Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My Life With Comic Books: Part # 98

The current cast of characters:
Paul Howley: age 40
Mal Howley: my wife
Adam Howley: my son, age 15
Cassy Howley: my daughter, age 11


I’ve been luckier than many people because I’ve been relatively healthy for most of my life. I’ve never been admitted to a hospital, had a broken bone or been seriously ill. I have had “hay fever” for a month each year. I injured my back while working at a computer company in the 1970’s and although I’ve never really recovered from that, it’s really minor discomfort and it comes and goes. Pretty lucky, especially considering that I don’t take very good care of myself. I don’t exercise and I love to eat “junk-food.” I should be in bad condition but for some reason, I’m not.

My son, Adam, was born prematurely and he almost died twice at birth. He had a very serious asthma attack when he was young. He had allergies that caused constant nasal stuffiness and discomfort for him for eight months each year during the first sixteen years of his life. He inherited my crooked teeth and he endured a corrective “lip-bumper” to expand his jaw and two sets of corrective braces to straighten his teeth. He rarely complained about this though. He just knew it was part of life.

When my daughter, Cassy, was young, she was a tiny girl. She was so small that she wasn’t even “on the charts” as far as average height and weight goes. At eleven years old she was the height of most seven year olds. We took her to a recommended endocrinologist to determine if there was anything “out of the ordinary” with Cassy’s development but we were told that she was just going to be small and there was nothing that could be done for her. Cassy suffered severe chest pains because of a heart defect called “mitrovalve prolapse” for most of her childhood. She also got “my teeth” and ended up with braces for a few years.

My wife, Mal, was not so lucky. Although she had a healthy early childhood, when she hit her late-teens she found out that she had developed tumors in her left eye. Although these were not malignant tumors, they still presented a problem for her eye and they needed to be removed. She was sent to “Mass Eye and Ear” a division of Mass General Hospital, in Boston and her surgeon was the top eye specialist in this highly respected hospital. Mal’s first eye surgery required the eye to be removed from its socket and the tumors were removed by cutting the eye on the backside. This surgery took place before laser surgery became commonplace. Eventually she needed several more surgeries because the tumors returned. Finally, shortly after Adam was born, lasers were used but there was too much scar tissue inside of her eye and she was left permanently blind in her left eye. Mal has adapted to this partial blindness but it’s not always easy. Driving isn’t simple when your depth perception is bad, (try closing one of your eyes while you drive!) but she manages.

In 1995 however, Mal began to get tired easily. We led a typical, modern busy lifestyle because of our kids activities at school and the extra after-school activities like sports, horseback riding, music lessons and community theatre involvement but until 1995 Mal had plenty of energy. Now these “normal” activities left her exhausted. We both assumed that this would soon pass but then she began to experience intense pain in different spots on her body that several doctors couldn’t explain. Some of the pains were located in her joints but others were seemingly just small, random spots on her body that defied explanation. One doctor suggested that this could be a form of early arthritis and since some relatives in Mal’s family had suffered with arthritis, it was recommended that she see a specialist. After a long series of tests it was determined that Mal had “Fibromyalgia.” This disease is similar to “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” but along with exhaustion comes joint and muscle pain. At that time there was no cure for this disease but the doctor recommended a change in diet and suggested more exercise. Well, a change in diet could be done but Mal certainly didn’t feel well enough to increase her exercise. Her whole body hurt.

The normally energetic Mal was so tired and even though she tried to get to bed earlier she found that the pains in her body would prevent her from sleeping through the night. Lack of sleep made it harder for her body to “re-energize” and she began to need short “cat-naps” during the day. She was determined though, to not let this illness take over her life and she continued to remain as active as possible in the day-to-day activities of the kids. This was getting harder to do because our kids were involved in lots of things.

Adam was maintaining good grades at Lexington Christian Academy and he had arranged his first “real” date with Kelly Crispell, a girl he had briefly known at The Imago School during his first or second grade. We had a family rule that our kids weren’t allowed to date until they were sixteen but we allowed him to invite her to our home for a visit. We thought it would be okay if we all ate together and watched a movie but afterwards Adam explained that he found it uncomfortable for us to be hanging around them. A few months later when Adam was sixteen he went on the real date with Kelly. Mal and I drove him to a movie theater to meet Kelly, who was driven by her folks. While the teens saw the movie we visited with Kelly’s parents. It was a strange thing to deal with. Our child was almost an adult. How bizarre!

As the school year was ending I was told about a local family whose young son Joey was struggling with a terrible disease known as “leukodystrophy.” This is the fatal disease that was seen in the movie “Lorenzo’s Oil” starring Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon. Most children afflicted with this debilitating disease die within a few years and they suffer with blindness and seizures during their short lives. I was asked if I would donate some comic books or other collectibles that could be sold so the money could be donated to the family to help pay for the expensive experimental medicines that could help ease young Joey’s pain. I decided to contact some of the comic book publishers to solicit donations of merchandise from them as well as choosing some of my own store inventory to auction off at a local fundraising day of activities for the Johnson family. Adam and I set up a display of interesting collectibles and I played the part of the auctioneer. We raised more money from this auction than the rest of the rest of the fundraising activities combined. Many of my customers came to support this very worthwhile cause.

Next chapter: After fifteen years we fire our first employee…not a fun decision.

pictures: Adam with his first "girlfriend" Kelly
Adam and I at a fundraiser for young Joey Johnson

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