Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Thanks to all who've written good words regarding my Father. I spent last week with him and it was fairly weird. As a result of the tumors on his liver (and chemo, I suppose) he's jaundice and his normally squinting eyes are bugging out. He lost a lot of weight very quickly. He was weak, tired, in pain and couldn't do much more than sit on the couch and complain about everything. Considering the situation, I suppose that's to be expected. The narcotics, while numbing the pain, only encourage a pronounced sundowning effecting, which makes him a bit like an aggressive drunk - woozy, paranoid and prone to verbally lash out at anything he doesn't like (my Aunt, for instance).

On our first night there, he looked quite bad and mentally, he'd pretty much given up. He was convinced the cancer had spread throughout his body. No proof of that, but he believed. His doctor - in a real display of empathy - had suggested he forget about the chemo and call hospice to arrange terminal care. Well, if that doesn't put the spirit to fight in a 75 year old man, what will?

As I watched my Mother prepare one standard family dish after another - and my Father refuse them all - it dawned on me that part of his problem was that he might be starving. I don't think he'd eaten anything for a few days as he was feeling sick. I bought a box of those mega weight gain body builder shakes and told him if he drank two a day and he'd have the same ripped abs as the guy on the box. That got him on the program. My sister and I reminded him that he's got take in as many calories as possible during this treatment.

Fortified with some nutrition (Mom realized he could eat pudding and made gallons of that), he started to focus on eating something at every meal time. Over the next few days, he seemed to get better - more alert, stronger, able to walk and stay up for longer periods. I think part of the improvement was the food and another part was that my Mom reduced his medication. It seemed better to give a single pill in quicker intervals, rather than stretch the spread to the max and try to catch up with two pills.

BTW - here's a tip - pain medication is like crafting and maintaining a beer buzz. You've got to hit it hard right away and then pace yourself with a constant flow. Too much and you're a drunk, too little and you sober up. Glenn Fry from the Eagles told filmmaker Cameron Crowe that his secret was two beers pounded back as fast as possible as soon as he entered a party. After that, it was one beer nursed for every 60-90 minutes. Keep it in mind.

You know the thing that bothers me the most? I kept looking for a moment of bravery or humor in the face of death. Some kind of passion showing through the pain or a demonstration that his life was worth living even though it's obviously going to end soon. Nada. I guess that's a Hollywood myth. Death is sad, frightening and lonely especially for the one doing the dying. My Father looks like he's about to be hit by a car. He's pissed off, scared, annoyed at everything. I can't blame him, but I also wonder if he's ever going to reach some kind of acceptance stage of death.

Now it's a week later and Dad's hanging in there. I talk to my Mother every day and she reports what he's eaten - particularly when he drinks a mega shake - I think she says it to please me. Before each chemo treatment, they pop him with a shot of Procrit and that makes him feel good for a day. It's a strange sort of medical reprieve. Procrit pumps up the red blood cells and battles fatigue that comes from the anemia associated with chemo. So oddly, one of his best days is the day he gets the chemo, which used to be the day that would wipe him out. Now he's dancing with Mom in the living room. It's like that Robin Williams, DeNiro movie "Awakenings." He gets a few hours to recall what it was like to feel human, then it's back to pain and vomiting.

I'll be heading back down there soon. My Mother's hope is he can make it through the chemo treatment and a new scan will show the tumors are in retreat. I tell her I believe that will happen. In the meantime, she and I went to the cemetery and purchased a pair of gravesites.

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