Where there's life, there's hope.
Dad lay on the bed. It was his first day at the nursing home. The place was
quite nice, in a predictable sort of way.
All places like this save the finest work of the interior decorators for
their lobby. Then it's downhill from there. The conference rooms are quite
nice. The nurse's stations are crafted from high-quality wood and attractive formica
(my office should be so efficiently and attractively designed).
Dad's room was attractive enough. Certainly not hospital-neutral in design
but close. We were looking around and putting his things away when Judy showed up. She asked us to sit down and proceeded in a cloying,
condescending manner to explain that we needed to discuss some items of great
Apparently, she'd not read dad's chart and had taken it
upon herself to cover the nursing home's ass by asking a
number of questions.
"I just received the DNR order from your son, the
lawyer, in California. If you choose to sign this, we will not take any heroic
steps to prolong your life if you code. Now, if ya fall outta bed
and break your hip, we'll take you to the hospital and get ya fixed up." (By now
I was getting sick of the "ya" being used instead of "you" as a feeble attempt
on her part to endear herself to us, or at least to sound familiar. I chose not
to upset the apple cart by saying anything about it, though.)
Judy continued: "You must be aware that your condition is considered by us to
be terminal. You'll have to make up your mind whether you'd like to go to
hospital when you become too weak to get around or if you'd like to remain here
At that moment, tears streamed down my wife's face. She looked at me with
that look that says "don't, please don't hit her even though her actions are
reprehensible." It was only because of that look that I kept my rage from
getting the best of me. But I wanted to slap this person and slap her hard.
"We don't need to have this conversation because there's a copy of my
father's living will in his chart, which you apparently overlooked."
"Oh. Eh, uhm, I'll go make sure that the paperwork meets our requirements.
But you know, you must be realistic at this point about terminal illness." She
spoke as if my father wasn't even in the room. What she didn't know, and what I
assured her, was that we'd had this conversation with dad's oncologist before
he even left the hospital.
Dad is such a strong man, his first concern was that my wife had been
unnecessarily upset by being forced to witness this conversation. His second
concern was for my own feelings. He and I hugged, and I stayed with him until I
knew that he and I were going to be alright.
Dad's oncologist is a roly-poly man in his sixties. Very good at dealing with
patients and family. Well-recognized in his field as being successful with most
of his patients. But he'd given up. He said that dad's death would be painless
and be more like going to sleep than struggling. The cancer would've caused his
liver to fail before creating the painful "eating away" that some cancers cause.
I, however, was not going to give up.
My father grew up during the Great Depression. We were also poor when I
grew up. Dad did his best, but is a simple man who put food on the table and
clothes on our backs. My mother refused to work to contribute to the family's
finances, and consistently blamed our modest means on my father's refusal to ask
for raises. God forbid she'd have to lift one of her precious, delicate hands to
help make life better for us all. I'm convinced that she was a rich socialite in
a previous life.
Now, people like us were under the (ignorant) impression that world-class
medical care was reserved for the rich and famous. That's why I didn't call
Memorial Sloan-Kettering earlier on during my father's illness. At this
point, I figured, the worst they could say was "no."
With trembling hands, I Googled their website. What I found was so hopeful,
so reassuring, it caused me to weep openly. A telephone call gave me all the
information I needed. After answering a few questions and giving up medicare and
insurance information, we were given a date to bring dad to the hospital. The
case manager told me that they'd be very happy to accept him, as they've been
focusing a lot of research lately on cancer in the elderly, as well as the
particularly virulent form of cancer that my father has.
When I got off the phone, I whooped with joy and immediately contacted my
brother. (My mother had not yet been informed of dad's terminal condition, as
she was fighting her own battle with depression). My wife was equally ecstatic.
The next day, the grin on my father's face when he got the news said it all
to us. Tearfully, he explained that my refusal to give up (after he, in fact,
had) was the best gift I'd ever given him in his life.
All we need do now is hang in there until his admission. The rate of
remission for my dad's kind of cancer, following Sloan-Kettering's protocol, is
head-and-shoulders above any hospital in the world.
It's been a few days since we got the good news. My father's appearance looks
better already. Perhaps that's because so much of one's health (good or bad) is
connected to one's outlook. I'm ashamed to say that God gently made me aware
that we all were in good hands, even though I had let my faith slide a bit in
light of what was happening. How selfish of me.