Monday, November 10, 2008

A Different Point-of-Hue: L.A. Stories 2008
(Part VII)

Dad & Helen
I realize that to this point in the story I’ve hardly mentioned my Dad. However that neither means that I don’t have plenty to say about him or that we didn’t spend much time together on this trip. Actually I spent two days out in Hemet with my Pop and step Mom, Helen.

As always, it was a great time; however this visit had a decidedly more pronounced sense of sober circumstance than in past visits. My Dad, whose health has been stellar for a man 85 years of age, has finally experienced a blip on the physiological radar.

As you may recall from previous blogs I’ve written about him, my Dad suffered a heart attack back in 2001, but has in subsequent years turned his health around completely, losing 40 pounds, and becoming by all accounts healthier than most men 25 years his junior.

At the same time, almost as if by some cruel reversal of roles, as my Dad’s health flourished, Helen’s began to decline. She developed lower GI tract difficulties requiring surgery to remove a portion of her colon. And if that wasn’t bad enough, at the same time she was also experiencing difficulties with her legs and lower back, which rendered her nearly an invalid over the past two years.

The good news however came earlier this summer when a new physical therapy treatment — a spinal decompression therapy administered by Dad and Helen’s chiropractor — began to dramatically reverse Helen’s spinal disk degeneration. She went from barely being able to get around in a walker to walking around on her own after just a few weeks of treatment.

Happy days were here again, right? Um…no; the fickle finger of fate would beg to differ.

Right in the midst of my folks’ elation over Helen’s regained mobility, a routine cardiac checkup for my Dad found something going on with him that was equally, if not more disconcerting. In a routine ultrasound test that has become a regular part of his post-heart attack checkup regimen, the doctor discovered not one, but two small aneurysms in my Pop’s abdomen; one in his upper chest that they opined could simply be shunted to relieve the pressure, and the other, a much more serious aortic aneurysm that if not watched closely, could mean instantaneous death if it were to rupture.

Abdominal aortic aneurysms — as their name indicates — are located on the body’s largest blood vessel, the aorta, which proceeds south from the heart through the lower abdomen where it branches off to supply blood to other major internal organs and in turn, the body as a whole. An aneurysm is an enlargement in the vessel wall, caused by a weakening normally attributed to high blood pressure or heart disease (both of which my Dad has or has had in the past). The result is a ballooning of the affected area which typically increases over time. The wider the bulge becomes, the weaker the integrity of the vessel wall, usually causing the bubble to burst eventually. The result is nearly always fatal as the subsequent internal bleeding is usually too great for the victim to overcome, even with emergency surgery.

(For a nicely informative video explanation of the phenomenon from, click here.)

Such an unfortunate turn of events would justifiably dampen the spirits of even the most optimistic of souls, but Dad and Helen have remained strong and upbeat, believing that God will not place any greater a burden on them then that which they can bear.

Well you can now add one more pebble to the pile.

I just spoke to Pop a couple days ago, and he told me the doctors have given him even more bad news. Living in sunny SoCal for the past forty years, and more specifically, in a desert area like Hemet, on and off for the past fifteen years can have its detractors. For one thing: skin cancer from the constant exposure to the relentless California sun.

Dad has in recent years battled more than one or two Basel Cell Carcinomas, on his lip, chin and now just recently, on his ear. The treatment is to basically cut it out before it spreads. Generally the subsequent scar left behind is minimal, depending on how large the cancerous spot was allowed to become.

And given the fact that the situation has become almost routine for my Dad, he once again is taking the Alfred E. Newman stance.

This man amazes me. For as much as he’s been through, and as many legit reasons he’s had to worry in his life, I’ve never seen fear in his eyes. His faith in God to work things out in his life has been an inspiration to me; you just can’t help but to be uplifted by his confidence.

So now allow me to return to being the worry-wart.

As I mentioned previously, about the aneurysm, the doctors are optimistic that it isn’t anything to be really concerned about. Dad’s otherwise good health make him an excellent candidate for surgery to repair the aneurysm. And for as serious a circumstance as this one, the procedure has about a 95% success rate.

So why hasn’t he had it yet? Good question — despite the fact that I already know (and don’t like) the answer.

