I’ve come to Phoenix to see my dad in the hospital. A tumor in his head was threatening to kill him, and they removed it two days ago. They also put radioactive beads covered in gel in his head to (hopefully) stop the tumor from re-growing in the same spot.
Since I’ve been here, he has been talking about how he has “heavy metal” in his noggin. Meanwhile, the chorus of the Imagine Dragons “Radioactive” song keeps popping up in my mind.
The doctors gave him 6-9 months when he was first diagnosed a year and a half ago. He wants to live. He’s desperate to live. And, who knows, maybe this desperation has kept him alive. When the doctors first told us about what was happening to him, it seemed very final. I’m not sure I would have lived as long as him, given the same diagnosis. It’s a cliché but an apt one – the wind would have been knocked out of my sails.
He fights on though. He’s ready to try any therapy, including a last-minute marriage and something called “black sauve” which makes him smell like dirty socks and he takes either orally or rubs into his skin. I’ll leave off further details on that nasty concoction.
Did I say marriage? Yes, my dad has reconnected with a woman he worked with before the cancer took away his employability. She’s a hardy gal, a former nurse, a natural born caregiver who is devoted to my father. Do I know her from Adam? No.
My dad uses cute nicknames for her, lying in the hospital bed, clutching at her hand. He is a trained as a podiatrist, he is a tinkerer, an eccentric, a sucker (falling for any old scheme that comes along), a stubborn mono-maniac, and, wrapped up in all this, a kind man. He’d give you whatever he had, including the shirt off his back. The shirt might have a few holes in it, however.
This is the second large tumor he’s had removed. After the first surgery, my siblings and I noticed subtle changes. He was already socially-awkward, saying things that made people uncomfortable, connecting with people who might not have his best interests at heart – but as long as they shared his interests, they were ok by him. That one aspect of his personality really grates. He gravitates to people he doesn’t know well, trusts them almost instantly, more than his children and relatives, takes bad advice from these newcomers, and then is totally flummoxed when the situation goes bad. He complains about having been taken advantage of. This is classic dad – he goes into a situation everyone warned him about, and then complains later about how bad people can be. You were warned, sir.
As I said, my siblings and I noticed shifts in who he was following the first surgery. That quirk of trusting strangers with common interests, now it was, in the Microsoft Word parlance, bolded and underlined. He’s unable to focus very long on others. All things cycle back to what is happening to him, the tumors growing, the care he’s receiving from his new wife. He’s in disbelief it’s all happening to him. He said yesterday – “it’s been a whirlwind since 1999.” That was the year my parents divorced. I know what he’s alluding to, even if he doesn’t spell it out. It’s bigger than the divorce. He’s always felt like he couldn’t quite wrap his arms around life, get a hold of it, make it stable, mold it to his will.
So, here I sit in a hospital, tapping away, a little unsure about what’s coming next, while he mutters whatever random thought comes to his head. I joked with the friend who picked me up at the airport that he always manages to use the word “micturate” for peeing whenever he’s in the hospital. He hasn’t disappointed. I’ve heard about four “micturates” since I’ve been here.
My “adjusted” dad has chosen a coda to end his life I would not have, but it’s good to know some things remain the same. I thank God for giving me this micturating man. There are parts of him I wish were more bolded and underlined in me.
Update: I typed the post above months ago, and never published it. Not sure why – maybe I felt I had more to say. But on rereading it, I think I’m ready to put it out there.
All things about my dad’s ending remain strange for me, like I’m in a Twilight Zone episode and Rod Serling is about to step onto the set and tell me the whole thing is over and have some final thoughts.
That said, I’m happy to report that my dad is still alive. His new wife has coordinated doctors and curated his religious experience, prodded and massaged his weakening limbs, and given him a new lease on life. My kids have Facetimed him, and he has smiled at their antics – more than he has in recent memory. I’m grateful for the additional time.