#6 --the calm, cool and collected Chong-- spoke for all of us as he fought back tears, clenched his fists, and avoided his turn...instead, he gasped, and then bellowed, "oh, no...are you fucking kidding me?".
His reaction to Dad's appearance once we finally arrived at the Hospice Center really said it all. As the baby of the family, he has always been so easy-going. He is the calm, cool, and collected kid in every situation. He is not easily rattled; he never over-reacts, yet he has the ability to let you know exactly where he's coming from. Remember before we'd arrived, he had scolded us in the car; "all of you just relax" he sighed, "no need to worry until we have to".
Now that Chong was reacting, I knew the time to "officially" worry had come. If number six's mini-breakdown hadn't already convinced me of this, the single tear streaming down Dad's right cheek nailed the point home. I walked out of the room with him, to the bright, open hallway filled with the rest of my brothers and sisters minus the gal in charge; all crying, shaking, screaming, hugging, questioning, and denying. I suggested we go across the hall in the empty room--and cry in there. Dad didn't need to hear or witness this.
As we walked into the other room, I mentioned to my sister-in-law that a priest needed to be called, thanked her over and over for sitting with Dad until we arrived, gave her another hug and then excused myself to go find a bathroom; I had to vomit.
Once collected across the hall, we began going into Dad's room again; a couple of us at a time. Mr. Sensible didn't want us to overwhelm Dad. Cheech and I each held one of his hands. Dad was like a panting dog; he appeared excited, trying to talk. Sadly, his words were difficult to understand and made no sense at all.
Cheech stroked his hair and gently told him, "Dad, we've come to take you home, I brought the Jeep to give you a ride back to Chicago in style--now, let's get you the hell out of here". Now that got a reaction. I noticed Dad's unfocused eyes finally settle on something. He looked right at Cheech--I felt him squeeze my hand--the panting stopped. Either the morphine kicked in or the conversation he was hearing allowed him to relax. Cheech continued to talk, updating Dad on the last two episodes of Boardwalk Empire, he followed Cheech with his eyes, while rubbing the top of his head against Cheech's cheek. It was obvious he could hear us and comforting to see him settle down. He no longer seemed as anxious.
As the clock neared ten, Stormin' Norman-- Dad's evening nurse ~a gulf war veteran, poked his head in and mentioned that it was time to give the guy some rest. Norm promised us that Dad would be more himself in the morning~again he said, let him get some rest. He told us we all looked like we could use some sleep ourselves--not to mention a shower, he winked--and then continued that if he were a betting man, he guessed we hadn't had a decent meal in a while. Now was the perfect time for us all to regroup and come back fresh tomorrow. Norm said Dad's condition did not yet warrant more than one of us to spend the night.
My sister-in-law agreed to stay. And, of course, this revelation opened the flood gates, Cheech was crying again. He insisted one of "us" stay with Dad...reasoning "what if something should happen". He officially took himself out of the running by saying in the next breath, "I've got dibs on the 'big couch' at Dad's place". In fairness, he and Chong spent the better part of the last two days behind the wheel...they both needed some sleep. Louise had a look on her face that seemed to say, not a chance in hell I'm staying here alone. So, I asked Norm for a pillow, blanket and when his shift ended; looked like I was going to be his company for the evening. As Norm gave Dad his "morphine/adavan cocktail", he motioned that he wanted a pen. Norm told Dad he didn't think he could write, but went to look for the pen and paper anyway. Norm put the pen in Dad's hand as he held up the paper for him to write on. His hand hadn't the motor skills necessary to grasp it; he wasn't writing anything tonight. Frustrated, he closed his eyes and clenched his fists.
I sat in a chair for most of the night looking at the dry-erase board hanging on the wall directly across from Dad's bed. It told me the day was Friday, December 3, 2010. Norm was the supervising nurse on duty. A name I don't recall now was the CNA on duty. My sister's and brother's phone numbers were listed as family contacts. The spot under the label of "daily goals" was blank. There were no more goals. We'd spent the last five and a half years enjoying borrowed time and miracles. On this night, I realized our miracles had run out. To ask for any more would just be selfish.
