Legacy Blog #25: Grandpa Chuck’s Emphysema

My Beloved Daughter,

As we’ve mentioned before, your Grandpa Chuck had many health issues.  He used to tell me how, when he broke his leg falling off of that building when he was still married to his first wife, he had spent so much time with his leg elevated in the hospital that he had to force it down when he was walking out to the car after being released.  I don’t know how serious he was . . . your grandpa was always such a joker.

The emphysema was much more serious.  There was no cure.  I remember the early stages of what caused him to go in to be diagnosed.  He would come in from doing something outside, like mowing the grass or working on a car, only to sit in his chair and breathe like he had just finished running a marathon.

Of course, your Great-Grandpa Winfred had emphysema but the only side-effect that I remember was him coughing up stuff all the time.  I didn’t realize that he had trouble breathing.  Of a truth, your Grandpa Chuck probably wouldn’t have deteriorated as far as he did, had it not been for two things.

First, the emphysema was caused mostly from working with ammonia, which was hauled on the barges that his company moved up and down the Mississippi River.  From what I understand, an employee was only supposed to work on them for five years and then be moved to a different position.  Your Grandpa was one of the best employees that they had, however.  Rather than moving him off after five years, they kept him there and put him in charge of the bargemen.  It took him specifically telling them that he couldn’t work in the ammonia anymore before they did the right thing and moved him into the engine room.

We can’t place all of the blame on the ammonia.  Your Grandpa was a smoker.  I don’t recall if he smoked as much as your Grandma Pat (I tend to think that NOBODY smoked as much as her), but he did smoke.  It took our family physician telling him—way after your Grandpa Chuck’s health had deteriorated to a point of him not being able to work—that he wouldn’t survive another year, before he finally put the cancer sticks down and quit cold turkey.  I think he finally quit when I was maybe twenty.  I know he wasn’t smoking anymore when I met your mother at twenty-two.

I look back at the sacrifices that he made for his family and it still brings tears to my eyes.  Although he never really held any ill-will toward his employer, I have looked at their website in bitterness.  Unlike when your Grandpa slaved away for them, they now consistently get EPA awards for their barges, as they have figured out how to keep them safe for their employees.  I just wonder how many lungs had to be damaged before they made the effort to do so?

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