Dear family and friends,
Staring at the blank screen of my computer, I find myself stumbling through the process of typing the first line in this “letter” to you. I am intimidated by the white space and my keyboard…wish they were pen and ink – no – more than that – at least a phone call and connection more personal than a keyboard since what I have to share is more than difficult.
My father is dying.
The prognosis was delivered to Dad and I about 8:00 Thursday evening an hour after he was checked into the hospital. Earlier the same day, Dad had driven himself to the doctor for a check-up. As many of you know, Dad is one TOUGH bugger who has dealt with several ailments and multiple surgeries during the past decade. He suffered for many years with diverticulitis (a digestive disorder which creates various symptoms and plenty of pain to his abdomen, stomach and chest). Several years ago he had surgery to remove a section of his colon. Digestive symptoms and pain are a constant annoyance to him. Understandably, father thought the symptoms and pain were caused by the diverticulitis. He had grown quite used to pain in his mid-section and simply dealt with it. The only reason Dad had a checkup scheduled on Thursday was because of a bizarre incident with his eye less than a week before.
A week ago (Friday), Dad woke up blind in one eye. He went to an eye doctor who said he’d “never seen anything like it” – Dad was sent to an eye surgeon the same day. The eye surgeon diagnosed the temporary blindness as a large blood clot (the blood itself was obstructing his vision). Such a clot is usually caused by trauma to the eye, thus the doctor became concerned about Dad’s general health. The eye surgeon contacted Dad’s personal physician to recommend a checkup. Dad was sent home with instructions not to lay down, spent the weekend sleeping upright in his easy chair and his vision improved several days later.
The scheduled checkup was Thursday. Dad drove himself to the hospital after a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, and sausage. Upon examination, the doctor sent dad to the hospital to be admitted for several tests. The rest of the day was a frustrating round of hospital “stuff” – none of which was unfamiliar to my father since he is no stranger to tests, surgeries and procedures. The sonogram technician told father that his gall bladder was in bad shape so when I went to see him the third time that day, we talked about the likely possibility of surgery to remove the gall bladder. Dad was almost chipper…medical validation and a reasonable explanation for the keen suffering he’d experienced the past four weeks. We waited for the doctor’s prognosis but were rather unprepared for the news shared once the doctor entered the room, closed the door, and sat down.
We were told that Dad’s gall bladder was totally “shot” along with his liver. Most likely the organs were suffering from cancer and at this point the doctor believed there was a strong chance that dad was in stage four of pancreatic cancer. We were told the diagnosis at this point was “not good.” A cat scan the following morning would tell us more but most likely the cancer was pancreatic, had already spread throughout the vital organs, and there would not likely be any treatment for father at this stage. The doctor was compassionate but clear. I called my brothers, then drove to the house to tell mother.
The next 48 hours transpired in a vivid yet blurry chapter. The final diagnosis came late Friday night after a long day of waiting, disbelief, bits of hope woven with grim fear. The cat scan was delayed due to an high amount of trauma in ER caused by late spring winter-like road conditions. The nature of the beast of pancreatic cancer is that it is aggressive and rapid. The pancreas “floats” in the body – thus the organ remains symptom-less when attacked by cancer. Only when cancer has spread to the other organs do symptoms appear. By the time Dad was admitted to the hospital, his liver had already begun to shut down, his urine had been the color of dark beer for at least 3 weeks, he was weak, had jaundice, and had shortness of breath…ailments which father thought were caused by the diverticulitis. Twenty four hours after dad was admitted into the hospital a “pick-line” was inserted into Dad’s arm as a permanent IV so we could have Hospice care provide pain medication when he returned home. Less than twenty four hours after that (Saturday) I drove Dad home from the hospital. The house had been taken over by equipment which Dad said appeared like “aliens” in their home: oxygen generator, home care supplies, etc. Howard (my younger brother) arrived with his family. Robin (my older brother) is on his way.
Dad’s symptoms since Thursday have progressed rapidly. His body is shutting down. He may have a few days or a few weeks (?)
If this were paper and ink, there would be many crumpled pages at my feet. My apologies if this seems too long, too brief, or too impersonal. Howard’s arrival at 8:00 pm allowed me to catch a few hours of sleep last night but I woke in the dark with the task of telling you. Morning snuck upon me totally unnoticed while this e-mail transpired from a blank page to an attempt to share the beginning of an intense, awkward and deeply sad chapter of my father’s life. We ask for your prayers, compassion, and good energy during this difficult time. I will try to keep you updated by e-mail. I must leave in a few minutes to take some walkie-talkies and anti-bacterial soap to the house.
Wish I could send a hug with this note.