A call. A quick flee. Screaming into the phone. Pick up. Pick up. Hear me. And I’m crying on the highway, this can’t be safe. Not yet, I say this in my mind, it can’t be a prayer, I don’t pray anymore.
Medication and the mind don’t always mix. Morphine, nerve relaxer, and more. Random sleep, hallucinations, shaking, and an itch with no rash. I thought he had said something. I was wrong. A round of pills, a several hour sleep, and the mind forgets if the meds have been taken, so he takes them all again believing he had slept so much longer than he had. Then he sleeps on the floor, until his friend arrives, and shaken awake, in those moments, does he realize what he’s done. He feels death rising, he told me this the next day, and he thought how nice it’d be to have Pablito lay with him one last time before he slept for the last time.
I don’t do well with these things. I always try to stay so calm, the composed in the chaos, the decisive mind in the fluctuating circumstance. But who can bode well when the call is about your father? And I barely leave work without breaking a tear, don’t let them see you cry, don’t let them see the fear, don’t let them see the pain. And I bite my inner lip, my tongue, my cheek. Focus on the teeth, the pain in your flesh, hone in, don’t cry until the car. And in my mind I’m screaming, and yelling for no one to hear, he is all we have left, he is but one parent, I don’t want to be an orphan yet.
After I get it out, let it release, I gain enough composer to call grandma, ask for the doctor’s number, the man they both see. I can’t let her know, she doesn’t need this on her. And I call the man who prescribes these pills, and a nurse takes the message. But before she hangs up, I say, one last thing, make note, my father will be taken off the morphine, make sure the doctor hears that, put it in bold, underline it, it is no longer doctor man’s decision. It has now become mine. And I say it fierce, determined, she knows this tone, and her words fumble, she mumbles excuses. I don’t want to hear it, give Mr. PhD the message, I expect his return call, and I hangup the phone.
I arrive before the ambulance. His friend arrives. My friends, Mike and Tails, arrive. My brother comes in soon thereafter. And now I’m on the phone with the doctor, I’m enraged, but tactful. My words are succinct, with purpose, to the point. WHY have you kept him on this when these things have happened? WHY have you taken him off the morphine patch to a pill, and then upped dosage? Can’t you see in your office he is not of right mind? And he’s flipping through notes, scrambling his words, he says he never upped dosage, until he finds his misplaced notes staring him in the face that he had. His voice remains calmer than mine, this is an inquisition for him he knows. And I am no stupid girl, no crazed woman of ignorance, I made sure he knew that quick. And then he tells me what I never expected, father never told him of such side effects. All he ever said was no more pain, doctor, thank you, I finally feel no pain. And my fury transferred to the man laying in the hospital bed. How cavalier! How foolish! Why play with life like that!
The doctor hears me address father. Asking angrily if he never told the man. Father only turns his head away. He’s now known. The doctor asks for me to come to the next visit, tomorrow, in the morning. Yes, I’ll be there, with the grown man that evidently needs a sitter. My brother and I go to the nurses, ask for updates, make sure they make note of the current doctor, numbers, medications, and so on. I cannot stay. I cannot look him in the eye. He is safe. He is alive. And when I should be utterly relieved, I am instead filled with anger towards him. It takes all I have to kiss his brow before I go. My brother stays, he knows me well enough to know I am in no state to stay there.
The next morning, we sit in a lounge that feels more like death’s waiting room. People talk in old speak, barely audible, mumbling incoherent things, canes, wheelchairs, blind as bats. I’m beginning to think the doctor asked me to come to merely meet me, this impassioned brazen woman confronting him, questioning him, who do I think I am anyway!?
