I haven’t been keeping up with this blog for the last month. It’s not because some shiny new idea caught my eye and now I’ve flitted over to give it some attention. My 88 year-old father, who shrugged off a heart attack and managed to pin cancer to the mat for a dozen years, is in the hospital.
I hate hospitals. I’m aware that no one is a fan. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t have a greater appreciation for the people who work in them in every facet. And lately, I’ve met them all. The porters and nurses, the cleaning staff and doctors. They do something a lot of us never could. I definitely couldn’t. I don’t have the inborn mindset or honestly the stomach. I understand that for many, it’s just a workplace like any other. It could be a clothing store or an administrative office or an art studio for all those people mind. I respect that so much.
I’ve never spent a night in a hospital. I’ve only been a day patient. I personally count myself so lucky to say that. However, with aging parents, I’ve found myself spending some days as a visitor. In fact I’m writing this standing in the hallway of a hospital, while my father sleeps after a surgical procedure. I arrived here to find him asleep and I’m too afraid to wake him to sit in his room. He’s lying there looking somewhat peaceful, yet I know internally there’s a battle going on and cancer or its insidious effects will eventually win. So in front of me, I don’t see the powerful man who towered over me when I was 5. But I can still see him looking down at me, striking a bicep flex and saying in his best worst Russian accent “Strong like bull!” I don’t see the man who once threw a ladder at a group of teenage bullies and sent them fleeing like cockroaches cast in a sudden light.
That’s not him anymore.
Not today. Not for the last few seasons. We watched his weight plummet since last summer. We watched his skin and eyes yellow as cancer attacked his liver. Yet we never saw his spirit and his smile waver one bit in this time. We all die but this man probably thinks he’s going to survive death. I’ve never known someone so undefeated despite having so few wins. Artistically, He taught me about perspective, shadow and light. He taught me how to use a power drill and how to hammer a nail. But the one lesson I still need to learn from him is how to rise back up and sweep the dust off my knees after getting knocked down, again and again. Here’s hoping my dad can do it one last time. Just enough to get out of here and go home.
The lack of privacy in a hospital forces other people’s lives into yours. I sit here with my father on the fourth day he’s been here as his roommate gets the news that he’s now paralyzed below the waist due to the surgery he just had for the aggressive cancer that will be ending his life soon. He was just lamenting the fact that he thought he’d live longer than he has. His nurse asked him how his life was prior to this and he said it was wonderful. She said that he should think about that. So, ultimately perhaps this is all we have in the end. This is why we need to live life without regret and without creating obstacles for ourselves. When we reach the day we’re told we’re within sight of the end, we need to look back and smile. Not waste our final breaths in self directed anger or regret. Live that way. I intend to.
We’re back in the hospital after just a few days home. Should be a quick turnaround but when I learned he was back I had to fight every selfish instinct and petty annoyance to not let this unfortunate turn be the least bit about me. I know it’s obvious that we instinctively dislike hospitals out of fear. Not just fear for ourselves or our loved ones but also because it’s walking into a kingdom of vulnerability. We all walk in not knowing what will happen and knowing we can’t help, can’t do anything to speed up the healing. We fear having to surrender our comforts and not just the creature ones. We have to share rooms with other people who want nothing more than to get the hell home too. We have to put everything fathomable in the hands of strangers. We have to hear moans of pain and see blood and smell urine and somehow put on blinders till we can leave. Trauma is traumatic.
Today, which is something like the 12th my dad has been in the hospital, his new roommate is a man who survived what sounds like a horrible car crash. His children just arrived and I got to hear the tears of concern and joy from the family. I’m holding my own back as hear them talk. He just said through sobs “all I could think about were you kids”. He didn’t think about his own grievous injuries. He only thought of his family. I get that. And I’m glad that I don’t truly get it.
I just arrived home tonight after the first full week my father has been in the hospital. I’m exhausted. It’s been a week of going to the day job, where I know I’m a dark cloud radiating shadow in our small office. And then, coming home to drop my stuff, kiss my family goodnight and head over the hospital again. Unfortunately, my dad has been slipping over the last couple days. Where we once could chat, he’s lost the energy for conversation. He feels the end is near. When he does speak of his own volition, it’s to say brief phrases like “A good life” and “End of the line”. On one big hand, it’s heartbreaking and I feel helpless that I can’t get him back home, just for one or two days. But on the other hand, I’m happy that he feels that he can face the end without sadness or regret. I’ve never been prouder of him than I am now. He never let anything get him down. And he’s not letting death do it either. He still has the power to look over at me and smile.
I need to leave, to toss through disturbed sleep, then make it through the day to return the next evening.
I tell him I love him and give him a kiss and hope I get to have another one of these nights tomorrow.
But, please. Stay around a little longer.
I’m not ready, just yet, to say goodbye forever.