Marathon Heart

My father-in-law, Jake, has worked and played hard all his life. He was a machinist, and his job involved heavy lifting, hard sweating, and complex mental absorption. Back in his day, he was a man of brawn and brain.

He married his sister-in-law when he was 24, enduring all the internecine slings and arrows this relationship with his brother-in-law’s ex-wife generated. He accepted his two nieces as his own daughters, and had several more children with his sister-in-law.

Then his wife’s parents died, leaving three children of nonage. He happily took these three underage orphans into his already crowded home, and raised them into adulthood.

In those early days of the Cold War, the aerospace industry was booming, keeping machinists like Jake very busy. His average work week was about 80 hours. And the overtime pay allowed him to support and raise his large extended family, which he did cheerfully and without complaint.

Then he went into business for himself and prospered even more. His machine shop earned a nationwide reputation amongst those who needed the kind of specialty work his shop performed.

He kept very busy within those metal walls of his shop, toiling away long hours, doing the heavy lifts, sweating, straining, and responding daily to all the challenges before him.

And then abruptly at the age of 60, he retired. This man with a busy mind and active body suddenly found himself with nothing to do. But he didn’t twiddle his thumbs for very long.

Jake turned to athletics. He began competing in marathons and triathlons. He put all his mettle into this sport for the fleet of foot, and set world records for his age group.

Not only did he win many trophies and accolades, but his cardiovascular health benefited from this new hobby of his. He was in tip-top aerobic shape.

He was also an avid hiker in his retirement years. He took me with him on several hikes, and I always struggled to keep up with his fast, enduring pace. Sometimes I even had to persuade him to stop and take a break, lest I collapse.

But in his early 70’s Jake had to slow down, and then finally stop. All the heavy lifting from his machinist career, and all that post-retirement marathon running was catching up to him. His joints grew spurs and the discs in his back compressed.

He began using a cane. And now, at age 89, he’s traded the cane for a walker. Yet even with a walker, he is barely able to stay upright. He’s fallen several times and hurt himself, and has had to be helped back up to his feet. He dreads the future. He fears that soon he may be confined to a wheelchair.

Yet his heart, his heart! Oh that marathon heart of Jake’s is as strong as ever! He takes no heart medication, yet his systolic blood pressure reading is often in the 90’s, and his diastolic ranges between 45 and 70.

Poor Jake. He wants to die. He hates living like a cripple. But his heart won’t allow him to die. He’s in chronic kidney failure, and his body is bloated with water. But that marathon heart pumps strong as ever.

The doctor says that cancer may have invaded his body. He coughs a lot, and lives in constant pain. He’s incontinent also, due to stenosis in his spine. And even when he can make it to the toilet, he requires help with his hygiene. It’s very embarrassing for this man who prides himself on being independent. This man with the marathon heart.

And he can’t sleep well. But that strong heart of his won’t allow him to die in his sleep.

Jake is a hero to me. But a hero of the Greco-tragic ilk. Be careful, you marathon runners, or you may end up just like Jake. Your strong heart will force you to endure the humility and helplessness of a crippled body. It will keep you alive through the torture of all kinds of chronic illnesses. And the mercy of the grim reaper will be held at bay, while you cry out in pain and plead for the end, every day and every night.

Relax on the couch and watch TV. Eat potato chips. Allow your cholesterol level and blood pressure to rise through the roof. And persuade that coronary to overtake you now, before it’s too late.

You don’t want to end up like Jake.

Categories: Health

20 replies »

  1. Wouldn’t it be nice if all body parts wore out at the same rate? Jake sounds like a big-hearted, responsible guy who tried to do right by his family. Isn’t it funny how much we don’t know about people’s day-to-day lives? The big things, yeah, but not the nitty-gritty details. I had a prolonged texting conversation with my sister recently (she was in the hospital for testing and bored stiff, with nothing better to do). It was around the time I had posted a poem on my blog about menopause, and she said “How would you know about that? You’re too young!” Not so. Cancer treatment knocked my ovaries out of the game early, almost a decade ago. She hadn’t known, and couldn’t believe that, in ten years, the subject had never come up. The next text to pop up said “What ELSE don’t I know about you?” Tippy, where do you even START with a question like that?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Sounds like she asked you a loaded question. I’d be very careful what I reveal.

      I do believe that if everyone was an open book, we’d be very surprised by many of the things we’d learn. There’s a lot of hidden stuff that makes each and every one of us what we are.

      Liked by 1 person

    • shhh! (don’t tell no-body) — Betty, too, was “rushed” into meno ’cause of cancer treatments (chemo & radiation) back in 1982-83. too young? yes. but did it happen? — yes.

      Liked by 3 people

    • I would imagine, with your Crohn’s disease, that getting older must be very frightening. Here’s hoping you find effective ways to prevent as much suffering as possible.

      By the way, I hope this possible repeal of Obamacare coming up, is not going to affect you adversely.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Tippy. My mother-in-law is 91 and when I see her move at a snail’s pace I really do get scared. I cannot live long enough to get that slow.

        If the Senate does anything similar to the House bill, it will impact us all. I currently have employer-provided healthcare, but thebill allows eliminates the prohibition for lifetime caps and does a few other things that will impact us all. Plus my small company was just taken over by another company and my job isn’t guaranteed. Sooooooooo … We’ll see.

        What horrible people we have running our country.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. To have the choice to grow old into your 90’s is amazing in itself. Not everyone would wish for a young death. Euthanasia ought to be legal for those suffering. Bless dear Jake’s marathon heart. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

    • Actually, doctor-assisted suicide is now legal in Oregon, California and a few other states. But it’s one thing to want to die, and another to work up the courage to take one’s self out of this world.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. very poignant! and ironic — but in spite of everything (hard-werking life) he’s 90 + –> a lot of people aspire to “merely” that. but like yourself, I know we prefer a modicum of quality with our quantity …

    Liked by 2 people

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