I drove my father to his doctor’s new office, yesterday, for a general checkup. We talked about the wooden beams bracing the ceiling and the glass block walls in front of the reception area as we waited. Everything seemed to be alright. After a lengthy wait in the lobby, the nurse called him in, weighed him, and showed him to an examination room where she asked him to get up on the exam table.
“DAD, DO YOU WANT TO SIT IN THIS CHAIR? MOM SAT IN A CHAIR WHEN SHE WAS HERE.” I said loudly. My father can’t hear out of his left ear and has impaired hearing in his right ear.
“Nah. She said ‘the table,’” he answered.
Once my 78 year old father shakily perched himself on the table, the nurse told him that he needed to have his Coumadin levels checked. She pricked his finger, put the blood on a test strip and waited for the results.
I asked, “What’s a Coumadin?”
She looked at me and said, “It’s his blood thinner medicine. We have to check his blood every month.” She looked sideways at my father and winked. “JOE HAS NOT BEEN TOO GOOD ABOUT THAT,” she said loud enough for him to hear. He smiled.
I said, “We’ll have to change that.”
She continued, “If his blood gets too thin, he could hemorrhage. If it’s too thick, he could have a stroke. Aaaand…,” as the test unit beeped, she looked at the test strip, “It looks good. Keep his dosage the same.”
“Okay.” I replied.
She wrote the information into his chart, and then looked up at my father, waiting on the edge of the exam table, “DOCTOR WILL BE IN TO SEE YOU IN A LITTLE BIT.”
While we waited, my father strained to look out the window. The window shade was the type that closed from the bottom to the top. It covered the lower half of the window, blocking the view of everything, but the grey, overcast sky. I walked over and adjusted it, so he could see the trees covered in yellow, orange and red foliage and the birds practicing their flight south.
The doctor came in, said hello and checked my father’s chart.
“HOW ARE YOU DOING?” he asked my father. He nodded to me.
“Oh, okay,” my father answered.
“WELL, TODAY WE’RE GOING TO TAKE BLOOD FOR YOUR CEA.”
“What’s a CEA?” I asked the doctor.
“It stands for cancer embryonic antigen. It’ll tell us where the colon cancer has gone.”
I took notes as he spoke.
He turned back to my father. “ARE YOU GETTING A FLU SHOT?”
“Yes! I almost forgot about that,” answered my father.
The doctor checked the chart once more. “THEN I’LL GIVE YOU THE PNEUMONIA VACCINE, TOO. IT’S DUE.”
My father nodded.
The doctor stood up. “THE NURSE WILL BE IN TO POKE YOU,” he nodded to my father, then to me. He handed me a lab sheet that had itemized procedures listed on it. He had circled the items for my father’s treatment plan.
My father adjusted his seating and grimaced. “I gotta… get off …this table. My legs…they’ll lock up,” he said.
He slid forward and eased off the table. He walked to the window and looked out at the new construction going up just west of the doctor’s office. He walked around the small room and looked at the autographed and numbered duck prints mounted on the walls. The expression on his face said he wanted to be anywhere but in that room.
The nurse opened the door and entered the examination room. She took the lab sheet and read the doctor’s orders.
“I’M GONNA POKE YOU A LOT TODAY.” She said to my father. She set up for a blood draw.
I said, “YOUR BIG VEINS MUST MAKE IT EASY TO GIVE BLOOD.”
My father answered, “That’s what they say. Then they go to take blood and find out they roll. They think I have good weins….Damn!”
“VEINS?” I prompted.
He nodded and didn’t talk very much after that. After his blood draw, two vaccinations, and the nurse’s promise to call with the results of the CEA test next week, he was in a hurry to leave. I had to stop him from walking out of the office while I made his next appointment.
On the way home, I said, “LOOK AT THE COLORS OF THE TREES. THOSE RED LEAVES ARE SO BEAUTIFUL. IT’S WONDERFUL TO SEE THE SEASONS. WE DON’T GET THAT IN SAN DIEGO. IT’S ONE SEASON ALL YEAR ROUND.”
“It’s as good as….it’s as good as…,” my father stammered, then stopped.
I turned slowly to look at him, as I drove. He looked scared. He raised his hands, palms up, in front of him as if to say, “I don’t know what’s wrong.”
I asked, “ARE YOU HAVING TROUBLE TALKING?”
He nodded, then looked down towards his lap. He slouched in resignation. His ruddy complexion paled. His eyes watered, yet his jaw tightened in defiance. He still had fight in him.
“IT’LL COME BACK.” This had happened once before.
He looked really scared. This man, who fought his last bar fight in his 60’s, who outran cops rather than be apprehended, and who ruled his kids and his wife with an iron hand, was helpless against the tumor growing on the left side of his brainstem...the side that controlled language. I took him home and fed him. He ate silently and then took a nap.
After his nap, he began to speak, again, although slowly. “I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t understand what people were saying. I still can’t see right. It’s like being cross eyed.”
Later that night, he told me he had a horrible headache. I knew the tumor had been growing, putting pressure on his brainstem, causing the speech dysfunction and the pain.
“DO YOU WANT A VICODIN?” I asked.
“What’s that?” I give him Vicodin twice a day for pain management. Hospice has prescribed them for the pain his cancer causes. The prescription says I can give him up to three pills, twice a day.
“IT’S FOR PAIN.”
“Yeah, I’ll have one of those,” he said.
I gave him one and he went to bed. Later, I woke him for his last set of medications and asked him how his headache was.
“I must have slept it off,” he answered. He took his medicine and quickly went back to sleep.
My father has said that he felt he would die on his 79th birthday. It’s in two days. I’m hoping that when he goes it’s with clarity of mind, so he can hear me tell him to save me a place on the other side.