Big Brother

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.

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23 thoughts on “Big Brother

  1. It is undoubtedly a very difficult time for you right now. I went through something very similar with my brother, so I’m not going to offer advice as much as support.
    “Oil and Water” was the same expression I always used regarding us, and it is hard to deal with the guilt for reasons I don’t need to tell you.
    My brother had Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a high-functioning form of Autism; had a Master’s degree in astrophysics and couldn’t get along with anyone. Never worked in his trained profession, Died of alcoholism.
    Just because other people don’t know who you are doesn’t mean you don’t know.
    Labels don’t change who you really are.
    By the time my brother died, I was numb to his toxic personality and I am not ashamed to say it was a RELIEF.
    This post really spoke to me; as one human being to another, I wish I could be more help, other than to say I understand and I wish you well.
    Namasté
    नमस्ते
    Chazz Vincent

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Chazz for your support and sharing your experience with me. It’s hard to help someone who doesn’t think they need help nor want the help. I wish I could get numb to him but he still can piss me off in a hot second. I totally understand the relief you felt. I have to admit that it’s occurred to me that I would feel that way as well once he’s gone. Guilt too, but I’m doing everything I know to do and I have to take care of myself too, so there’s only so much a person can do.

      Namaste’

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  2. I relate to the not having been male long enough to feel comfortable with the brother title. Or even he him his which everyone uses these days save certain family members who are I believe resisting. I met a woman the other day – butch lesbian and I was introduced as male. She gave me a certain look initially leaving me questioning my authenticity somehow. I finally
    Just accepted I am who I am and hopefully her look was simply one of recognition as part of the larger glbt community. Good luck with ur brother. I imagine it’s an angst filled time for many reasons.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks for the well wishes. Things are going pretty well, all things considered. I’ve decided that I’m going to use the word sibling for now on when asked what my relationship is to him. It’s gender neutral and still keeps them guessing which is just fine with me. I’m not sure what the butch lesbian’s look at you was about. Maybe she did read you as another butch at first. Hard to tell from where I’m sitting. I’m perfectly ok with he him pronouns but I am struggling with the brother thing for some reason. I guess I need to get over that somehow. Maybe with time.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sorry to hear about your brother’s illness. I lost both of my parents this summer in two overlapping, unconnected situations. I spent weeks in hospitals all told and I outed myself all over the place, afraid that there might be some confusion should either of my parents ask fr or mention a daughter or sister. Now I have been transitioned 16 years but I started at 40 and although my family are supportive, names and pronouns have not always come easily and I have never made an issue of it with them. In the end it was not an issue. My father always knew me (and I have a beard he had only seen once) and never called me by anything other than my male name. And quite honestly I would not have cared. My mother was cool but she was always my champion. Even my brothers, with me being referred to as one of “the boys” came to see me as others see me. In the end I need not have worried.

    Now as one of the co-executors I am still outing myself every time I take care of any business because my father’s will names me under my married female name. I have to carry my name change certificate. But again I have had no problems. It’s weird so many years after transitioning especially as a bald bearded man, but I have just learned to deal with it and moved on. I understand your anxiety, I had the same, but, as you say, when the rubber hits the road, it’s family that counts. Who cares?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you roughghosts for sharing your experience with me. It really made me feel a lot better and gave me some insight into how to handle things if I needed to come out. So far I haven’t had to do that because they don’t really seem to care a whole lot who I am and just assume I’m his brother. It’s only when he refers to me as his sister that it gets confusing. I’m curious how the funerals went in this regard and if your transition was an issue and how you referred to yourself with extended family. Thanks again!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think I tend to come out when it’s not necessary – especially when something effects my children or parents. I’m bald and bearded and most of the time I should leave it on an absolutely need to know basis. I was so stealth in my social and work life for so long that I had to explore my comfort zone. The funeral was a little concern because it was held at the Catholic church in the tiny town they had lived in for the last few years of their lives. She had told no one. I was only concerned about the open house afterwards. All the family photos are in a little back room and there are decades worth of photos of me as a feminine looking girl/woman. Fortunately we had one huge family photo taken about 8 years ago and I was transitioned by that time and otherwise it was gorgeous and everyone sat out on the patio. Any extended family present (my brothers’ in-laws) have known me for years, and otherwise anyone else is 1000’s of miles away. Neighbours and church members came. And it was an awesome day. But I’ll admit I was anxious leading up to the day.

