Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Tisty's Irascible Unc--A Guest Tale With A Familial Ring

I always had the feeling my cyberpal Tisty had a literary bent. You could almost smell it through the computer screen, the way you can smell a cop or a donut maker...

She has offered up this tale of a family member--a familiar one for many-- and I offer it up as more evidence of life existing all over the place-- Posted by Picasa


I’ve always liked the word irascible. It seems to carry all the weight of irritable, yet give it that spin of class. It even manages to feel good on the tongue, rolling like few English words do.

My Uncle (mother’s Brother) is irascible. A life long bachelor, he likes his world just so, and loses it when it is not. He always tries to control everything, even the entirely uncontrollable. It is probably an admirable enough trait, but it doesn’t make him an easy man.

It is also not an attitude that mixes well with kids.

Every Christmas he visited with us, where ever we were living at the time, and every Christmas Mum tried in vain to find ways of spending the energy of her 4 daughters that wouldn’t make him have a fit. It didn’t work, but full points to the woman for trying. He used to grump through the whole 6 week holiday he always insisted on taking, frowning intensely at any of us he felt was offending, or worst still, taking them aside for little chats.

He and I were never a great combo. I was always too loud, too determined, too much like dad for him to deal well with. He seemed to take special delight in putting me back in my place. Like the time I informed him that I was going to be a painter when I grew up and my pictures were going to hang in galleries. I was six and as yet unaware that I had to have talent for that sort of thing. Uncle soon put me straight, and added that painters die poor and starving and only then do they start making money.

You see, Irascible. That is just not the kind of thing you tell a kid, but as far as he was concerned I’d stepped over some line and had to be put back in my place. I didn’t stay in my place for long of course, but I think I was always a little wary of him after that.

Things with him only got trickier when my parents split. With Dad off the scene, he became the head of the family in his eyes and while he didn’t live with us, he felt we should all be living by his rules. Mum never had the heart to tell him off too much about this, instead telling us to be patient with him, that he was a man from a different generation, that he was helping her and she didn’t know what we would have done without him, that he meant well.

Sometimes this was easy enough to do, but mostly you just had to grit your teeth and put up with the lectures and patronizing condescension. Rarely, you lost it and yelled back.

This precarious state of affairs continued until he retired.

By then I had grown up, left home, got my education, decided to be a writer and moved back home where the peace and support would help me with this newest pipe dream. Things were going along well enough and the news he was buying the house behind us irked me. Still, there was nothing to be done as his mind was made up. In he moved.

It was hell from the start. He refused to participate in life, even a little bit. He didn’t mow his grass and let it grow till it reached his armpits. He refused point blank to get a new car and drove around in a lump of metal that was barely road worthy and "shock like a cat after a pigeon" if it went beyond first, which fortunately or not, he never really did anymore, being content enough to drive around in first gear all the time. He also refused to clean his house. The inside was putrid in no time, which worried mum endlessly, as did his refusal to eat sensibly and look after himself even in the most basic ways. I don’t know if man can live on pasta and fruit alone, but I do know that uncle certainly gave it a try.

For five years he lived a life of growing eccentricity that seemed designed to drive mum crazy.
Then he got sick. Mum was, of course, the first to notice that something was seriously wrong, but typical of Uncle, he refused all help. For two weeks he kept everyone at bay, but his body betrayed his determination, and he finally admitted to my sister Ann that he wasn’t doing well. He told her that he’d had diabetes for a few years, which was news to all of us, and that his feet weren’t right. Even so, it was another 24 hours, when he was too weak to stop us, that we got him into accident and emergency.

He had gangrene in both feet, his gall bladder was infected and packing in, His blood sugar was off the radar, his eye sight was shot from the diabetes, he had cataracts in both eyes and he wasn’t sure who or where he was. There was nothing they could do at the small local hospital except to stabilize him enough to send him through to the larger central hospital.
My two eldest sisters went with him while my younger sister, Mel, and I waited with mum, who had stopped functioning with the mention of the dreaded D words. Her mother had died of diabetes related strokes and to hear the word again after all these years forced her to live her worst nightmare. Again.

Because of the state she was in we decided the best thing for her was to wait away from the stress of the hospital situation. We were only to get her over there if things turned fatal. So for a week we waited.

Each phone call was worst than the last. The gangrene was to far advanced in one leg, and it had to be removed just below the knee. The other was better and he only lost the big toe and part of the foot. The gall bladder had to be drained and he was very slow to come back to himself. It was 2 weeks before he was deemed well enough for Mum to go and see him.

I don’t want to remember that first visit, or the next, or the month he spent in rehab. When we finally got him home, however, we all felt we had turned a coroner, that it was the start of a brave new world, one where Uncle was physically handicapped, but finally a willing participant in the family that had always loved him even when it didn’t know how to deal with him.
But we hadn’t countered on Irascibility. It wasn’t long before he was fighting against us all again. He refused medication, refused food, refused to exercise, refused to bathe, in short, refused to do anything that might aid his recovery.

It is now 18 months later and nothing much has changed. He is at home still and we look after him as best we can. We try to circumvent his seemingly natural bent for self destruction, and mostly we win, but at great cost. Mum is looking impossibly tired, and Mel is barely coping. I’m not doing too bad (shallow like my father you see. It helps me cope with all sorts of shit) but there is no end in sight, certainly none that we can wish for. So, for the foreseeable future the central focus of our family will be trying to make Unc well, despite himself, without losing mum
But do you want to know the thing that really frightens me?

Diabetes is hereditary. I had always known that it was prolific on mum’s side of the family, but until Unc, I had never really had any concept of just what that meant. But boy, now I do. The chances are very high that somewhere after 50 my pancreas will die and stop providing insulin. That doesn’t mean I lose a leg like Unc of course, but my chances are increased because to a certain extent I’ve inherited, like Uncle, the gene that seems to give you a predisposition for it: Irascibility. Yes despite all the hell I’ve had from him about being just like my father, I also, in a strange way resemble him too.

As I said, Frightening.

Tisty has a young blog here--


I suggest you check it out.


Flat Coke and Flies said...

I'm sorry that your uncle has dealt with life in the hardest of ways. Even with everyone trying to show him there was a different way, he still refused. Whadaya do? You do exactly what all of you are doing...take care of him. It's nice to see a family act as a family these days. There are many ways to avoid the onset of diabetes even if you are predestined, watch your intake, exercise, etc. Working in a hospital I see the amputations a lot, its very sad, I know what you are dealing with, daily. It doesn't go away when I close this blog.

Tisty said...

Thanks for that. I never had any idea of just how hard amputations where on the psyce. I mean i've read the stories where the one legged man climbs everest. and they may, but that is not how my Uncle has gone about it. Just Getting him to do the recommended exercises is a bit like trying to thread wet spagetti through a needle.

Actually writing the above put some things in persepective and helped me think through some of the frustration I feel. Thanks Scott for posting it as i wouldn't have dared to put on my blog.

Scott from Oregon said...

And Thank You, Tisty, for sharing some of that talent of yours with the rest of us...