It's always something

By  Harry Mcavoy, Catholic Register Special
  • September 5, 2008

I have a disease. It started in a finger on my left hand and within a couple days moved to a finger on my right hand. I first noticed the unusual pains a few months after my 40th birthday. 

By that summer, I was practically bedridden. A misdiagnosis didn’t help. In fairness to the doctor, he didn’t have much to go on. In fact, even a couple of years later a specialist was still saying maybe you do have arthritis and maybe you don’t. 

I remember that first summer being at a cottage with Jennifer, my children and my parents. The annual week at the cottage with grandma and grandpa was something we really looked forward to. Unfortunately I spent most of my time in incredible pain lying in a bed. Fortunately the owners of the cottage had a few books in their bookcase and I settled on a well worn paperback written by Gilda Radner about her battle with cancer titled It’s Always Something. The title of the book comes from a favourite saying of her father. I think Radner’s story helped prepare me for my struggle and it also gave me the expression, “It’s always something,” which I repeat today as though I was the first to speak those insightful words.

 Over the past nine years arthritis has crept into a number of my body parts. Fortunately a daily cocktail of prescription drugs has been fairly effective at minimizing both the physical damage and the pain. I have been pretty lucky in that most of the time I move under my own steam, although in the last year I have on a few occasions needed the support of a cane. Actually, recalling that I purchased my cane on the streets of Banff, Alta., gives me some solace. It reminds me of a wonderful trip I made three summers ago to the Rockies with my oldest son, Harry.

Today I sometimes struggle with opening doors and jars. It is embarrassing for a father’s ego when his 12-year-old daughter can open a jar that has just conquered him. At a medical assessment some time ago, a physical therapist in training commented on my strength test, “A big guy like you should be far stronger than that.” I chuckled at his indiscretion and said, “That is what years of pain does to a body.” 

If there is anything I grieve over, it has been the impact on my ability to move and play with my children. I remember two years ago trying to throw a football to one of the children. Instead of easily covering the space between us, I kept driving the ball into the ground, only a couple feet in front of me. I did the same with a baseball. I used to love to wrestle with the younger children on my bed on Saturday mornings. Now I rarely roughhouse and I do so only if I am exceedingly careful. Hope, my five-year-old, won’t have those same memories of daddy as a tickle monster. This summer Ben has started to play golf. I used to love to play, although I wasn’t very good at it. It pains me to think we may never play a round of golf together.

When I start feeling badly about my circumstances I turn my mind towards Jesus and offer up my suffering. I have spent some time trying to understand how my suffering could benefit others. I haven’t quite figured it out, or more to the point the Holy Spirit has not yet enlightened me. I do know that my suffering has given me the gift of greater compassion for others who are also suffering and a willingness to reach out and provide whatever comfort I can, even if only a kind word.

The other gift arthritis and suffering have given me is an increased awareness not to take life for granted. When I see parents playing with their children I want to yell, “Play hard, forget about your to-do list, nobody knows what tomorrow will bring.” I recognize that too soon they might learn what Gilda Radner came to understand and I now know, in this life of ours, “It’s always something.”

(McAvoy writes about family issues from the Toronto area.)

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