back on track. Yet, the irreversible damage to his brain was done and rapidly getting worse.
Watch out when someone makes excuses...
To avoid his problems, my brother made excuses for not taking his medicine. I wonder now if he did it to protect himself from his caretakers and not make things worse. Instead, when asked, "Why don't you take your medicine?" He replied that he "felt fine" or that they made him "feel sick" or they were "dangerous" for him. He convinced himself that he didn't need them. But he was sicker than he truly felt only he didn't want to admit or accept it. Instead, he chose to avoid it because he had a personal agenda to quit and throw- in-the-towel mentality.
Eventually, my brother's brain began to fail him and he had onsets of dementia. He was still functional and able to make his own decisions on a few good days, but his mind was mostly cloudy and confused at best. He couldn't operate a remote, cell phone, computer, put on his shoes right, or recognize his surroundings when he was in familiar places. Without the proper medications and medical or mental help, he was fighting a losing battle. Consequently, he chose to give up and accept the consequences of his choices. Rather than think of himself, he thought about being a burden to his adult children. He talked to me about his concerns and I gave him alternatives to move back to California and live with me and together we could figure out how to get his life back in order, but he resolved to end his life by letting his health go.
As a result of his choices, he had a series of three strokes in August - Sept 2012. Doctors said he had holes in his brain and they were bleeding. They drained the blood to control the bleeding. His condition was terminal and it brought him to his death.
When I look back at how all of this could have been prevented with proper medical intervention, education about his illnesses, professional help, and support groups for his caretakers; it breaks my heart that he did not chose life and strive to live. If only caretakers reach out for help when they need it; it could save lives. Taking care of a loved one is a privilege not a burden. To be able to spend time with a loved one who needs you to support them with love, kindness, compassion, faith, and understanding means the world to them. To entrust you with their lives is priceless.
What a tremendous unselfish act it must have been for my brother to sacrifice his life for the love and happiness of his own children. Knowing how loving and giving he was in his life, and how he put others first before thinking of himself, I know paying the ultimate sacrifice of surrendering his life by cutting his life too short was worth it to him.