        Liked by 1 person

      • It sounds like you’re more pro-active than I am about telling people. I need to get better about that I think. There’s a fine balance between telling too many people and not enough. Thanks for sharing about the funeral. Sounds like it went off without any problems and was a nice time for everyone, even though it’s a sad occasion.

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  4. I am so sorry that you are in this space at the moment, Shawn. I have no advice, but my thoughts are with you. Big hugs, bro.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You aren’t in the best place, are you? It’s hard when you’re doing what is right but you might not particularly like it much. And throw family into the mix? I hear you! Hang in there and as it was mentioned above- take care of yourself!!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I appreciated your honesty here Shawn. I can relate. I’m really sorry you’re going through this time. Warmest thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. It’s great that you are showing up for him. Take care of yourself too!
    And, like other commenters, I can relate to not identifying with certain titles. I’m good with he/him/his, but I’m pretty certain that I will never be comfortable with husband, brother, son, nephew, etc. I’ll always prefer spouse, sibling, kid, or, sometimes nothing is best.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I agree and I think I’ve decided to start using sibling to describe myself from now on if I’m asked. I’m good with the pronouns too, but for some reason those titles really mess with my head.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Shawn, I’m sorry that I am so late in writing to you about your brother. On the practical side, Donna had an aortic valve replacement (with a pig valve) in Feb 2015. It is a difficult surgery (although fairly safe and with a good recovery rate over time) and required a few days in the Cardiac ICU followed by a week in the Cardiac hospital ward, followed by several months of recovery. I highly recommend that if he has surgery he goes straight from the ward to residential cardio rehab (not just a nursing home) for a couple of weeks – at least until he feels comfortable getting up and going to the bathroom by himself – and going up and down whatever steps he needs to in his residence.
    I like the “he ain’t heavy he’s my brother” line, but ultimately you are going to have to out yourself and explain that you are Shawn – no matter what your brother calls you.
    The staff has probably seen everything – when Donna was in the hospital there was a man who was in the ICU and not doing well, and he had three sets of children from three different relationships who were there arguing with each other and with the doctors about who should be allowed to see him (they only allowed one or two people in at a time) and what kind of measures should be taken. It was very, very, ugly.
    I hope that he has a good surgeon – Dr. George, who operated on Donna, looked like he was 30 years old, but he had done over 750 valve replacements before hers and it is his specialty.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing all of this Jamie. Fortunately he is at a hospital that is highly regarded for their cardiac facilities and has been in very capable hands. Originally they were going to do open heart surgery to replace the valve and put in two stints but ultimately decided that was too risky with all of his other health issues. They decided to put the stints in first via catheter and he has come through that procedure fine with no rehab necessary. He’s still in the hospital at the moment but it’s only to monitor his kidneys, which is another big issue he’s been dealing with. He’ll have to come back in about a month if his kidneys are doing well to have the valve replaced the same way they did the stints so it should be a short hospital stay if all goes well. I was pretty sure he would not make it through open heart surgery so I was relieved when they told us that it was too risky. I think he’s out of the woods for the moment but only time will tell.

      So far he’s used my current name and I think the original slip up was due to him being freaked out because he couldn’t breathe. I’ve been getting by with the nurses and doctors by just telling them that he is my brother and not denoting what I am to him. Mostly they have assumed that I am his brother as well and that is fine with me and hasn’t seemed to bother him, though he does refer to me as his sister, so it is confusing. I think most of them assume he’s talking about Candace and don’t think anything of it. If I have to I will come out but so far I haven’t felt the need.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Glad that he is getting good care – hopefully they will be able to stabilize him so that he can get the valve replaced. Donna did outpatient cardio rehab after surgery to stay in shape – there is an organization called Mended Hearts and she attends their support group – it is a good resource for patients and care givers.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the info. I don’t think he would take advantage of it but if I ever feel the need I will definitely check it out.

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