Hodge: Coming to grips with impending mortality

Today’s column is probably the toughest I’ve written during my 35 years penning HodgePodge.

However, it’s one that’s been on my brain for a couple years and is perhaps overdue. Regardless…I’m dying, a slow and not exactly fun death.

Considering that ‘we are all dying,’ I suppose I’m not unique, but my alarm clock on life has been set so time is not something I have a lot to waste.

Despite my attempt at a brave face, quick smile, and shrug of shoulders indicating ‘everything is OK,’ everything is not. In fact, I’m scared as hell, terrified in fact, despite my faith.

Emphysema has four stages with number four being worst. Six months ago or longer, I was told I’m at late three or early four.

Some four years ago, 10 days before Teresa and I were married, I was diagnosed. Coming home and telling her was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.

The news was devastating because I watched my mother die a long, lousy death from the same thing. I’m not sure I am as brave as her. No real clear reason is known—certainly cigarettes for 15 years and occasional joints for even longer did not help. However, according to specialists nowadays smoking is not considered the only mitigating factors contributing to the nasty, fatal disease.

Specialists now believe genetics and several other factors, including air quality, pesticides and diet.

A drowning experience when I was five or six also fascinates my specialists.

But regardless how I got the damn disease, here I am.

Over the past few years, there’s been a significant decline, especially the last six months.

I’m at 20 per cent lung capacity or less, oxygen may not be far away and, short of a lung transplant or miracle, there is no cure.

I visited the amazing lung transplant clinic in Vancouver, but have decided to not go on the lung transplant list yet.

When my quality of life is in full decline, I may seek out that option although by then I may be so far down the list it does not matter. That being said, Tez and I have weighed out the many factors involved with going on the list and agree that the time for a transplant listing is not now. My local lung specialist concurs.

I’m an enigma to my specialists because my medical test numbers suggest I should be worse off than I am.

They believe a key component is likely my positive attitude, which despite today’s admission of fear and frustration is generally pretty good.

Am I angry? Not really, except at the federal government’s ridiculous laws and protectionism for those in the pharmaceutical industry that do not allow me to get the only product I have found that truly relieves the breathing—dried cocoa leaves for tea.

Despite all the above, I still maintain I’m one of the luckiest people I know. I have a great partner and some of the best friends a man could ever be honoured to know.

Without their love and support (especially Teresa, Curtis Tulman, Jim Krahn, Graeme James and Les Thompson) and inspiration from folks like Sean Connor, Dr. Barry Urness, Al Paterson and my mom, it would be a lonely journey.

I’ve already chased a number of my dreams and enjoyed them—two published books including a Canadian best seller, won the Okanagan songwriter contest, nominated twice for the Interior Music Association Humanitarian of the Year, finalist for Kelowna’s Man of the Year, served on Kelowna and Parksville city councils, honourary lifetime membership with the Bridge Youth and Family Services and Canadian EarthCare Society, several awards as a journalist complete with many years of meeting some fascinating people and wonderful experiences, and years of fun and work in both the Canadian music industry and environmental field.

I guess the list could go on, but the point is, I have lived a grand life and feel truly blessed.

Despite the reality I have cheated death a number of times, I am not happy with what I face—nor do I intend to go down without a fight. After all, a miracle cure may be just around the corner.

As difficult as all of this has been for moi, it has been a living hell for my wife, and hard on some family members and close friends.

I do not pen this out of self-pity of for sympathy, but because I feel readers should know, to clarify rumours, as an explanation why I was constantly coughing at city council meetings, and to make some people think more about two things.

First, life is precious indeed—none of us get out of here alive so enjoy every day.

And second, think before you speak. A number of times the past few years people have heard me coughing and said things like, “You should quit smoking” (I did 20 years ago) or, “Geez man, you sound like your dying,” which, of course, I am.

I want to thank the wise and kind folks at Kelowna Respiratory Unit and Dr. McCauley. It is great comfort to have your help.

In closing, when you run in to me next, please do not make a big fuss, and more importantly do not avoid me out of awkwardness.

We are all on a short journey in the big picture. It is how we make that journey that counts—not so much the time. Bless you.


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