Family and roots are important to Mike. But, his health stands between him and the things he loves most.

On the last day of my hospital stay, I met Mike Z.  The nurses’ aide had awoken me for vitals around 5:30. I got up and let Laura have the bed so she could get a few hours of sleep without being bent in a pretzel between the recliner and a straight-backed chair.

I walked down to the end of hall lounge, it’s ceiling-to-floor windows still darkened before sunrise.  There I found Mike just starting a new pot of coffee. I volunteered to find some creamer and returned a few minutes later, grabbing a seat with him while we waited for the coffee to finish.

Mike and his wife live in The Villages using his pension from a career in government service – first as an air traffic controller and then, after Regan fired Patco, he moved his family to Maryland for a career with the National Weather Service.

Mike was dressed in the same hospital couture I wore for most of my visit – arms decorated with taped IV ports, body wrapped with an ill-fitting gown, too short and too drafty.  He’s a big man, filling the seat beside me.

“I sat in front of a computer screen and a radar screen for 30 years. I always thought exercise was something I could do later. I would have plenty of time later. Some how I missed that sign.” Mike extends his arm forward, palm out, and pulls his hand toward his shoulder like a billboard passing on the highway.

Mike is about 5’8” and weighs 340 pounds. He hasn’t had a heart attack in his 62 years. He’s here for a sixth day related to complications from his diabetes. His legs are thick and the skin of his calves and feet have the scaly texture and tendency toward sores so common in obese diabetics. He’s been taking lasix to get the water out of his legs, but the lasix is beating up his kidneys pretty hard.

Mike is from Queens, growing up in an Archie Bunker style house, not far from my father-in-law’s childhood home. He did his mandatory military service in the National Guard during the Vietnam era. His father served in the Pacific during WWII. His grandfather, an Italian immigrant, enlisted during WWI when he was 19. Perhaps family tradition and Mike’s own long service rubbed off on his son who spent 8 years in the Marine Corps including a one year rotation in Iraq before joining the Air National Guard’s 106th Air Rescue Wing in Westhampton Beach.

Mike teared-up at the recollection of the day his son returned from Iraq. A beautiful day at Camp Pendleton, Mike watched the returning soldiers reunite with their wives. Their wives presenting them for the first time with babies they had fathered before deployment but had never held.

We talked a lot about having roots and the importance of family.  He’s disappointed he can’t see his grandchildren more often. He can’t easily walk through airport terminals.  Webcams go some way to making up for that. Living in the Villages, with so many transplants from the northeast, also helps him keep a sense of connection with his past life in Queens and Maryand.

 He’s looking forward to his son’s wedding coming this September. The bride’s family lives in an old Victorian house in Mastic, not far from where Mike and his wife bought their first house in Shirley and also not far down the road from Camp Upton where his grandfather trained for a long ago war.