My dad had one brother, Pedro Rolando Durruthy. Growing up I always heard stories from their youth in Cuba and moving to America. Them growing up in Boston, Massachusetts two spanish speaking immigrant afro-latinos. My uncle graduated from Harvard University. Finally moving to San Diego and then going on a double date with sisters, who turned into their wives. My uncle and aunt lived next door to my family in Paradise Hills and started his own computer business. Sometime in his thirties, he had a stroke.
My uncle had lupus, diagnosed I believe in his early 20’s, maybe teens. I haven’t fact checked yet. He was athletic according to his stories, a track and swim athlete. According to most, he was living the American dream. Harvard graduate, business owner, home owner, wife and three kids.
When he was married to my aunt though, he had a massive stroke and was paralyzed on one half of his body. My aunt divorced him, and he then lived with my grandparents. Since my parents were business owners themselves and my grandparents lived walking distance to my home, I spent most of my time there with my uncle. I saw first hand his struggle with lupus. Multiple doctors, appointments, hospital visits, er visits, ambulance visits, surgeries, dialysis, home nurse visits, the list goes on. The pain he endured was sometimes to much for him and we’d hear him yelling in pain often.
As long as I can remember he was in a wheelchair and later an electric scooter. I struggle for memories of when he could pick me up, as I was maybe in preschool when he became paralyzed. He’d ride around in the scooter though with us by his side and sometimes when the battery would get low we would have to push him. When he began driving again he had to get a car with a ramp for his scooter and I remember his pea green striped motorhome. I was sooo embarrassed when he’d pick us up from school in that thing. He didn’t care though, always trying to get out the house and we would go to the beach, or Sea Port Village.
Uncle Pedro, I always just called him “uncle”, called me his daughter and spoke to his medical team of me so much that when they met me it was always as if they already knew me. He spoke of his whole family to the nursing staff and it used to embarrass me but I see now how proud he was of his family. When I was little I used to say that I wanted to be a nurse and pronounced it “nuse” since I couldn’t say my “R”‘s and he told his doctors and the nurses that story even into my 30’s. I was the only one he would let cut his nails short. When he began home dialysis between me or his oldest son, we would switch off being his caretaker.
He had dreams that sometime would annoy us. Telling us he was going to walk again if we would just drive him to Los Angeles to a special healer. I went with him in his motorhome as his helper on his missions. Driving around National City looking for healing crystals. He tricked me once with my one year old son into driving him to a business meeting at an apartment complex he told me he was going to buy, knowing he didn’t have the money for such plans. Sometimes I thought it was the medications he was taking that made him think he was able to do anything and we’d laugh and shake our heads. I see now though that my uncle was a believer. He was dreamer, but he also believed in the power of our God. He prayed for better for his family. When he was younger, he was a hustler and chased those dreams.
I never thought of the emotions he experienced during life. The angst of his divorce and losing his home, the wave of emotions with losing a kidney, getting two kidney transplants and his body rejecting both. When my grandmother died, my grandpa was not able to care for my uncle as he needed and my uncle was then in an assisted living facility. It was almost an hour drive from our home but when I had a car I would make the trip with my kids and share a story or joke with my uncle in an attempt to brighten his day.
Not until my own struggle with lupus did I begin to understand my uncle and his life. I saw the joy leaving his eyes when he was at the facility and I understood it.
This past covid year the facility went on lockdown and we weren’t able to have our weekly visits where we’d bring him chinese food. Darian would feed him as he was too weak most times to feed himself. My dad would give him a haircut and we’d watch sports on tv and make jokes or tell him what was going on with us all. This past year I hadn’t been able to talk to him much and we weren’t able to visit him. Late November he was unresponsive in his bed and they sent him to the hospital. While at the hospital, he tested positive for COVID-19 so they kept him to give him proper treatment. The thing about covid is if you survive, your body is not the same. You will experience symptoms and complications still after testing negative. Which my uncle seems it affected his heart. On Tuesday we were informed that he stopped breathing and his heart stopped pumping after a dialysis treatment at the hospital. They were able to resuscitate him but he was unresponsive and my uncle never wanted to be on tubes or machines to keep him alive. The doctor told us he would not live much longer. Because of covid none of us, not even his kids were able to go see him. By 9pm the ICU nurse informed us he would not make it through the night. By 11pm he was gone.
Just like that. Alone and in the hospital, he passed away. The only comfort I have is knowing he was in the hospital and being given care so he was not in pain. My uncle lived a long life of suffering and pain and I am comforted knowing he is no more.
Please guys, covid is very much real. People who most susceptible are staying home. They are being protected. The ones who aren’t taking precautions and are then going to their job as caretaker or in nursing homes are the ones bringing it in. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Don’t go to social gatherings.
My last conversation with my uncle was a week before he passed. They called me with him on three way and he wasn’t very coherent but I told him I was going to go visit him soon as covid was over. Bring my boys and some food and go see him. Now I’ll never get another chance to hear him laugh while telling a story he’s told us many times before.
My lupus warrior, Pedro Rolando Durruthy, I will miss you but I am so happy to know you are no longer alone and hurting. Tell grandma and abuelita hi for me. I hope you watch over me, my boys and your boys. See you in heaven. Love you.
Rosadela Durruthy is founder of She’s Got Lupus, a non profit organization aimed to improve the lives of those living with chronic illnesses by advocating for mental health, healthy living and raising awareness.