Once, in college, I ran into a girl that I had roomed with in the dorms. We never had any huge blowout fights, though I did throw some rolls of toilet paper at her once. But we were not well-matched. She was very tidy, while I was not. She was incredibly uptight, and I was only kinda uptight and in different ways. We didn't hate each other, and had we not lived in the same small room, we might even have been friends. Anyway, I hadn't seen her or talked to her much since we all moved out. I didn't particularly want to stop and chat with her now, but the fact that we had shared a bunk bed for a year did mean that I should probably say hello.
"Oh hey, how are you?" she asked.
"Fine." This was a terrible lie, because I had a nasty cold, which was immediately obvious because my voice sounded raspy. I actually had trouble getting the word out, my voice was so bad. She gave me a funny look, because I sure didn't sound fine. I guess she knew that I wasn't very good at small talk, so hopefully she chalked it up to that, rather than me trying to avoid extending our conversation.
This story does not tell a particularly flattering picture of me. I would like to tell more positive stories about myself, but I just have so many more of the other kind.
Last Saturday, after visiting my dad in the hospital, I went to Josh's show in Boone. And it was weird, to be at a bar, having a beer, watching a show, while my dad was in the ICU. People I knew said hello, how are you, and I was always fine. Not because I didn't like those people or wanted to cut short talking to them, but because I didn't want to discuss my ongoing family emergency. And with them not knowing anything about it, that was pretty easy. I was fine. My dad was not fine, and that knowledge was lurking in the back of my mind the whole time, but I was fine and nothing in my voice indicated otherwise.
Then Josh's dad and step-mom showed up, and they already knew, because Josh had told them. Not that there was any reason he shouldn't tell them, because these people spend Christmas at my house; we are family. His step-mom came toward me, arms outstretched and her head titled to one side, and I was horrified to realize that I was about to receive a sympathetic hug.
Yup, that's me, being horrified at being the recipient of love and concern from another human being.
She asked how I was ("Fine"), and how my dad was ("Okay"). I told her that he was stable in the hospital, that his right leg had stopped working on him but he was moving it now, that I had seen him and he had been sedated but lucid. It was a very positive outlook. And that was a satisfactory answer, in fact, it was downright chipper. Perhaps I did not need sympathetic hugs after all, just regular haven't-seen-you-in-a-while hugs.
That was the short version, so here's the extended: my dad has atrial fibrillation, a heart condition that leads to strokes. He will not take any medicine for it. It is not an unusual condition for someone his age (77), nor is the medication he would take new-fangled or experimental. But Daddy does not trust doctors. He's been that way for a long time, and within my family, it's not an entirely unusual viewpoint, though he is taking it the furthest (hey, we're competitive, too).
I would like to believe that this refusal of his is more about acceptance of mortality than stubbornness and paranoid distrust. Maybe he feels like he has had a rich and full life and is not interested in being immobile and dependent in order to buy a few more years of being immobile and dependent. This is the story that I have told myself. I have no idea what its relation is to the truth or even to any stories that Daddy might tell, but it makes me feel better about the fact that my daddy is choosing to die. I do firmly believe that he does not fear death, but I don't understand why that would make him choose not to live.
It is his right to make that choice, no matter how much it upsets me and my siblings or burdens my mother, his caretaker. We all die, and I hope that when it's my time, I exhibit the kind of acceptance I'm ascribing to him. Except that the choice is not even that simple. By choosing to not take preventative measures against them, he is choosing to have more strokes. Which may kill him in one go or they may take him out, one piece at a time over the course of years. So I am in the awkward position of having to hope that my daddy has a great big stroke that kills him dead.
In this situation, that is the best thing to hope for. It is a crappy little hope.
So I didn't want sympathetic hugs and I didn't want to talk about my dad because I didn't want to talk about that. I didn't want to have to explain why he was refusing treatment, nor did I want to have to watch other people realize that they had no possible idea how to comfort me in this situation. So I would not mention that part at all, and then try to act as happy and hopeful as they did about his promising recovery. Because I was fine.
Predictably, my dad did get sick again. He came down with some wicked vertigo and his body rejected anything that might have been food. At the hospital, the doctor told him that they might as well send him home, because they couldn't do anything if he wouldn't let them. He thought about it, talked to my brother a while, and finally decided that he might as well try the drugs for a trial period.
And so we have a better hope, cautious, but still something to be happy about. I am better than fine.