I got one of those phone calls we all dread last Thursday morning. My brother was being rushed to the local hospital because he was having trouble breathing. What has happened since is a whirlwind of events and emotions. After a lot of testing and days waiting around it’s finally been determined that he needs a heart valve replacement and a bypass surgery. For most people, their brother being in the hospital is probably just a blip on the radar and not much more. For me, it’s a life altering event. Our parents are both dead and he never married or had any children so I am his closest living relative and contact person in medical emergencies. So that means that when something happens to him, I am the one they call and ask to make the hard decisions. Fortunately, for now, he’s capable of making his own decisions, but that can change swiftly and I need to be accessible and involved so I can do what’s best for him.
When I got that call I had a rush of emotions. I’m a bit ashamed to admit that I was more worried about myself than him at that moment. I figured his shortness of breath was an anxiety attack and nothing more. He did have an anxiety attack but there was more. I was concerned about whether to tell the hospital staff I was his sister or brother. That was complicated by the fact that he gave them my old name as his contact and we had to correct that with them. I usually get around saying I’m his sister by simply stating that he is my brother. Usually that is enough for them to leave me alone but occasionally it doesn’t work out so neatly. So at that hospital they referred to me as his sister a couple of times but now that he’s been transferred to a big city hospital where they have a cardiac unit I haven’t had to deal with the brother/sister thing since they seem too busy to care much. Everyone there has addressed me as he/him/sir.
I’m out to my brother but he has not gotten to the point where he’s willing to call me his brother yet. He may never get there. People have been telling me I’m a good sister for taking care of him. Well, I owe him big time. And he’s my only family. I don’t feel like a good “sister”. I do what I do out of obligation. If I were a good sister/brother I would spend more time with him and be more tolerant of his irritating quirks. You see, our dad died when I was just a baby and he was 14. At that point he was thrust into the “man of the house” role and spent the next 20 some years financially supporting my mother and me. He didn’t have to do that. I know that he looks at me and my life and feels angry that he sacrificed for me and I haven’t sacrificed anything for him. Well, paybacks are hell big bro. For the past several years I’ve been going to his doctor’s appointments with him and helping him manage his life because there’s something wrong in his brain that keeps him from being able to deal with that stuff like most adults. My mom always did everything for him so he never learned to take care of himself, speak up for himself, communicate with people, etc. My theory is that he has a mild case of autism or something on that spectrum but I’m not a professional and he’s never been diagnosed. All I know is that when I started showing up at his doctor’s appointments they were all thrilled to see me because he never seemed to be getting any better. I would ask him about his health and he always told me he was fine. One day he told me that his kidneys had a problem but he didn’t really know what the problem was. At that point I decided I needed to know what was going on. It’s been a wild ride ever since and I’m paying him back for all he did for me growing up.
This might all sound cold-hearted on my part. Perhaps it is. I love him, don’t get me wrong, but he and I are like oil and water and we just don’t get along so this is hard for me. I wrote my “family” off a long time ago for the way they treated me when I came out and he was part of that writing off. But, time heals, they say and I can’t hold a grudge for too long and it’s time to pay the piper. So I’m spending a lot of time in the city that I hate the most in a hospital (hate those too) with a man that I can barely stand most of the time during the busiest month of the year at work. It’s not my idea of fun.
Am I his brother? Who cares? I need to get him through this surgery and healed up. And if he doesn’t make it through all this I’m at peace with the fact that I’ve done everything I can for him even if he isn’t grateful for it and thinks I’m intruding in his life. Honestly, it’s really hard for me to think of myself as his brother. He’s my brother but I don’t know what I am. I haven’t seen myself as a male long enough to be comfortable with the title of brother. It’s an odd place to be for sure.