Monday, February 15, 2016

OT: He Died of a Pulmonary Embolism

Saturday, I received a copy of my brother's death certificate from the authorities in Iowa. The same authorities say they can't locate a copy of his birth certificate, which is interesting. It's possible none was filed. On the other hand, it's possible he was born somewhere other than where I thought, and the search turned up nothing because of my error in locating his place of birth. Of course the authorities in Iowa could also just be Iowa Stubborn. (Boy-o-boy, do I know the ground truth of that trenchant observation of Meredith Wilson's about Iowans and the way they are.)

At any rate, despite the errors and typos on the cert -- it's shocking how badly some of it is mangled -- I now know what my brother died of -- pulmonary embolus it's called, a blood clot in the major artery of the lungs, stopping the flow of blood to the heart and brain, killing him within minutes if not sooner.

Same thing my sister died of.

I should say they were not blood relations with one another. My sister had a different father; my brother had a different mother. But I am blood relation to both. It was never particularly difficult to sort this out in my own mind, but trying to explain it to others -- especially in the straight laced '50s when I was growing up -- could be difficult. Multiple marriages were not common in those days, you see.

At any rate, I considered both my half-sister and my half-brother to be my sister and my brother without further qualification, though as it happens, I did not personally know my brother at all (never having met him), whereas I knew my sister very well indeed.

I thought I knew enough about my brother though. I'm finding I didn't, not really, and now with a fuller picture of his passing and after learning more about his relatively brief life, how much I didn't know and don't know is becoming much clearer.

For example, I didn't previously know that his mother died the day of his birth. I thought she lived for a while -- days or weeks -- after he was born (not sure where I got that idea, though), but his death certificate says he was born the same day I previously learned his mother had died. That must have been devastating to my father, and it helps explain why he never got over it. He was in mourning for my brother's mother for the rest of his life.

In some ways, I think he blamed my brother for her death.

Thirteen years later, I came along. I didn't realize that my birthday is within three days of my brother's --- and the day of his mother's death. My mother told me that she -- my mother -- experienced a long and difficult labor with me, and I wouldn't be surprised at all to find that her labor started on or about the date of my brother's birth and his mother's death. I can imagine the period surrounding my birth was gut-wrenching for my father. Would history repeat? Would it rhyme?

My brother was born severely challenged both physically and mentally. I didn't realized how severely he was challenged until late last year when I started corresponding with a cousin I previously had no knowledge of. She had letters that her mother had preserved, letters which mentioned my brother and his condition. It was not good.

For quite a while, and apparently at various periods, he could neither stand nor walk on his own; there were times when he apparently couldn't speak, other times when he would merely babble. He'd been described to me as an "idiot savant," which is to say that like some autistics, his mental development was stunted, but he had an astonishing memory for obscure statistics. From what I've read in those letters, though, I'm not sure that was true.

I had no idea at all that he was so severely physically challenged. No one told me. No one even hinted that he couldn't stand or walk on his own as late as the age of nine or ten. Both my mother and sister told me of their meeting with him when he was thirteen or fourteen, and their recollection was that he was pretty normal except for his learning disability.

I never met him. I recall being taken by my father one day to the house where he was living with friends of the family. The nice lady who answered the door said he was sleeping and she didn't want to wake him. When she found out who I was and why we were there, she suggested it might not be wise for him to see me as it could upset him greatly.

So. We never went back.

I knew that he lived with that family until they could no longer take care of him -- they were older than my father, after all -- but what happened to him after that I never really knew.

When my father died, I discussed my brother's whereabouts with his probate attorneys, but all I recalled was that he was in a "facility." He was being well cared for. I had nothing to worry about. I didn't know or rather recollect the name of the facility or where it was -- except that it was in Iowa somewhere -- and I assumed that it was a state hospital.

I've since learned I was wrong about that. So far as I know, he was never placed in a state hospital, and that is something of a relief, because I'd been told he was terrified of going to a state hospital. Apparently he had been taken to one as a potential patient-resident, and it did not go well. So he was not admitted.

Instead, it appears that after he left the care of these family friends, he was placed in a small nursing home  (which no longer exists) a few miles out of town. I don't know how long he was there or what his condition was while he was there. But in 1968 when my (our) father was ill with the cancer that would kill him, my brother was transferred from the nursing home out of town to a residential care facility run by the Sisters of St. Francis in town. He was there until early October, 1972, when his condition apparently deteriorated significantly and he was transferred to the University Hospital in Iowa City where he died on the 27th of October -- of a pulmonary embolism.

As far as I know, he didn't have surgery prior to his death -- which my sister did, and a blood clot following surgery was what caused her death. Given what I have learned about his physical challenges, I suspect my brother was transferred to the hospital in Iowa City when his physical problems became too difficult for the sisters to handle.  He may have had seizures. I suspect he became paralyzed. The ultimate result was the blood clot that killed him.

I sensed he died in 1972, but I have no recollection of being told of his passing. Perhaps I was contacted by someone... but I have no memory of whom it might have been, or even if it ever happened. Finding out that he did die in 1972 and where and how is still surprising.

And I do mourn this one. The loss of my brother is hitting home to me all these years later. I wish there was something I could have done, but what could I have done? I don't know, and that's part of the loss I feel.

So, now I know more...

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