It was a beautiful California afternoon when Brian O’Connell finished his round of golf—68 degrees, bright blue sky, not a cloud in sight and a refreshing ocean breeze. It was the kind of day that had enticed him to leave New England and move to California.
Golf was the game of his youth—the game he loved and excelled at. Brian was a trim man of average height, with a square jaw. He was a man’s man who also enjoyed the arts. A two-time golf club champion, he was well known and liked at the club. So, his golfing buddies were a bit perplexed when he mumbled something about not having time for lunch with them today. Their lunches after their Saturday morning games were practically sacrosanct.
Brian waved at his golfing buddies, and walked directly from the 18th hole without speaking. He was halfway to the parking lot when Tony, one of the guys in his fivesome, caught up with him.
“You were a bit off your game today, Brian. Anything going on?”
Brian kept walking with his head down.
“Yeah, the wheels came off on the back nine. Not really . . . “
He stopped for a minute. “It’s Kevin. We had to take him to the ER a few days ago. Our meeting with his doc was not encouraging.”
Antonio Ricci was a head taller than Brian, with thick dark brown hair. Like Brian, he was born in Boston and emigrated to California. But while Brian was mostly of Irish descent, Tony’s family was 100% Italian.
“Talk to me, man. I might be able to help. I have some contacts at UCLA.” Tony was an internist with a local private practice. “I refer my patients to them from time to time. What did the doctor say?”
They had reached Brian’s old Lexus in the parking lot. Brian opened the trunk and tossed his golf bag in.
Closing the trunk, he replied, “Well they said that he has Addison Disease. President Kennedy had it. It’s a disease resulting from the adrenal glands not making enough of two kinds of steroid hormones. I really don’t understand the mechanics about how that makes him sick.”
“OK. Do they have to do further tests? Do they have a treatment plan?”
“Well, they did another test to confirm it at the hospital, and started him on a medication regime. They kept him overnight for observation. There’s no cure for this, so unless there’s a major medical breakthrough, he will be on medication for the rest of his life.
He hesitated before continuing.
“The doc wanted to talk to us to get a more detailed family history. Apparently, it can be genetic. It is also associated with other autoimmune problems. Liz couldn’t think of anyone in her family with an autoimmune disease. But my Great Uncle Eddie had RA, rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease. And I have psoriasis, another autoimmune disorder.”
His face was contorted in pain. I feel so guilty that Kevin inherited a weakness for autoimmune disorders from me. It’s my fault and it’s tearing me apart.”
“Are Kevin or Liz blaming you?” Tony asked.
Brian looked surprised. “No, but . . .”
“They don’t have to blame me. I blame me.”
Tony leaned on the left front door of the Lexus coupe to keep Brian from opening it and leaving.
“Brian, let me help put some perspective on this for you.
First, no human being is perfect. We all bring a mix of genetic material from our ancestors—some wonderful, some problematical. You are no more responsible for that than your parents were.
Second, you and I were both raised in Catholic homes, where guilt reigns supreme, does it not?”
He laughed, but hey, you’re not even Catholic anymore—so what’s your excuse? So, knock it off!” He jokingly swiped Brian’s shoulder.
“Third, do you know how many autoimmune diseases there are?”
Brian shook his head.
Tony thought for a moment, and added,
“Didn’t you say last year that Liz was diagnosed with a borderline case of Hashimoto’s Disease? That’s an autoimmune disease. I wager that if you look into her large extended family, you will find that many of her relatives also had some type of autoimmune disease.”
The point is that it’s no one’s fault. It’s not yours and it’s not Liz’s and it’s not Kevin’s. Kevin is a highly intelligent kid who inherited your incredible artistic talent, and many other wonderful qualities from both you and Liz.
Who knows where the Addison’s came from? Who cares? Stop beating yourself up, buddy. You can’t be there for your family if you keep carrying around that burden of guilt. Your family needs you.”
Brian was silent for a minute as his eyes flooded with tears. He finally looked up at Tony, relieved. “Thanks, Tony. Thanks for giving me the perspective, and thanks for taking the time to sort it out with me. You’re a good friend.”
Coming from a demonstrative Italian family, Tony took that as an invitation to hug Brian. He enveloped his friend in a bear hug, and said, “You just remember what I said, huh? Life is not easy but I’m here for you, buddy. Call me if you need to get out for a beer.”