When I visited my father last night, I put in a request with the nursing staff for his doctor to call me. My father has been talking about "his doctor," but when I asked about his doctor, he gets vague ("I'm not sure. There are doctors in and out of here all day long.")
This afternoon, I got the phone call I had been waiting for.
Here's what I learned. My father's lungs are filled with metastasized cancer. As his doctor put it, "His lungs are a mess." They aren't sure whether the cancer originated in his lungs, and his colon is another possibility they're looking at. On Wednesday, he'll have a broncoscopy and biopsy, the analysis of which will tell them more. Additionally, they want to have my father undergo colonoscopy, but he'll have to be able to move around for that, so it will have to wait.
"The prognosis," the doctor said, "is not good."
You can say that again, I thought.
It's like looking through the lens of a camera. And the camera swings around, and now I'm looking at a whole different vista.
With The Breaking Of The Hip on Shrove Tuesday, I thought what I was in for was my father, only with a broken hip, and the goal being to have his hip get better. Now, it seems that it's all about End-of-Life care. As in the end of my father's life. From what I can tell from the web searches I did just now, we're talking a matter of months and weeks. Or days.
My father wants to die at home, I'm sure. And I'm hoping I can make that happen. Because of my stepmother, I'm a big fan of hospice care, so that will definitely be what I'm shooting for. The tricky thing will be my job. For example, I have off work today and tomorrow, and then I'll be working for the next eight days straight. Luckily only one 6 a.m. start and only one 10 p.m. finish, and mostly working the swing shift, but still. I mean, eighty hours over the course of eight days would be a lot to leave a dying man alone at home.
Death, where is thy sting?
I have an atypical view of death. Probably formed with all the death I've seen in my life. When I was not quite four, my mother died. My father remarried, and his second wife died on the eve of my twelfth birthday. Then my grandparents went, first my grandmother, then my grandfather, and I cared for my grandfather during the last years of his life, staying with him during school holidays. My lover Terry. My sister. Several friends.
Death seems to me like the last paragraph on the last page of the last chapter of a novel. At that point, you can ask yourself, "So what does it all mean?" You can't derive meaning when things are still going on. But as soon as it's over, then the story is complete: beginning, middle, end. Since struggling to understand is what I do all the time, there's a part of me that welcomes death. Now I'll be able to see.
I can now see this point approaching with my father.
But I can't say I'm welcoming it.
Huh. Irony: I've prayed for my father's death. Taking care of him has, at times, been that hard. But that would immediately be followed by a, "or, y'know, something less than that which would just take him off my hands." I had been thinking that him falling and breaking his hip was that "something less." But it looks like it's something more than something less.
Ah the weeks ahead. The discharge from the hospital into the nursing home; the consultation with the doctors that indicates that the end is near; making arrangements with the hospice; bringing my father home; getting my brother up from Florida; my father's death; settling of his estate; getting the house ready for sale; and then comes After.
After has been the content of many daydreams over the past few years. After. A vacation somewhere. Maybe Europe. Maybe packing Faithful Companion up and heading West, sleeping in my car, bathing in gyms where I get a day pass, maybe taking a sort of tour of natural hot springs of the Southwest. Spend some time in a monastery somewhere to get my bearings. Going to school to get that degree in Construction Management or something. Where will I live? What will I do for work?
And who will catch me when I fall?
That will be important.
Part of the reason that I so readily assented when my father asked me to come back here four and a half years ago to look after him was that I was feeling bruised and shaken. When I left the employ of Boss Sunshine, I was having a hard time making ends meet. NYC just sucks the money out of your pockets. In part, I was running away to home. It was a sort of safety net.
What will my safety net be now? Or more to the point: what will life be like without a safety net?
Who will catch me when I fall?
What's called for, in both the short term and the long term, will be prudence. And faith.
I'm so much stronger than I was four-and-a-half years ago. I mean Damn! The shit I've been through? I've learned so much.
I hope I hope I hope that After doesn't become some huge wasted opportunity, starting out with "I deserve a little fun after what I've been through" and quickly forgetting everything I've learned.
Am I up for that challenge?
Time, I suppose, will tell.
Although not as much Time as I thought I had this morning.