I nodded off for a bit. I woke to Norm, holding a flashlight between his teeth, as he changed my father's diaper while Dad yelled out in pain. Norm told him it would just be a few more seconds and he'd get him his morphine. Next came the ambien crushed and served in a teaspoon of applesauce. The rest of the night Dad was pretty restless. He was having difficulty breathing. The sound as he choked made me sick to my stomach. For two or three brief moments in room 239 that night I considered taking my pillow and putting it over his face. This was not going to get better; ending the pain just seemed practical, not to mention it would speed up the inevitable. I decided against it. Maybe tomorrow would be a better day~with rest, maybe he'll be able to use the pen.
As the sun rose on the desert sky the next morning, I focused on my sleeping father. Norm had promised a man more himself after a good night's rest. I was just about to nudge him awake when my oldest sister, Mrs. Fullcharge, entered the room. She offered me a muffin and walked me down the hall for my official debriefing. We found a table, sat down, and took a stab at having an actual conversation for the first time in two years.
She used all the impressive medical terminology she knew...I'm talking the big words--four, even five syllables. I had no idea what the hell she was talking about, nor did I really care at this point in time~but she sure did~and that was all that really mattered. I nodded and made myself look interested as one word after another went in one ear and right out the other.
While she'd been a pain in my ass for as long as I could remember, (it's tough playing second fiddle to the oldest, perfect child), I felt for her. She'd been watching this disease take it's toll on Dad first-hand. I had the luxury of eighteen hundred miles to numb me from it. On this day, I chose to give her a break. When I really thought about it, I certainly wouldn't want to be in her shoes. But, I must confess, she used the ten minutes of the debriefing to inform me at least six times that she was in charge and responsible for making the decisions. Dad said so. I wish I knew this before, I'd have spent my time bedazzling her title on a sweatshirt to pass the time on the thirty-hour ride across country. That way everyone who didn't already know this tidbit of info would be informed.
As she ended our pow-wow, she asked if I had any questions. Yep, I had one. "When can you get a priest here?" She assured me Hospice was sending someone this morning. I was relieved.
Fullcharge walked me back to the room before she announced her imminent departure, mysteriously saying she had some things to do. Louise and Daisy were in the room when we returned. Fullcharge checked on Dad's dentures. Just as she has suspected; they were not inserted properly. As she cleaned them and prepped them with polident, she asked me to give him some water. Naturally, I was doing it wrong. She gave me a brief tutorial (let the opening ceremony of the "eye-rolling-olympics" begin). Once I proved my ability to plunge and administer a drop of water (via straw) to his thirsty lips (I tried and failed several times), she gathered her things to leave.
She no more than left, Chaplain Jeff arrived. Louise had spoken to Mr. Sensible's Godfather after finding his name and number next to the priest's phone number last night when she had gone back to Dad's place. Apparently, Dad had called him to arrange for confession a couple weeks before. #5's godfather had assured Dad in a phone call that Last Rites would absolve him of any/all sins. There was no need to wine and dine the parish priest to get extra benes at the pearly gates. Last Rites seemed pretty important to Dad; we owed him this at the very least. My Dad was not a faithful man for most of the last twenty years...apparently, the thought of heading to the great beyond without the comfort of being excused of his sins was important to him. While he couldn't tell us anything now, I'm pretty sure he wanted to use his "get out of hell free card" now and a Priest was the best way to do this.
Chaplain Jeff assured us he could not perform this sacrament, but did offer to pray with us. He started that God-awful "Titanic Prayer"...you know the one...about walking in the shadows of death, as soon as he turned the Bible right side up and found the right page. I looked down at Dad ~ that damn tear had returned to his cheek. I don't think he was so much afraid of the inevitable as he was afraid of this Chaplain screwing things up with the Big Guy. It was obvious to me and Louise~and based on the flowing tears, it was certainly evident to Dad...Chaplain Jeff was a jew. If his honkin' nose didn't give him away, the beady eyes sure did. And, Dad was freaking out. While he could no longer speak, I'm sure he was thinking..."for Christ sake...these clowns aren't even capable of getting Last Rites, right."
At the end of the prayer, Louise showed Chaplain Jeff the door, then headed down the hall with her cell. She had a priest to call. I gave Dad a quick kiss and whispered in his ear, "ah, yeah, Dad, Chaplain Jeff was a Jew...Louise is calling St. Thomas to get a card-carrying Catholic to get things done right...I promise you we won't screw this up, I promise", then I left to head to Dad's condo for a quick shower. By the time I'd returned a priest had already been there to administer Last Rites and undo whatever the hell it was that Chaplain Jeff the Jew had done.
Tomorrow ~ Part lV