'it's the house telling you to close your eyes'
As I write this, it's the soundtrack of an oxygen machine and my Dad's breathing that's setting an erratic, static beat. They're both loud ("It's sort of like all those years you had to listen to me blasting Duran Duran albums from my bedroom," I joke), and you can imagine which of their songs I fear ending first.
A lot has happened since my last post about Dad's cancer diagnosis. Less than 48 hours after that post went up, Dad was hospitalized, and remained that way for three weeks. During that time, there were three near-death med calls, two ultimately undiagnosed infections, countless doses of morphine and other pain relieving medicines administered, even more lost hours of sleep, and, finally, one tearful day spent making life changing decisions.
Last week, Dad was released to his home under home health hospice care. Any treatment options left the building along with my, admittedly futile, hope that I'd get to keep Dad in my life longer than it seems I will. No chemo. No radiation. No more trying.
Strike that. We really never even got the chance to try.
I'm writing this from my makeshift bed on Dad's living room couch. It's my night to stay with him. Checking on him periodically as he sleeps to ensure the oxygen tube is still in his nose. Tending to his pain should it flair. It appears quite a bit when you consider body scans taken at the hospital showed the cancer has spread to new areas in just the few weeks since initial scans sealed his fate.
I've spent a great deal of time with Dad this past month, a precursor, I suppose, to the time when full-time hospice is the only option left. We've said our apologies, been more free with declarations of love that should have been more prevalent over the years, and made a tentative peace with his decision. As hard as it's been, it's also been a blessing. Through ugliness comes beauty and all that fortune cookie talk. Stroke-related aphasia has given Dad's speech various easy to say verbal ticks ("Goddamn," "Jesus Christ!" and "I KNOW that!" are some of my favorites). On his way to bed tonight, Dad stopped and turned back toward me. "I like you," he said. He means to say he loves me. He knows I know that, but I reminded him just the same. "I KNOW that!" I responded in a voice similar to his own. Then I smiled. "I like you, too."
I know he knows that.
If I was to confess just how rare my time at Dad's house has been over the years prior to this past week, I'd be ashamed. But Dad, a far heavier smoker than we ever really knew, sort of shut the door to his place on me by continuing this habit of his we'd long begged him to stop. The place was thick with the smell of stale nicotine, the walls dark with tar stains. I couldn't take it. Before my youngest son was born just over a decade ago, I told Dad I couldn't in good faith subject my kids or myself to the health risks I thought his sanctuary posed. "I personally don't want to die from lung cancer caused by being in this environment," I'd told him often.
Now Dad is dying of lung cancer.
The weekend prior to his hospitalization, my sister, Mom and I spent hours scrubbing walls, washing clothes and drapery, and discarding items beyond repair. He returned home, the sickest he's ever been, to an environment the healthiest it's ever been. Good one, irony.
Sunday morning, before the sun had even thought to rise to the occasion, Dad and I sat quietly over empty breakfast dishes and Fox News. The menu was my choice, the channel his. After several minutes of silence, during which I'd dozed off a few times from lack of sleep, I glanced over at Dad and found him staring at me. "Just looking at you," he said. Doing the very same thing to me that I'd done to him every hour on the hour through the night prior, it proves we're just looking out for one another the best way we can during this time.
Before leaving work today to head to Dad's, I asked a customer how he was doing. "To answer that would take two hours and leave you in tears," the man responded. "Trust me," I responded. "I totally get it."
Sadly, I really do.