Saturday, May 02, 2009

Reflections

It was eight years ago today that my dad decided enough was enough. He'd been unconscious in the ICU at Harbor View for exactly a month. He'd had too many emergency midnight surgeries to count. His liver was shot, the blocked blood backing up and bursting through places where no blood should dare to burst. A resulting septic infection was slowly shutting down his remaining organs. His heart and his brain were still functioning; for all else he was dependent on machines. And so, he died.

The family had been called together earlier that morning to decide what to do. This was not the first time. We'd had "the talk" with the docs three times already. The first time, only my dad's brother was ready to let him go. The second time, I couldn't get my very pregnant brain to accept the fact that my father wouldn't live to meet his grandchild. I burst into tears with as much ferocity as his blood burst through his colon, and the meeting was postponed. By the next meeting, the family - my grandmother, aunt and uncle, and my own siblings - had formally deferred all decision making to me, an all too familiar role for me to play in matters pertaining to my dad. At this point, his kidneys and lungs were also gone - still a small chance of survival, but not one without daily dialysis and likely severe encephalopathy. Had he survived to live that life, my dad would've killed me for not pulling the plug. I was ready to let go, but his latest wife still wouldn't sign the papers.

But that last morning was different. It was only the wife and I in the room: the family representative and the one with the legal authority to sign Dad's life away. The docs gave their spiel, the wife looked at me, I nodded, and the papers were signed. I notified the rest of the family, and we settled in to wait the 20 minutes it would take my uncle to arrive.

Ten minutes later, the nurse rushed into the waiting room. Dad's heart was failing. "But his brother's not here yet," the wife said. "I don't think his heart cares," the nurse replied. I liked her. She was my favorite nurse. The wife followed her; I respected what I knew to be my father's wishes and stayed in the waiting room. Another five minutes passed and the nurse returned. I walked halfway across the waiting room toward her before it occurred to me that her reappearance meant my dad was dead. I believe my response to her gentle announcement was, "Oh. Okay." I am nothing if not profound in my grief. Moments later, my uncle arrived and I had to tell him that he was too late.

My uncle was devastated but I was relieved. My dad going a few minutes too early meant that we didn't pull the plug. I didn't pull the plug. And so I have never had to grapple with the guilt and remorse that comes with making that decision. I spend each May 2nd remembering him, instead of forever questioning whether or not I made the right choice. I like to think that preempting his own scheduled death was his last act of fatherly love.

For that, and for so many other things, I would like to say thank you, mon pere. And may you rest, finally and eternally, in peace.

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