The doctor is younger than most. A Jewish man who always wears his yarmulke. I jokingly ask father if he’s single. He looks afraid. What? No Jewish man for me? He looks none to pleased. And I laugh and say, but Jesus was a Jew, and you love him. My father hates this the worst. He says Jesus is Christianity. I say, no, Jesus was the inspiration for Christianity, but in his life, was quite an orthodox Jew. He’s getting frustrated with me. Now he wants to talk religion, why I believe what I do. But I always refuse to go there. Then he mumbles about my soul, where it’ll be. I’ve heard this only several times over the years, it doesn’t bother me anymore. All I say to him is “Daddy, if your heaven exists, I fear it’ll be quite a lonely place.” And he doesn’t understand what I mean. I finally say we look at it differently. I look at religion academically, you look at it theologically. But now he’s truly confused. I’m not discussing this further. I won’t go there with him. He says he can’t make me tell him, and I say, “I’m glad you’ve accepted that.” Then he says something about trying to change, but obviously not enough. I’m assuming he blames himself, his half effort parenting on my now questionable afterlife state, my views on religion. I would have gotten to this place no matter what he had done differently.
The doctor talks fast, uses his hands, and my father tells a long story with details no man of medicine cares to hear. Earlier I had said, “Just tell him your symptoms. No story time. Get to the point, daddy.” Obviously, he didn’t listen. I fill in the things he missed. At one point, my father brings up alternative medicine, which I’ve been telling him to try for months, and the doctor seems a bit irritated by this, says if that’s what you want to do, then I won’t give you anything. They’re talking at the same time, not listening to the other, so I throw up my hands and say “Hold on!” And they both stare at me and listen. I explain that the alternative medicine is a possible method, one to be done in conjunction with medicine, but hopefully will work well enough to reduce father’s need of meds or at least lower the dosage; so, that over time, his body won’t adjust and require higher doses or more frequent use. The doctor, having been mute during my tangent, says he agrees. And I think, these men, really, they make me so tired, why would I ever want one to keep?
The doctor leaves the room. And my father starts to cry. His body is aging, it feels so much pain, how powerless one feels when one’s own body refuses to act, to yield to command. And I put my hands over my face, crying. He doesn’t want me to see him like this. He says he’s going to the restroom. When the door shuts, I only cry more, I cry so hard I’m gulping for air, dry heaving like I only do in the midst of an asthma attack. The door opens, and the doctor stops mid-sentence seeing me there. This strong willed woman he’s known for less than an hour’s time through a phone and a meeting combined has turned drastically. What a paradox he must think me to be. He grabs a tissue box, offers me one, and asks what is wrong. And he’s staring at me so hard. “It’s so hard to see him like this. So, helpless.” It’s all I can get out. And he sits in his chair with wheels, and moves towards me, and in a voice more gentle than I could have expected, tells me, assures me, it is his goal to give my father a pain free life without sacrificing his faculties. It may take time, but he will make sure it will happen. The morphine and nerve relaxer are to be flushed away, quickly, do not wait. It can be addictive, there may be withdrawal, but no more, he promises me. And I want to tell him that my grandmother was right, his yarmulke looks very nice, it suits him well, but I don’t.
I watch the pills swirl away. Feel much better about it all. And yes, the withdrawal came, but for a day or two. I had to argue with him a bit, but he knows better, he can’t win a verbal match with me. I tell him to be more careful with his life. He says he has no worries for me and my siblings if he goes. That we are strong, we can survive. His missing it. And I pull the only card I know to trump him: Then do it for the ones who do depend on you. My father is agape all the way. He helps his children’s friends more than his children, sometimes even strangers, and we accepted it long ago. I tell him if he dies, then what will come of Triell and my grandmother? Triell just got his GED, he’s going to college, at 26 never did he think this would be his life now, living with his adopted white family, as he calls us, though he knows we’re Lebanese. Who would take grandma to eat every Thursday morning, sit with her on the porch and drink peach tea, and buy her jewelry off the TV hoping to replace what she lost in Katrina several years ago? And he tells me what a low blow. Yes, I know. But if not even your children can save you, if we can’t be enough reason for you to take care, then do it for them. At least then I know you’ll be safe.
So, I accept, it’s okay, you aren’t doing it for me. Just do it for them, and I know you’ll take care.