Dad learned of his situation in August, a couple of weeks before making this trip to SoCal. At the time it had grown to a size (4.5 cm wide) just under the size recommended for surgery. Naturally he wanted to be proactive and head this sucker off at the pass, but his HMO put up the big stop sign saying that he had to wait until it reached that just-before-it-bursts/by-the-book established procedure size before they’d authorize the surgery.

So he waits; remaining upbeat and patient until his next checkup in a couple weeks to see what the bubble’s status is, and hoping that until then, that he doesn’t have a slip-and-fall or that nobody walks up and punches him in the gut.

But believe it or not, that’s really not what I intended to talk about in this post. So now, in making a complete left turn in subject matter, let’s talk about Angels; not the kind that have wings — the kind that swing bats.

Touched by Angels
I’m not sure exactly when his allegiances changed — probably sometime around the mid-to-late 1970s, but my Dad, somewhat gradually and rather unbeknownst to me, became a Halos fan. He was raised in the Midwest, so quite naturally his love for the National League teams in Cincinnati and Chicago — along with a healthy disdain for the Los Angeles Dodgers — followed him as he brought our family to California in 1969.

As for me, I was a newly-minted but dyed-in-the-wool New York Mets fan. I honestly didn’t even know who the then-California Angels were. I would continue to have little-to-no sense in that regard until the 1973 season when they acquired an up-and-coming Mets prospect who would go on to become one of the most dominant pitchers in Major League Baseball history — for both the Angels, and later, for The Houston Astros and Texas Rangers — Nolan Ryan.

As the decade of the 70s began to fade, so did my love for the Mets; however a curious affinity for the Angels had begun to materialize in its place. The Halos had been perennial losers from their beginnings in 1961, all the way up to the 1978 season when they finally fielded a competitive team. They narrowly missed the American League West division crown that season, but the buzz created by their strong finish created an excitement and expectancy of success in their fans like never before.

1979 brought the team’s first division championship in history and now all of a sudden there were actually two legitimate MLB teams in greater Los Angeles (although the Angels were still trapped in the Dodgers’ shadow, and would remain there, regardless of any subsequent success for many years to come). By this time I was now a rabid Angels fan. I would learn later that my Dad had followed suit, albeit in a somewhat less demonstrative fashion than his #4 son.

I suppose my Dad’s affinity for the Angels was a surprise, simply because we really didn’t hang out that much back then. I didn’t spend a lot of time with my folks those first few years after I moved out on my own, as I was involved in college life, working and doing my own thing for the most part. We still lived within five miles of each other, but I was a pretty busy guy, with my own friends and interests.

It’s a part of the latter-day season between father and son that I’m now sort of experiencing the opposite end of in my relationship with my own son, Shawn. We now often don’t see him for weeks at a time, despite the fact that he lives less than 10 miles away. It’s a guy thing, I suppose. It bugs Michelle a little bit more than me, but I can certainly understand it, so I know it’s certainly nothing personal.

So with that in mind, it did come as somewhat of a surprise that when my pop’s exclamations of, “Hey, how about our Angels?” began to emerge as a recurring theme in conversation.

Now I could never be cynical enough to suggest that my Dad’s love for the Angels was anything less than that of a lifelong baseball fan doing what comes naturally, but I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t admit that it has become a great source of the commonality that we’ve enjoyed in the years since — especially given the surprising dearth of true Angels fans I’ve actually ever known.

But like me, my Pop was seldom able to see the Halos play in person. I can’t say for certain, but I figure I averaged attending no more than 2-3 games a season at Anaheim Stadium in the years I lived in Southern California; my Dad, I’d guess, probably didn’t make it to half that many. Occasionally we as a family would receive game tickets from my sister’s boss, who owned a nice slot of box seats, both in Anaheim and at Dodger Stadium, but those times were few and far between.

Fast-forward to 2004 when I began my current run of regular visits to SoCal and discovered another close friend who just happened to be an Angels fan, and who also just happened to have access to box seat season tickets in Anaheim: my friend Cindy. And as the goodness of her heart would dictate, Cindy has made it a point to see to it that I had tickets to take my Dad to an Angels game each of the past three times I’ve been there, including this visit.

Next: More Etcetera: “Today, Ich bin ein Germaphobe”
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