A Precious Life
By Roberto Pachecano
“Hello! May I speak to Francis Hunter?” I asked.
“Yes, just a minute. Precious! It’s for you, Precious!” said the man who answered the telephone.
“This is Francis. May I help you?” Francis sounded flustered, her voice barely audible as if laboring to breathe. Yet she was asking how she could help me. I would soon realize that she was all “about” helping others.
I told Francis that I wished to write a story about her for the Lupus Foundation of America’s South Central Texas Chapter newsletter. She agreed to the story and the necessary interview, but only if it would help with Lupus awareness—that of the patient’s symptoms and of the effects of the disease on relationships between family and friends.
Before starting the interview, I asked who had summoned her to the phone by calling her Precious. “That was my husband, Billy. That’s his special name for me.”
Francis giggled when I asked about her childhood. She was the youngest of thirteen children, and aside from being the thirteenth student listed on her high school graduation program, claimed nothing else extraordinary happened. “Since graduation day, however, thirteen has been my favorite number,” she added, giggling again. This levity of
conversation was short-lived and quickly turned to her Lupus affliction.
Prior to being diagnosed with Lupus, Francis recalled several instances of “bad chest pain,” which she attributed to heartburn. Not until the pain had become so severe the last time did Billy insist she be taken to the emergency room at a nearby hospital. Francis underwent a series of tests in the ER, but she was told by the attending physician that “everything seemed normal.” Perplexed and just about to leave the room, her doctor asked if there were any serious illnesses in the family history. Francis told him that her sister had suffered with Lupus for many years. The doctor then tested Francis, and her results were positive, too, for this disease. After four years of living with her sister, she had never known her to have chest pain symptoms. But Francis was well-aware of her sister’s chronic pain throughout the body. This was all she knew about the disease.
I asked Francis her reaction to being told she had Lupus. “Truthfully, I was more worried about being kept in the hospital, and my husband and the kids not being able to manage without me. My husband is ill, too, and he takes a lot of medicines.” Francis was in pain, and all she could think about was her family.
Unfortunately it came to pass that Francis would spend a lot of time in the hospital and then almost a year in bed, convalescing from a hysterectomy. Two hours after that surgery, doctors were forced to re-open the incisions to treat infection caused by Lupus. She would almost die from this.
Francis credits her grandson, Hosea, with giving her the strength to keep fighting. She called Hosea her “angel” because he “prayed over her” during her stay in the hospital. Francis added that “all my children and grandchildren are angels, and Billy is, too.” But it was Hosea’s prayer that made her realize it “wasn’t about me at all; it was about my family, my loved ones.” That prayer had provided her with the strength she needed to keep fighting for her life. She “just had to get better” because being out of work for so long “caused a financial hardship for my family.” When not even recovered from her ordeal, Francis returned to work out of necessity.
Soon after, however, Francis was told that the Lupus was taking its toll on her, and she would have to quit working. She was devastated with this prognosis. She had nearly nineteen years with the Internal Revenue Service! How would her family make ends meet without this income? Once again, the family’s interests came first. Francis was more “worried about not having the money to buy Billy’s medicines and not being able to provide more for my family.”
Seven years have passed since Francis was diagnosed with Lupus. Things are not any better. Aside from financial difficulties brought on by lack of employment, Francis continues to have physical impediments. A much-needed dental surgery prompted another serious bout with a Lupus-complicated infection. This, too, left her near death. She now experiences some difficulty breathing and tires easily. Francis’ doctor noticed that she often struggled for breath when she visited him, so he gave her a prescription for an electric scooter. Francis says that although the scooter is a blessing, “I try not to use it much when I go outside the house. The family car doesn’t have a lift, so the scooter has to be dismantled and stored in the trunk each time I go anywhere. It gets to be a problem at times.”
When I asked Francis what she missed most about her life prior to Lupus, she said, “I miss being able to go outdoors. I used to enjoy walks in the park, social gatherings with family and friends, and shopping. I loved meeting my co-workers for cocktails at “Baby A’s” after work on Fridays.” Francis’ voice trailed off after mentioning the coworkers. “I don’t see them anymore. I miss the good times we had. But I miss not being able to attend my grandchildren’s events the most. I love my grandchildren dearly. They need my support!”
Francis’ family loves her, too! Her daughter teases her for having had a “senior moment” when Francis nearly “burned down the kitchen.” Francis said she seldom cooks without supervision now.” She claims the kitchen incident “was a ‘Lupus moment’ and had nothing to do with my age.” She finally giggled again.
Yes, Francis’ life changed forever after the Lupus diagnosis, but it hasn’t changed her resolve. She still contributes what she can to the welfare of her family. She has taken up “beading,” making watchbands, necklaces, and other jewelry items for family and friends, that is, when she isn’t having pain in her hands. She even volunteers a few hours each month at Lupus support group meetings, to help others learn to deal with their condition. One thing is for certain—Francis’ life is spent helping others. Is it any wonder Billy calls her Precious?