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Header: Jess Anderson in Madison Wisconsin
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My Brother
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My parents and my two sibs all had more of a struggle than I did to make full, rich lives for themselves. My brother probably had the hardest time of the three kids.

Steve's start in life was anything but easy. When he was born, my mother hemorraged dangerously. He came home at age 10 days (the standard practice in 1940), and was asleep upstairs. While sitting downstairs reading the paper my mother was as though by magic alerted that something was wrong and dashed up to the baby's room: he was having convulsions. Intuitively, she grabbed him and headed to the bathroom to get him in (I think, hot) water as quickly as possible. Then off to the hospital, where it developed the convulsions were on account of hypoglycemia. I've never really known all the details, but he was in oxygen for three months and was given large doses of then-new sulfa drugs, presumably to deal with inflammation or infection. There was no health-insurance industry yet, so all his care had to be paid for out-of-pocket.

Sulfa drugs were new enough that side-effects were not well understood, and they left Steve with damaged kidneys. He was very thin and sickly for the first few years of his life. He was also very needy emotionally, partly as a result of Mom going to work when he was not yet three, which meant nursery school, and later (because he could get there on his own) a parochial grammar school. He was 7 before anybody realized he couldn't see the chalkboard; it turned out he was severely myopic. Glasses addressed that problem.

As a teenager, he went to the same high school where I had been, but really that turned out to be a bad move, because without intending unkindness, some of the teachers made more fuss about his being my brother than about his own needs.

Almost as soon as he finished high school Steve enlisted in the Navy, but that too had an unfortunate outcome. He was working for Naval Intelligence in Europe, and one day while he was carrying secret dispatches in Hamburg, bullets started whizzing through his car. He pulled out his .45 and started blazing back, and in fact killed his assailant. He had always been extremely religious, the result of going to a Lutheran grade school, probably, and when he realized he had actually killed another human being, he became extremely depressed and had to be transferred to other duty.

Years later, our mother felt great guilt that she had been drinking heavily while she was pregnant with him, for she was sure he had suffered to some degree from fetal alcohol syndrome. It's possible, I suppose. Whatever the cause, he was married and divorced three times, had a son by the first marriage, and never really had it all come together for himself. But he had a heart of gold. I hope it doesn't sound fatuous to say that he always meant well.

He was never entirely healthy, I believe. He wet the bed until he was well into his teens, his weight seesawed up and down, his vision was always a problem, and he was just sick a lot. In his 50s things started really going wrong with his body. His pancreas conked out, making him a hard diabetic. At 55 his kidneys failed, after which he had to be dialysed three times a week.

Diabetics often have problems with circulation in their extremities, legs especially. The medical diagnosis is "peripheral vascular disease." On Dec. 6, 2000, two days before his 60th birthday, one leg was amputated above the knee to stop the spread of gangrene.

His son visited him shortly after that at the VA facility where he was recuperating from the first operation. The pictures show a man who looks more nearly 80 than 60, sitting in a wheelchair outdoors, wearing a red beret.

In the summer of 2001, he lost the other leg, also above the knee. After the second amputation, my sister went to see him, in part to ascertain that his care and condition were as our nephew had reported, and also to see if she could help get his affairs -- always in total disarray -- organized a little better, such things as Social Security and veteran's benefits. I think she also wanted to see the care facility where he was living first hand and to get accurate medical reports as to his condition and prognosis.

She reported that the facility was first-rate, only five years old and staffed by people who are very competent and genuinely caring. (She would know, she's worked in the health-care industry.) But his medical condition was much worse than we thought. In brief, he had six or seven terminal diseases, any of which could take him without warning, the staff told her.

And so it turned out, on May 2, 2002. He was 61. His ashes were interred with full military honors at Fort Snelling cemetery in Minneapolis.

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