I am going to share a set of experiences that will be cathartic. If you have not yet encountered what I am currently experiencing with my father, you will more than likely ride the same roller coaster one day. I’ll begin where I left off, with his Epilogue.
My father was struggling on the afternoon of December 14. He was back in the CCU for the third time in the last three weeks, and his recently implanted pacemaker/defibrillator had been shocking him. He was on IV Amiodarone and Lidocaine, and he was nauseas and immensely discouraged. That much I knew, but I was not prepared for what happened next, when he began to sweat profusely.
This is not my father’s hand; it is the hand of much younger person with a pulse oximeter slipped on to a finger to measure the oxygen level in the blood. My father’s hand was the strongest part that remained of him, and as I went to help him by slipping the oximeter back on to his finger he forcefully pushed it away. It was then that I realized he had slipped it off purposefully. I glanced back to his face, and noticed that he had removed his nasal cannula which had been providing him with supplemental oxygen. At that moment my father was ready to go. I tried to reposition his cannula and his oximeter, but he said that he didn’t want to go on and bid us farewell. I read his end of life instructions that he had jotted on paper a few years ago to insure that his wishes would be respected. I held his hand, and my sister and I recited the Shema prayer as is customary in times of life or death crises.
My father became unresponsive and I am convinced, based on what he told us when he regained consciousness, that a part of his soul departed and came back. They say that one cannot be “a little big pregnant”, and so it is that one cannot be “a little bit dead”. Yet the man who came back an hour or so later from his near death experience was not the same person who said goodbye, hoping that he had been a good father, and wishing that he was on his way to heaven.
It was my father’s decision to go to a Rehabilitation Facility from the hospital rather than return to his apartment. He had contemplated doing this after his two prior stays, but this time he was so weak he felt like there was no choice. He would need physical and occupational therapy if he had any prayer of ambulating again.
My father sits now, entrenched in a wheelchair when he is not in bed, wondering how he suddenly became so old. Dad is known for his sense of humor, and whenever anyone says he looks amazing for 94 he remarks, on cue: “They say there are three stages of life: 1) Youth 2) Middle Age, and 3) You’re looking good.” But humor is hard to come by these days. Much of the time he sits somberly looking at the band on his wrist with his name, as if to verify in his own mind that he is that person. He is not alone.