Deciding to Go Home
Choosing His Own Destiny
"It's time to go sweetie," My dad looked at me, smiling. He reached his deeply bruised yet surprisingly strong hand to mine and squeezed.
"OK dad, I'll talk to the nurses." I tried to smile, feeling relieved yet desperately sad. I added, "But you will need to talk to the doctor yourself!" I squeezed his hand and got up from the side of the bed; looking at him, I noticed the instant sense of peace he now exuded.
I'd always been so restless during our many trips to the hospital; visiting for a little, then walking down to the solarium then back for a bit; then off to the first floor for coffee and then back down there for lunch or dinner, with short visits in between.
But during this trip, I had been more settled. Dad and I had sat and talked for hours, about everything. He'd even divulged some of his deeper thoughts, stories and information I'd never heard in my 46 years. Gems and trinkets he gave me like parting gifts.
Although the prognosis from the doctor in the ER had been brutally grim (and I wished I'd been there at midnight to give that man a piece of my mind), by the next morning, our regular doctor, with an actual bedside manner and true relationship with us, was infinitely more optimistic.
This was the all too familiar schizophrenia I was used to. Today, death was imminent - oh wait, no dad would be around a while longer - yes life was on the menu today. I admired this
emotional flexibility my father had showed me so many times. But each time the tide changed, it took a piece of me with it, wore me down, my nerves and body were wearing thin.
We were all optimism, plans for the future, dreams full speed ahead. Then, he experienced a severe stroke in the hospital, and even after leaving the ICU, the road to recovery looked too long and laborious and my father was unwilling to endure it again.
The hospital is a fickle war machine with troops of professionals and students of all kinds - marching in and out following all sorts of unpredictable schedules. Poking, prodding, asking the same medical history questions over and over and over and over again. I wanted to scream at them - read the god damned file! Of course, dad's "file" was actually an over-sized, ring binder, too full to stay closed anymore.
But today, there would be none of that. We would be going home.
I went to find his nurse-of-the-shift. They were all terrific and loved my dad. "He's such a gentleman and so polite," they remarked to me. This made me proud to be his daughter.
"Excuse me," I said with an authority learned from years of advocating for my dad. There was never a good time to talk to anyone as they were all insanely busy.
"Yes," Susan looked up brightly from the flip down writing surface located in the hall outside the
patients door rooms.
"I'm Len Whitings daughter." I smiled, even as my voice cracked, "My father wants to stop his medicines and go home."
This was not the first time I had told a nurse this. A year and a half ago I had told the nurse to stop dad's medications. Then I got a call later at home that my father had changed his mind because he had a million reasons to live. And live he had - for over a year. Long enough to get well, live independently, buy a little red sports car, and go to Ireland with his very dear lady friend.
But this time was different. I hoped. No, I didn't hope.
Today I had walked into dad's room while he was dutifully doing his lung exercises. He laboriously put the apparatus in his mouth, inhaling as best he could, watching the little plastic ball rise and fall in the tube with his breath. I had stood right in front of him, waiting silently for his attention, but he never noticed me. He just continued with his exercise, hoping it would become easier, although it never did. When he did finally looked up to see me, there had been no smile - just a frown of frustration and futility.
"Ohhhh," Nurse Susan said, understanding what I meant. "I'll be right down." She paused, "Are you OK?"
I smiled with as much cheerfulness as I could muster and nodded as the tears rolled down my
cheeks. By this time, I was far beyond the point of caring who the hell saw me cry. We
were, after all, in a hospital. People had cried all the time when I'd watched General Hospital!
She patted me on the shoulder, "This is a good thing you're doing." I just nodded, feeling like a little girl for a moment, glad that someone outside the tight duo of dad and me, could see that too.
After a trip to the bathroom to get my grownup self back, I walked confidently back into my dad's room, thankful there was no roommate to deal with.
"The nurse will be right in."
My father's face beamed. I smiled, the tears just streaming down my face again. I hugged his tired, worn body and kissed him.
He breathlessly, silently mouthed, "Thank you!" his glistening eyes with love.
And we waited, holding hands, simultaneously experiencing relief and grief. Together.