I admit it: I’m not a fan of Facebook. This week, with the emergence of Google+, I’ve been starry-eyed at the possibility of a new social media delivery system that allows me to do all the stuff I wanted to but couldn’t on Facebook. And while I’d like to talk about Google+, that’s just not what this post is about.
Nope. This is about my dad, Facebook and healing in the age of social media.
In brief: My dad was born in 1952. He first heard the opening riff of the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine” over a little battery-operated radio sometime in 1964, and soon after picked up a guitar and adopted a mop-top. He’s never been the same.
In a nutshell: My dad’s a musician, a devoted Christian, an avid fisherman, an amateur lepidopterist and an amazing father. He’s been ill for the better part of my life with a disease called hypersensitivity vasculitis, plus rheumatoid arthritis for good measure. And then there’s the major heart problems.
Starting around his 30th birthday, Dad fell ill with a series of odd symptoms, from painful joints to burning rashes. For years his doctors tried to find an answer. He’s tried every regimen and medicine known to man and has managed. As with many diseases — this one striking roughly one in a million — doctors aren’t exactly scrambling to make advances or spend grants on research.
He’s been able to keep his worst symptoms at bay with a cocktail of medicine. He takes around 175 pills a week including prednisone and methotrexate, both of which have side effects and risks. But he’s had a slew of other problems.
Eight years ago, when I graduated from college — literally the week I graduated — he had emergency open heart surgery to have two valves replaced and a double bypass. He survived, even with the odds stacked against him. Then, in 2004, a week before my wedding — I have great timing — he fell ill with a staph infection that nearly killed him. For a while there we weren’t sure if we’d have a wedding or a funeral. Again, he defied the odds and survived an illness that kills some people in their prime.
Now, once again, we’re facing another challenge: impending open heart surgery in a few weeks. While doctors have been monitoring his heart, a sinus infection and the past staph infection weakened his heart valves — pig valves that are susceptible to infection, yet have a lower chance of rejection. Yesterday, doctors at Duke University put a catheter into his heart to take a picture. The last time he had this done, he suffered a minor heart attack, so we were relieved to hear all went well.
But still, Dad’s prognosis is the same: He has to have his valves replaced and part of his heart rebuilt. It’s all highly risky. Last time our family went into crisis mode, we coordinated a mailing list. From the minimal connectivity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, we let people know, when we could, what was happening.
Now there’s Facebook.
While I have plenty of bad things to say about Facebook, I know it’s done wonders for my dad’s morale. Why? Because he’s got so many more Facebook friends than I do. He’s up to 703, while I’ve got just under 500 — and I consider myself rather well connected digitally.
Still, Dad’s got a few decades on me, and he’s touched a lot of people. He lives in North Carolina but grew up in Massachusetts. Through the power of Facebook, he was able to coordinate the 40th high school reunion for his graduating class despite his illnesses. People are constantly reaching out to him, providing love and support and simply being around in digital space whenever he needs them.
Facebook has empowered my dad, his family and his friends.
It connects my father to a world of friends in an easy, accessible manner. My sister started a group for him, and it has almost 200 members. There is something remarkable about this social media age we’re in, an era when so many people can reach out to, and encourage, someone so easily.
As my dad approaches his second valve replacement surgery, I know we are not alone. I know we’re moments, mere keystrokes, away from hundreds of people who love us. I know they’re waiting in the wings, thinking about us, praying for us and sending love our way.
And that’s gotta count for something.
Photo: Natania Barron