the post where I declare being a grown up sucks
About ten years ago, my Dad walked into my house, found me in my kitchen, and handed me an envelope with my name printed on the front. Placing it on the counter, he nodded his head at it, indicating I should open it. Inside, I found two sheets of paper with the words 'living will' and 'durable power of attorney' printed across the top.
That was all I saw. I quickly folded the papers back into thirds and returned them to their confines inside the envelope. Then I looked at him and said no.
No, thank you, but I do not want this job.
No. I'm standing here in my kitchen in a stupor because I can't decide what to make for dinner. Therefore, I do not want be the one responsible for the decisions that will impact you, a man who a brief decade earlier, had been responsible for me.
My Dad picked up the envelope, pulled the papers back out, and pushed them toward me. We stared at each other for a bit until I broke the gaze and glanced at them again. This time I saw more words I didn't like, mostly because they were strikingly similar to my thoughts. I did not want this job because this job was rife with things my Dad did not want to have done to him.
Several years prior to this particular afternoon, my Dad had suffered a massive stroke that changed everything about his life. Everything. That's a pretty damn tough concept to deal with when you're 49 years old at the time your life takes an unwelcomed 180 degree spin and lands in a completely different square than where thought you'd be. It's equally tough when you're 23 years old, and the man who lifted your spirits and talked you down from bad relationships can't do that any more. In pretty much every way, our roles in the other's life reversed after the stroke. Welcome to Adulthood! And you thought scraping up enough rent money every month was a bitch!
Over the last sixteen years, we've helped my Dad deal with a variety of medical issues. There have been therapies and appointments, meetings and discussions. Depression and anger. Lots and lots of anger (mostly his, though I'd be lying if I said I'd not had my share). I watch my Dad walk across a room now and I see a man who seems ages older than he actually is, and I turn to whomever I'm with and ask them if they think his gait is slower. Does it seem like his leg muscles are tightening? He's not even trying to talk much these days, is he? Oh, and he's smoking again, isn't he? Yeah, because that's good when you've had a stroke and so much of your health is already compromised.
We have a list of things we check through. The last time the list landed on a growth on the left side of my Dad's face that has grown dramatically larger since it raised family attention over the holidays. Tomorrow morning, surgeons will do a tremendous amount of cutting carefully around his carotid artery to remove what we hope is a removable (and please, God, fingers crossed, amen and all that) benign growth from his lower jawline. Doctors have told him if he doesn't have this surgery, whatever is growing in his neck will continue to do so, and will eventually damage his facial structure and destroy his ability to eat and swallow, thus opening up a variety of other medical needs.
My Dad believes that tomorrow, he's going to die.
Whenever we've sat in surgical consultations, the only thing he's heard is "There's a chance that, while under anesthesia, you could suffer a stroke." If he has a stroke that impacts his already greatly impacted life, he wants to be allowed to die. It's that thought that provoked him to call me one day a couple weeks ago and remind me of the living will.
"Not going to be an issue, Dad," I said, attempting to change the subject, trying to get him to relax or stop crying. While he's seeing the things he'll miss, I'm attempting to remind him of what he'll be in the middle of when he's home and recovering. Such a life role reversal.
I don't think it will be issue. I really don't. Even though there's also a voice in my head reminding me that my Dad is already not the healthiest man in the world, and the surgery is going to be far more invasive than originally thought. Even though he's so stressed out that if he doesn't calm down, I wonder we're even going to get him into the surgical floor.
My Dad needs to do his job. The surgeons need to do their job. I don't want to have to do mine.