Thursday, February 05, 2009
Man of Harlech
My Dad has been ill for a long time; dealing with diabetes, kidney disease, as well as stress on his heart and lungs (C.O.P.D.). So, when Mom called me this morning at work, I could tell from the sound of her voice that something was seriously wrong: it quavered and broke as she told me that Dad had been admitted to hospital last night, when he was having trouble breathing, and that I should come right away.
I gave a garbled message to one of my co-workers, pulled on my coat and went as quickly as I could back down the elevator, through the JT lobby and out into the -31 C weather that's been plaguing us. My lungs choked up with the cold and I could hear what my brother calls "lung kittens" wheezing in my chest. I got to my car and hit the parkway. The day was so bright and beautiful, sunny, but bloody cold. I was out of it, dazed. The car seemed to drive itself.
I pulled into the Queensway Carleton Hospital and eventually found a spot to park, which meant another long, freezing walk across a parking lot. I kept wanting to be at my Mom and Dad's side now, but things kept conspiring to get in my way. I found myself on the 4th floor of the Hospital, realizing the room numbers only went up to 425. Dad was in 450. I finally got directions and headed back down to the lobby, reoriented myself and made for the "new" part of the hospital.
Finally I found the room. Finally I shucked off the winter clothing. Mom was there. Mike was there. Dad was stretched in a hospital bed, breathing in an oxygen mask, sedated, hanging in there. I just hugged my family and listened to Dad's hissing in-out breathing. It was Jethro Tull's Aqualung, or Darth Vader; the quiet, hitched breathing of someone who is not getting everything they need from each lungful of air.
Nothing felt real; even though everything was laid out in front of me. The doctor was patient and kind, explaining things straight, but with gentleness. She advised us to not bother with dialysis today, because the stress of moving Dad to the General across town would've been too hard on him: interrupting his oxygen (and inadvertently cleaning the helpful drugs from his system). She said if he went into arrest in the ambulance, or needed oxygen or his pain medication and the other drugs they were using to help him breathe that it wouldn't be available to him. So, reluctantly, Mom decided against dialysis.
We sat together near Dad, occasionally holding his hand, Mom sometimes brushing back his silver hair. The sun shone brightly through the window, warming the room. We talked about Dad and the fact that he tended to rally under duress: the phoenix rising from the ashes, again and again. Mike said we were lucky that we'd had the time to be with him after his many visits in and out of the hospital; that we'd all managed to let each other know how much we loved one another. Last May, when Dad was scheduled for heart surgery and was fearful of going under, he talked to us, letting us know how much he loved us. We said good-bye last year, and then just enjoyed all the time we had together. So, we were lucky... I guess.
How come I don't feel lucky? I feel empty, wrung out like a wet rag, eyes swollen from crying. I headed out from the hospital around 2pm to do some errands, and eventually picked up Clay at work, because of the bus strike. I drove back to Kanata, picked up some dinner to take back into the hospital for Mom and then headed home to drop Clay off. It didn't really register as strange to see Mike's car parked in front of the house. I just thought... I don't know, that we were going to plan things together for dinner, or he had news about Mom, or something. I came in, babbling about stuff and just doing my usual thing. Mike looked like a part of him wanted to be anywhere but there. He said quietly: "He's gone, Sue. Dad's gone."
I dissolved... falling into the couch in choking sobs. I felt like a part of me was torn right out of my body, crushed and twisted. I couldn't breathe. I felt Mike and Clayton close to me, felt their arms holding me, and just cried into my brother's shoulder. I felt that I would never stop crying. Mike said that Dad had just slowed in his breathing for awhile; that the in-out of his breath got slower and slower. The pauses between each breath hung and then there was another hitched inhalation. And then there was nothing. It was over.
Norman Henry Marsden
June 3rd, 1940 - February 5th, 2009
Me and Dad, 1972.