A Life on the Move

By Ruth Latimer

"Change is never easy! You fight to hang on and you fight to let go!" Kevin in "WONDER YEARS"

I understand the need to be flexible, and I try to take things as they come, but I do not easily embrace change. And changes there were many.

When Lee and I married in 1962 after he received his degree in Mechanical Engineering, we knew we both wanted to live close to our families so that our children would grow up knowing their grandparents well. Lee declined a position with a large national firm that offered a great salary and handsome benefit package because we knew their engineers were required to travel and often were sent to live abroad for some period of time. Being close to family was more important to us. Lee began work in Helena, MT which suited us well geographically; Butte was our home base. However, a job opportunity was presented to move to San Francisco for a spell and we grabbed it. We had no children yet, so geography was not a problem. And it was suitable for schooling and that's what we had in mind. Lee needed more education to stay competitive in the ever tightening job market.

Unfortunately the S. F. job did not last long enough for the return to school to be feasible. It was not long before we were on the move again. We went home to Butte for awhile so that Lee could return to school there.

Two engineering degrees and three children later, Lee began working in the Aerospace field in Colorado. The economic decline in the early 1970's changed everything. We found ourselves in Nebraska then Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming and finally Tennessee. When one industry segment slowed down, we would look for work in another.

Between 1962 and 1987, there were eight major household moves. We would tell the girls-four in all-that every move was a chance to learn new things and have new experiences, but in my heart, I really just wanted to stay put. We lived in small towns and large cities and even though we knew we would adapt and develop new friendships and comfortable routines, moving on was always very difficult emotionally and physically exhausting. Looking for housing in our price range and hoping the new school would meet our educational ideals for our daughters was a big job. Making our new house a livable home became a challenge for me. Within one week every box would be unpacked and every cupboard and drawer and closet would be filled again. I knew I needed to bring a quick and easy routine to our household so that our home would be a source of peace for everyone. The normalcy, I thought, would help everybody adjust faster.

Even though we could not move as close as we wanted to Butte, we made sure the girls spent time with the rest of our families. We drove or flew to be with them on the holidays, planned camping trips with them and attended family get-togethers.

When our four daughters ranged from 4 to 9 -years-of-age, we moved to Rapid City S.D. and we were able to live there for ten years before the economy took another dip. Lee had managed to find two good jobs in Rapid City, but in 1985, we had to pull up stakes once more. This move was particularly hard on the girls who were in there teens by then. Many tears fell: there was much heartache and anger. This was the first time we all felt trapped by our circumstances. We had believed we had found our home this time, especially after ten years of growing roots. This move was harder than most.

With the two oldest girls on their own and engineering jobs drying up in the smaller towns, we made the tough decision to move to a larger metropolitan area 2200 miles from Butte. That was fifteen years ago: we've been lucky this time. We have lived in Knoxville, TN since 1987. Do we plan to stay? Who can know the future? Every move I have ever made I (we) planned to stay.

When all the girls were on their own, I was expecting to move slowly and peacefully through middle age and slip seamlessly into my golden years. Instead, I've been handed a diagnosis I don't much like, a diagnosis that explains why I've been feeling so run down lately. Instead of calling moving companies, I'm setting up doctor appointments. I'm hearing words like "transplant" and "right heat failure" and I am shocked they are talking to me, Ruth, the woman who was so certain she would live a long and healthy life.

Without being conscious of it, I realize now my health began slipping about nine years ago. Like everyone else, I just thought the years were starting to catch up with me. I was just entering my fifties when I started slowing down and that seemed normal in some ways.

In 1994 I had a bout with pneumonia and after that my blood pressure was a bit higher than normal. Like many people, I began taking BP meds and did not think much more about it. I had bouts of bronchitis and my doctor did not seem concerned, and so I wasn't concerned either.

Then little things started to take more effort. At first I did not think much of it when I could not keep up with Lee on the golf course one warm summer day. I had become used to being slow and tired on some days. I could still do most everything I set my mind to, although more and more, I began to plan for naps and days off. I signed up for temporary office jobs to keep me connected with the world. This kind of job was perfect for someone like me who had good and bad days. Mostly I just rolled along doing what I could do.

It was not until 2001 that the doctors found anything troubling. And it was very troubling. I was diagnosed with Histoplasmosis (a fungal disease caused by bird droppings etc.) right heart failure, beginning left heart failure and Pulmonary Hypertension (PH). The doctors are calling the PH a mild condition right now, but I'm not seeing it that way.

The certainty I've always had about the nature of my life, has been shaken to the core. I am supposed to live a very long time. How can this diagnosis be true? Sometime ago a nurse friend told me that making a major household move is on a par (in terms of stressors) with discovering you have a chronic illness. Funny, as hard as the moves were, this is worse.

If this is a move, it's a major, major move-a real beaut-but it has one thing in common with the rest of them, there's a lot of work ahead. There are new connections to be made and lots of settling in to do and I have no experience in the area. It's never been just about me before.

About the time I received my diagnosis, my mother's health declined dramatically. There was no time to think about myself. My sisters and brothers kept close watch on her in the nursing home in Butte until she died in July of 2001. Lee and I flew to Butte to see her early in July for the last time. We visited with her for a week and when we had just returned home, she passed away. I flew back alone for her funeral.

It was a full year after my mother died before I felt ready to explore my diagnosis and take my condition seriously. I wanted so much to believe it was nothing to worry about, but that is not true as most of you already know. I read everything I could find about PH in between other family crisis and it's frightening to me.

Unlike my other "moves", I won't be settling into a cozy life again. This is brand new territory. I am going through all the emotions and this time I can't argue that things will get better over time. I'm afraid the opposite may be true. I do see that it is an experience that will teach me more about life, but honestly, I'm not sure I'm ready for it.

While my PH is still "mild", I have decided to look for temporary work again, only this time I have decided to try something new. I have become an independent designer-contractor with a new and upcoming catalog company out of Marshall, TX. I can do fundraisers, parties or both and I will have control of my time and my level of activity. I know it will help me emotionally.

Little by little, I'm coming to grips with this demon within me. I'm walking for pleasure more now. The Histoplasmosis, which was causing me to be short-of-breath, is no longer a problem. For three years, walking had been difficult. I am buying a treadmill for those days when I cannot tolerate the climate so that I can keep up the consistency with my walking. I feel I can once again get focused on tasks around my home.

I’ve lived a life on the move and I’ve managed pretty well so far. Who knows? Maybe I’ll live to ripe old age after all.

February 1, 2003

Ruth Latimer also writes an ongoing medical journal in the Diary section of PHC.


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