Thursday, February 16, 2012

Part 44 – Hospice, Part 2 - Through the Night

Continued from Part 43

(Note:  This is a follow-up to Hospice - Part 1.) 

There in the hospital bed in my parents’ den on New Year’s Eve, it was so apparent that Dad was so sick.  Yet I was still desperately clinging to the Hope that just being at home would help him.  I don’t think that I still thought that a cure - or even long-term survival - was a possibility.  At some point in the days before, I had bargained those things away:  Just let him feel better, just let him get home, just let him not be scared or in pain, I thought.  He was home, and we were so, so glad and grateful for that, but we were still waiting on the other two parts of the Deal to come through.  

There was a definite sense of protectiveness in the house at that point; we were all racking our brains for what else we could do to help Dad.  My brother-in-law Peter brought him food and a Diet Coke from Sonic, but he slept so long that the food got cold and the drink got watery from the ice melting.  My sister Nancy figured out how to empty the catheter bag, and we carefully administered the medications right on time.  We cut one of Dad’s shirts up the back and gently put it on him, and we kept him covered with blankets so he wouldn’t be cold.

We kept telling ourselves that we weren’t painting ourselves into a corner by deciding to sign up for support from hospice; we said to ourselves and to each other that we could always revoke.  I didn’t want anything to be for sure; looking back now, I think I had to keep the door open in my mind to keep from completely crumbling.  At the time, I kept thinking about that picture of a bird that has been caged and is being let go and below the picture it says “If you love something, set it free.” Every time that picture popped into my head, I thought SCREW THAT!  Dad isn’t caged except by this monstrous cancer and the pain and anguish it’s causing him, and he doesn’t want to go!  We didn’t want him to go either – and I wasn’t sure that I could stand it if he did – but we wanted the suffering, which was so undeniable at that point, to be over for him.

As the clock moved closer to midnight on New Year’s Eve, most of our group went to spend the night at my aunt’s house nearby.  Mom went to lie down in my parents’ bed in the bedroom, and Jennifer and I planned to split the night taking care of Dad, with Peter providing back-up support when we needed help to reposition Dad in the bed or to get medicine or something to drink for him from the kitchen.  Jennifer took the first half of the night; when I tagged in for the second half, she told me that Dad was uncomfortable and anxious and that he really seemed to want someone to stay right with him.  She had pushed one of the couches over so that it was right up next to the hospital bed, but the bed was higher than the couch and so she had been lying wedged in between the couch and the bed so that she could hold Dad’s hand and be close enough to him to hear his gravelly voice without disturbing or hurting him.  Just like the New Year had slipped in unnoticed in the house, I slipped into her place on the couch as she slipped out. Dad didn’t react at the time, but a little while later, when he opened his eyes and saw me there, he did a roll-call of sorts: he asked me where every person in the family was, as if he were just checking to be sure they were all ok.

We were quiet for a while, but I could tell he wasn’t asleep.  Then, with great sadness in his voice, he threw out words that cut me to the core: “I wanted to go out like a man!”  I wanted to tell him that he wasn’t going anywhere, but I knew in my heart that I couldn’t make that promise anymore.  So I told him about something that I remembered from many years before:  I reminded him of one time when he'd had to quit in the middle of a race he was running because his calf muscles had cramped up.  He’d hobbled along the road until he couldn’t anymore.  We pulled up beside him in the car, and he got in and propped his legs up on the dashboard.  I could see that his calves were in knots, and I could see the pain in his eyes along with the shame and disappointment he'd felt as he’d told us that his body just couldn’t go any further.  That night, I looked at him lying in that hospital bed, and I could tell he was listening intently.  I wanted him to realize that he just needed to keep going for as long as he could but that, when he couldn’t do it anymore, we would understand, we would know without a doubt that he'd given it his all, we would still be fiercely proud of him, and he would not be any less of a man or worthy of anything less than complete respect.  

He took all of that in, and then he said, “I guess I’m glad you remember that story.”  

Why?” I asked hopefully. “Because it was a good lesson in knowing that even the toughest of people have limits?

No,” he said, “Because it means that nothing is wrong with your memory, so that means you don’t have a brain tumor.”

I was trying hard to keep up with his thought process, but I was struggling. “Dad!" I said. "You remember it too!  It’s just part of your story, and I know you remember it.”

He thought for a minute, and then he said very seriously, “Yes, but I don’t think I always will, or maybe I just won’t always be able to tell about it or other things that have happened.”

Maybe I wasn't sure of exactly what he was saying, or maybe I just didn't want to be sure.  “Don’t worry, Dad,” I told him, grateful for the darkness of the room that I thought was hiding my tears from him, “I’ll remember all of the stories, and I’ll tell them all.”

He dozed for a short period of time after that, and I remember lying there thinking about how when I was growing up, my mom had always said that whatever you are doing on New Year’s Day would be indicative of what you would spend a lot of time doing the rest of the year.  I closed my eyes, but even that didn’t keep the tears from falling furiously as I wished with all of my might that that would be true, that I would get to spend more time with my dad in the New Year. 

Coming Soon ... Part 45 - Spending Time