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Front Porch: Change puts focus on family ties

Summer is inching toward fall. I noticed its subtle change recently during lunchtime. The day was very warm, the sun high yet the gentle haze of summer as it changes to fall was evident.

Change is a constant. Something we can’t stop. A verb that makes life interesting, scary, unusual, fun, awesome, and sometimes unbelievable.

Three weeks ago the unbelievable type of change hit with a wallop. I was at work when my cellphone rang at 9 a.m. The name that appeared was my oldest brother Jim in California, which was surprising because Jim is a self-proclaimed hermit.

Only it wasn’t my brother. “Do you know Jim?” the female voice asked. Turned out the woman was his neighbor who found him on the floor that morning. He fell two days before and there he stayed until the neighbor, who “had a feeling something was wrong” checked on him.

Thus began a crash course in handling long distance medical matters. Hermits have a tendency to believe they’re alone in the world. My 72-year-old brother is no exception. He told his neighbor and hospital staff he had no family. Luckily his neighbor didn’t believe him and called the few numbers in his cellphone. She told me what hospital he had been taken to and I spent the morning listening to recordings and busy signals until I reached the emergency room department, where someone said he was in X-ray.

By afternoon I finally got a hold of him. “I’m proof positive you can fall and not get up!” he quipped. “Wait a minute … How did you know I was here?” I replied, “Your neighbor called. You have family, you know.”

Jim fractured his hip and needed surgery. I left messages for his doctor to call me hoping that although there was no HIPPA form on file he would at least give me his prognosis. The doctor returned my call and told me the same story as the neighbor. I shook my head. “I know. My brother’s kind of a hermit but he has a lot of family.” There was a pause. “Jim’s lost a lot of weight,” the doctor said. “And with his long history of heavy smoking … we’re going to do a CT scan before we discharge him to the rehab facility.”

I knew what he was thinking and sure enough the CT scan wasn’t promising. Biopsy is next.

My daughter lives 50 miles from her uncle and, although she hardly knows him, “family is family,” she told me. She visited him several times at the hospital and rehab facility. When he was released, she took him home, bought groceries, and helped him with his medications.

Over here in Washington, I’ve used up most of my minutes calling medical facilities, family members, Meals on Wheels and home health care providers for follow up treatment. It’s been a talkative three weeks.

Jim’s on the mend but anticipates the biopsy will be positive for cancer.

“I’ve lived my life the way I wanted,” he said to me.

“I know.”

“I don’t want chemo or radiation.”

“Got it.”

“Will you to handle everything for me?”

“I will.”

As the gentle haze of summer gives way to fall, I know I’ll “handle everything,” no matter the path Jim’s life may travel.

Change can happen in a split second, but family is forever.

I hope my brother knows that now.

Voices correspondent Sandra Babcock can be reached by email at Previous columns are available at columnists.