“I’m in trouble,” yells out Dad in the night.
“You hit the ceiling,” he says as I climb back into the cot beside him in the Palliative Care Unit.
“I nearly followed you,” he says.
“You should have seen her face,” says the nurse to whom I ran for help.
I flew back to the hospital on Wednesday morning after a call from the doctor. Dad had lost a lot of blood over night. How much time he has left is unknown, but she was clear that now is the best time to be with him, while he’s still conscious and alert.
“You’re being taken care of,” says Jessica, Dad’s beloved, though not biological daughter.
“So I should be,” jokes Dad sticking up his nose.
When I shared our concerns about Dad choking from the blockage in his lungs, the doctor reassured me the Palliative Care Unit is about comfort care. There is no reason for Dad to experience any more pain.
“What road is that?” asks Dads pointing out the window.
“It’s Mount Newton Cross Road,” I say.
“We’re just down the road from home,” he says, comforted.
The Palliative Care Unit is a gentler world from the Acute Ward on the other side of the emergency doors: the lighting, the paint on the walls, the layout, the furniture and lounge area.
Dad is in his own room with a window facing the fields outside. There is coffee, tea and ginger-ale if you’d like it, and vanilla ice cream to spoon feed Dad.
It is not the dream I had hoped for, where Dad dies at home in his own bed. But it is the closest I can manage.
Right now, I am a child losing her father and I need the hospital and its doctors and nurses to carry the weight of logistics and care for me so that I can hold his hand and gaze at his beautiful fleeting spirit while memorizing the bonded experience of sharing space with him.
In the darkness, I worry I have made the wrong choices, but I remind myself again and again – it is not my fault Dad is dying.
“Did you know I was once in love with a nurse named Rita Mary Haffie?” asks Dad.
At least he is surrounded by nurses.
One appears in the doorway.
“I’ve finally arrived in paradise,” says Dad at the sight of her.
“How are you doing?” another nurse asks.
“I’m just here waiting for you,” he says.
“Do you want something to drink?” asks another.
“Scotch whiskey, but I’ll settle for milk,” he says.
“Do you want a warm blanket?” yet another one asks.
“Just looking at you warms me up,” he says.
Dad’s restless hands move from one irritation to another: his running nose, his itchy skin, his pain on the inside…
“Is it itchy?” Jessica asks Dad as he scratches his neck.
“Could be the meds,” she says to me.
“Not enough kisses,” says Dad correcting her.
I’m having a hard time forming an opinion on the meds. Dad’s pain and frustration is increasing, but the doses steal his remaining lucid moments from us and send him off into faraway dreams or waking hallucinations.
His hands reach out to touch something in front of him, something I can’t see. Sometimes he asks for his mother.
“I’m still alive,” says Dad, eyes suddenly clear and defiant.
“That’s the secret,” he says, “Keep breathing – inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.”
Dad will not go gentle into that good night.