Nestled in my father’s room, I saw the door flap open and close all day as doctors walked in on their rounds. Some were cheerful as they talked with my mother and father. Others, were deficient in their bedside manner. Still others spoke with accents so thick, their words became garbled and I could not follow their conversations. My sister, her husband and children were almost constantly standing about the room, offering comforting words or soothing my youngest niece, who was fast approaching her first birthday.
On day two my father was moved to a new room. It was here, in a soft voice and dimly lit room he told me cancer was somewhere within his body, gnawing away at him slowly. With a concerned smile, he told me an oncologist had spoken to him and they were running further tests, but he definitely had cancer. My heart shook violently as my father’s words sunk deeper into my body. They dove straight for my lungs, trying to hold them closed and suffocate me. They stabbed at my throat, making it swell and steal my voice. His words rattled my mind and echoed in my skull. I heard his words, but I could not process them. Slowly, a silent yet profound sadness slithered over my skin, leaving behind a drab, gooey residue that clouded my world with a grey sheet.
As the moment passed, the sudden shock of his words was burned away with the second hand. It wasn’t until later I was able to fully gather myself and process what was happening to my father. The formula was simple. Even though I had been roiled by the abrupt weight of the situation, I was able to follow the logic of what was happening. My father had cancer, and cancer was most generally fatal, therefore he would most likely die.
Treatments were started, doctors visited, and homework was completed. This became normal, it became all I knew, and all my mother and I did. On this unpleasant journey, we were as equal as two individuals could be. Her husband, and best friend of more than thirty years, was lying in a chilly hospital bed while she was at work. Most of the day, he was presumably alone, with no one around to offer him company or a warm smile. But he was my father too. He was wrapped in a gown so thin it was nearly see through. He was alone, even though he saw nurses and doctors at times. No one was there to offer him comfort or remind him of the world outside of the hospital.
Gently, as the days and nights were ground away at the mercy of the clock’s hands, my father’s overall condition grew worse. His body was waging war, battling the cancer and the ingenious treatment for the cancer: chemotherapy. He was rotated from this ward to that ward as his condition slipped. Eventually he ended up Hurley’s Intensive Care Unit (ICU), where a doctor mentioned that before long, we may want to consider his quality of life. The doctor went on to say that we may want to discontinue treatment and allow my father to die from a number of issues plaguing his body. Without much thought, we quickly dismissed the doctor and had the hospital provide us with a replacement. However, the damage had already been done. His words struck me with the notion of finality. It seemed, we were dancing on the last pages of some expansive novel, and we could see the end of the book as we teeter on the edge of the page.
After school, we would drive along the twilit streets of the city until we arrived at the hospital. There, we walked along the brightly lit hallways, scuffing the shiny tiling as we stopped and turned. Whatever control we held over our lives before had been shredded in the slimy teeth of the massive medical machine. My mother scribbled her signature on forms, faxed papers and talked on the phone daily, even while at work. Fortunately, her bosses and co-workers were understanding and highly supportive. Then, once her second job was finished, we would load into her aged car and drive under the dying sunlight, until we arrived at the hospital.
Days melted into nights, and nights folded over into days as this cycle dragged on and on. Sometimes he would improve, other times he would slip further toward death. This back and forth struggle tugged away something I had harbored in my heart for a while; a wilted batch of hope and faith, the very same batch I had started cultivating back in August at the VA Hospital. They were tattered and brittle when the continuous driving and lack of sleep wrestled them from my being. I left them somewhere on the floor of Hurley hospital to be further trampled by the very people who had sown the seeds in my youth, the medical professionals.
In the void left by the absence of my faith and hope, a wretched thought grew. Once it bloomed, I tossed it in the most silent and insecure place of my mind, as I could not come up with a satisfying answer to these disgusting questions. If he were to succumb to his cancer, the hospital trips, late nights and uncertainty of what would come with tomorrow would all become a memory. We would walk in our hallways at home, and I would walk in the ones at school, rather than the ones in the hospital. We could sit in our living room, rather than the flimsy chairs in his room. We would be free. He would be dead. He wouldn’t suffer anymore from flashbacks to his tour in Vietnam, nor would he be subjected to the vicious wrath of chemotherapy.
But who could wish this upon their parent? Who could wish this upon their parent. In the darkness of the car ride home, I always battled myself. I thought about this and that, replaying our visits and thinking about what I could have said to my father over the summer. I thought about what I could have said to the ER doctor in Ann Arbor. Maybe she would have listened to her patient’s concerned son.
I had no idea at the time, but in the coming weeks I would find myself a part of a family discussion of this magnitude, as we would all be asking ourselves what kind of person had the capacity of wishing death upon anyone. And furthermore, what kind of child, and what kind of spouse thrusts death upon their parent?
If you missed the previous part of this story (And So My Faith Began to Wither) can be read here.
The next chapter, Voting Day, can be found here.