Hepatitis C virus
In part 1 and part 2, I talked about my relationship with my brother, a Vietnam Veteran. By 2013, Jerry's condition deteriorated. Forcing him to doctor's appointments was an exhausting endeavor. This time, I met his wife at Kaiser and my brother seemed confused. He'd been fading for the past year but absolutely refused to see a physician. This time, he was lethargic and his answers to questions slow. Intent on discovering what the problem was, I had a probing conversation with his physician. I discovered that Jerry had been tested for the Hepatitis C virus in 2008 after his first stroke five years earlier. Hep C is a common disease in Vietnam Vets and I’d often wondered if he had contracted the virus. I was told that he hadn't but he had purple spider veins on his face and ankles. His wife told me he had them on his chest. After more digging and questioning, the physician rifled through his online files and admitted the test, taken in ‘08, came back positive. Somehow, the results had been overlooked. He was so sorry.
Jerry did take treatment because I would not have it any other way. We'd already lost a loved one to the disease, another Vietnam vet. Twice the treatment nearly killed him. Interferon made him so sick he couldn't get off the couch. When he had a heart attack, and walked out of the hospital in his gown and went home, treatment was over. Next up was Harvoni and it was only offered after I threatened to sue. How do you overlook a test like that? Six months later he was declared virus free.
No one talks about the obvious
I spent a lot of time researching Vietnam Veterans because I believed the secret to my brother’s unhappiness resided in his overseas experience. In my research, I discovered veterans like Jerry are often overlooked in the medical field. It takes time to see into a person, time to get to know them, and time to discover who they are. Vietnam vets don’t talk about themselves and rarely, if ever, discuss their experiences.
I am sure returning soldiers from Afghanistan, Iraq and other Middle East countries face the same dilemma. Veterans like my brother can’t just be written off, but in my brother’s case, no one took the time to know him and he encouraged the distance. I don't know if therapy would have worked in his case, but I will always wonder.
After his Hep C treatment he refused all medication. Even aspirin. He had severe osteoarthritis and we knew he was in pain, but Jerry did not communicate that to anyone, especially his doctors. His favorite line was, “What’s the matter? You can’t take it?” He lived by those words and expected the same from those around him. It was an impossible request.
The next diagnosis came a few months ago after my sister-in-law found him stranded in their hallway, unable to breathe. COPD the docs said, an up-cycled term for, in his case, emphysema.
Now it was oxygen twenty-four seven and he hated it. If he did use the oxygen, he punctuated it with trips outside for a smoke. More family battles, more arguments, more reasoning. Eventually, he broke down and used his oxygen more frequently. He was older now and no longer had the strength to fight all of us, but he still refused to take his pills. With Jerry, it was a pick your battle kind of life.
As his condition worsened, his daughter Erin began the work on having his veteran status changed. At some point, Jerry was going to need long term care. You could see him failing, little by little. You could also see and feel his struggle against time and age. He did not accept his situation and it was hard to watch because growing older was something he could do little about.
It was a difficult task to get him to agree and sign the necessary paperwork to change his #military status. The stacks of papers seemed limitless, the results months if not years away. Signatures traded through snail mail until Mother’s Day, 2016. On that day, my brother Jerry changed, possibly forever. #Foreign Affairs #war