Up until a year or so ago, I always thought the word “disease” meant an illness with a name attached, like chicken pox or Lyme disease or HIV, not some chronic state of a bodily organ or system. Since Dad’s health has started to decline, however, I’ve discovered I’ve lived with a mistaken definition for this term that now plays such a major role in my daily conversations. As Dad’s begun collecting specialists like a 12-year-old boy collects baseball cards, we’ve learned that Dad is, basically, a basket of diseases on two legs (which are, themselves, diseased). Moving from the top, down, he’s got lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes and peripheral artery disease.
To better understand these varying conditions, I turned to the same resource from which I get most of my medical information – the Internet – this time calling up the website dictionary.com. The clearest of the six definitions that learned site presents reads as follows:
A pathological condition of a part, organ, or system of an organism resulting from various causes, such as infection, genetic defect, or environmental stress, and characterized by an identifiable group of signs or symptoms.
So, a disease is really a condition, which can be brought about by any number of causes. This definition makes perfect sense when I think about all Dad’s diseases – we don’t necessarily know how he got them, we only know they’re there.
Even more illuminating, in a metaphysical sense, is the word’s derivation. It comes, via Middle English, from Old French, combining “des” – or, “without” (o.k., I always thought “sans” was French for “without,” but I guess it was different in the old days), and “aise,” meaning “ease.” So, to live with a disease is to live without ease.
Truer words hath ne’er been spoken.
The last few days have certainly been lived without ease. Dad started back on a circulation medicine intended to help his peripheral artery disease Sunday night. He’d been off it for almost a year, because the doc had thought he had congestive heart failure and that particular medication can cause clots when congestive heart failure is present. Recent tests have shown that those crackly lung noises are actually the result of pulmonary fibrosis, so the circulation medicine is o.k. again. Well, a day or so after he started taking the medication he began complaining of a headache. Then the telemedicine nurse called to say his blood-pressure readings were coming back low – I checked and saw that morning’s reading was down to 78/38. Yikes! So, off to the doctor’s we went and off came that medicine from Dad’s prescription list. That afternoon I checked the circulation medicine online and found its effects were intensified if the patient also happened to be taking opremazole – aka Prilosec. Perhaps that evaded the attention of both the doctor and the pharmacist because it’s an over-the-counter medicine, but it was a scary oversight. Two days later, he’s still getting over the headaches.
These dis-eased days seem to be happening more frequently, filled as so many of them are with talk of – or treatment for – disease. And they’re beginning to take their toll on my normally optimistic Pop. Few in this world have lived their life as easily as my father, not because we were well off, but because he simply ignored unpleasantness. But this unpleasantness can’t be ignored, and it’s just tough sometimes being the one standing by as he learns how to live without ease in the days that should be his easiest.