Sunday, February 18, 2018
The Longest Day
I was supposed to stay at my dad's house Monday night, the night before his surgery, after battling through a restless sick night i drank enough fluid and packed a bag of pretzels and headed to Cleveland, to a hotel near the airport, i didn't want to risk getting my dad sick before major surgery, he had enough on his mind though i could sense his disappointment and he could sense mine, i was supposed to spend that night at his place, like we used to in the old days of Xmas with my Father, me and him bullshitting and trying not to think about the impending day ahead, instead we talked on the phone and spent the night alone and thinking between fits of sleep.
At 4:07am, after the best 40 straight minutes of sleep i had all night my alarm jarred me awake. I showered and packed and headed out into the frigid air, pulling up in front of his place i could see his front room light was on. He was waiting for me. He's thinner and gaunt and slightly jaundiced. I gave him a hug, tossed my bag in his place, grabbed a water, made sure he had all the paperwork and whatever else he'd need and then we went down his steps, both of us telling the other to be careful because of the ice, we drove through the city, past my beloved downtown and the night skyline, the Terminal Tower bathed in red light, the Q, Progressive Field, i love that fucking view every time i see it, a concrete representation of some dream that exists in my mind, of a youth and a history and a story...
The Old Man and i navigated our way through the halls of the just waking Clinic, found the floor and area and got him checked in. Then we sat and waited. I drank green tea and my father dozed and i watched him, this man, my dad, a common man with more dignity and grace than all the royalty combined. I tried to read. I tried to sleep. Three hours later they called his name, the same one he gave me, and took him back, i said see you in a bit and went back to waiting in the lobby. Once again i tried to read. Once again i tried to sleep. After another hour they called me back to wait with him. We sat and talked and my father once again dozed off and on. I told him to rest and not worry about me. My big sis and her husband and son arrived. My nephew is in his late teens and on the ASD spectrum, my sister and her husband have worked tirelessly with him and he is the sweetest kid you'll ever want to meet. My dad adores the kid. We all know how hard these situations are on him. They told me to take a break, i'd picked up my dad at 5am and it was now slightly after 11am.
I walked the halls and bought more pretzels and a water. I sat in a chair and stared out the window at the cold rust belt sun, i watched the noiseless traffic and the bustling mess in front of valet parking, then i went back to his waiting room. There was some explaining of procedures and what not. If all went well he'd be in surgery for somewhere around 8 to 10 hours... if not they'd call us in two. I clasped my dad's hand and kissed his head, told him i'd see him sometime tonight, i joked how i was looking forward to sleeping on a bench in a hallway.
My sister's family left and my sister and i went to find a place to wait. I had a pager that would give me updates dangling from my neck. My dad's older brother and younger sister showed up. We talked and mulled things over, we told stories to pass the time. My aunt is a real pain in the ass and spent a good deal of time wanting to talk about politics. My sister is the right wing libertarian type, my dad and myself and his siblings lean far left, needless to say on this day i could give fuck all about politics and just wanted people to be civil and chill the fuck out. I understand they wanted to take their mind off things but as i had to state at one point, "there is a time and place for this and now is not the fucking time or place."
At 1:15pm my pager buzzed and told me the patient surgery had started. Now the grind really started. 3:15 was the magic number, make that with no more texts and we'd have a chance. We sat in a lobby and then headed to get some food. It was Tuesday afternoon and the last proper food i'd had was dinner Sunday night. I ate like a peasant, a big hunk of bread dipped in chicken soup, a chocolate chip cookie, i kept glancing at the pager, it was 2:37pm, we were getting there, each minute feeling longer and longer. We sat at our table and talked, 2:51pm and the same message still scrolled across, patient surgery started, soon we crossed the 3pm threshold, we had finished our lunches and began thinking about heading back up to the PACU unit, and then at 3:13pm my pager went off. My sister and i looked at each other. It read the doctors would like to speak with you, please return to the unit.
When my dad first told me about his liver surgeon he thought he was an arrogant shit. Since that time they'd formed a rather strong bond, more friends than doctor/patient. He stood and stated the obvious, that there was nothing more they could do, he had a transplant surgeon sit in just as an extra set of eyes and for opinions, he said they discussed courses of action but that in the end if he started working on the liver there was a strong possibility my father would die on the table. He also didn't want to see him spend a last month in an ICU. He said he had formed a bond with our dad. He said he really liked him and that he was the most down to Earth guy, an intelligent and rational man who he really enjoyed seeing and speaking with. He spoke of how our dad stressed quality of life as more important than quantity, of how he didn't want to burden his children, i actually smiled through my tears because that was the quintessential essence of Pops, selfless and giving. I could see this one hurt, that the surgeon really wanted to pull one off this time, that he had exhausted every possible scenario and option but in the end there was nothing to be done. Bile Duct Cancer. A rare form here in the states. It was the shit end of the stick. We discussed possible treatment options and outcomes, none of which are very promising. The liver is a tricky organ, the exact word to describe the treatment was grueling. My sis, knowing i had talked at length with my dad about this stuff asked if i thought he'd do it, my honest answer was it was a coin flip but something in me said probably not. Why feel like shit when the outcome is most likely going to be the same?
So now there was more time to kill. We waited for him to get to post-op so we could take him to his room and say goodnight, he needed to rest, i think we all needed to rest. As i sat staring at my dad with the various tubes and machines i did my best to hold it together. His voice was weak and groggy as he said, "this isn't good, i'm back way to early," he tried to smile, to once again put his kids at ease, it was as we walked out towards the lobby as they prepped to move him that what was left of my composure cracked, the tears streamed down my face as i told my sister, that i love the guy so damn much, that he was the best friend i'd ever had. In the unit lobby we were the last ones there as we waited. Another ten minutes or so and we went to his room and settled him in. I kissed his head, told him i loved him and that i'd see him in the morning.
I drove my sister back to Parma. I dropped her off and drove past my old and now closed junior high school. Past a landscape both familiar and foreign, gone was the Sno-White Donuts and Convenient Food Mart, gone was Rockpile Records and Mama Mia's, past Tri-C where i spent the Friday nights of my youth playing basketball and messing with girls, past the park where i took my first toke, i drove over to W. 130th and then towards my dad's place near W. 140th, i took out his keys and his money clip he gave me to take home, i sat down on his couch and turned on his television, it was past 9pm, i ate cheeseburgers and watched the Cavs play the Thunder, it was not lost on me that i was doing the same thing that my father would be doing and had done over the past 15 years of living here. The new look Cavs looked good. Maybe we could do it this year, it's the mantra of every native Clevelander, i smiled, i said i love you dad and then fell asleep on his couch.