Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Lift Me Up
I have a cold. I keep thinking about how the last time that I had one, I knew my dad’s days were numbered. I wore a surgical mask around so that I wouldn’t get him sick (sicker?). I guess I was still holding on to the tiny shred of a chance that he might turn things around and get better.
The added benefit of my wearing the mask around him was that he didn’t notice that I was crying. Like a faucet that just couldn’t be turned off. I knew he was miserable, and I was devastated that I couldn’t really help him. Until we called in hospice, things were spinning out of control. He was in pain and anxious, and the doctors didn’t know why he wasn’t getting better. They kept saying, “On paper, he should be better!” and “Let’s consider another rehab stay for him to see if he can get strong enough to tolerate more chemo and then start radiation," even though he couldn't even hold his head up for more than a second or two.
During the ten week period that Dad was sick, when he was done listening, either because he was overwhelmed or he didn’t believe what was being said, he often said “Riiiight…”. Sometimes I would be in the middle of trying to explain the treatment plan to him or to boost his spirits by pointing out a minute improvement, and his eyes would glaze over and he would say “Riiiight…” That was my cue to stop talking and to listen to him (usually he wanted to change the subject completely) or, in many cases, just to sit with him.
When the team of doctors, which at that point included a cardiologist, a neurologist, an infectious disease doctor, a neurosurgeon, and a couple of oncologists, kept throwing out things that didn’t make any sense (“on paper” or otherwise!), I just wanted to say “Riiiight…” A subtle way of calling “B.S.” or at least telling them to QUIT TALKING AND DO SOMETHING!
But there was nothing else to be done, not there in the hospital and certainly not at rehab. So I stood there, crying behind my mask, and said I wanted to take him home. He was getting worse, and I thought maybe the trauma of being in the hospital was contributing. He cringed every time someone walked through the door of his hospital room, thinking it was going to be someone else who was going to poke or prod or even just change his sheets, which was very painful for him too at that point. He said repeatedly that he just wanted to go home, and, after all he had done for us, it was time that we did that for him.
At one point before he left the hospital, Dad did notice that I’d been crying despite the surgical mask on my face. He got a really worried look on his face and said, “What’s wrong?”
“I just hate that you’re so sick and I can’t make you better,” I told him, sobbing. I sat down beside him and put my head down on his chest.
He patted my head and said, “You girls saved my life!” referring to the way my sisters, my mom, and I had lined up the trip for him to see a team of specialists at Duke University to get him into what we thought was the best treatment program in the world. I felt like cold water had been thrown in my face, though, because I knew in my heart that we hadn’t saved him.
“I couldn’t have made it without you,” he said.
“I can’t make it without you,” I wailed. He used what little strength he had left in his arms to lift my head and so that he could look right at me, and then he said, “Yes, you can. Your mother and I raised you to know what you need to do and how to do it, and you will be ok.”
Even now, though, what I am really thinking is “Riiiight…”