“When” Is the Only Unknown

I returned to Halifax a few hours ago after spending two days in Moncton, and I’ll be going back up for another two days Saturday. I’m exhausted right now, but I thought I’d fill you in on what’s up.

Well …it’s quite simple, really, and quite sad …but entirely expected: My father is dying. My mom, sister-in-law and I had an excellent and frank conference yesterday afternoon with Dr. J, a woman about my age who’s been assigned to my father’s case. On Monday, she declared my father “gravely ill” and spoke of the possibility of life support, but the point of our conference was to get her to elaborate on those points, which she did with remarkable tact and diplomacy without sugar-coating the facts. Let the record show that I really like and trust Dr. J, whom I just met.

She defined “gravely ill” as meaning that my father’s situation will not get any better and will steadily but certainly decline. Roughly translated from French, my father’s ailment is a “terminal respitory deficiency.”

Backtrack to July 30, 1996, when Dad had heart by-pass surgery. The six by-passes fixed his heart; however, there was a complication: despite all the post-surgery breathing exercises, his right lung did not re-expand as it should have. About three months later, he underwent surgery again to remove the lower lobe of his lung, a procedure that damn near killed him. When I saw him a few days after that second surgery, I immediately recognized that my father had been broken: he would certainly never recover spiritually and emotionally.

He didn’t. He sank into a deep depression, which took doctors nearly five years to diagnose and, moreover, find an anti-depressant that would be appropriate for a cardiac patient to take. By September 2001, he dropped to 103 lbs (from 140 lbs a few months before) and we (the family) thought for sure we were on the verge of losing him. But with the right anti-depressant, his mood stabilized and he recovered …somewhat. I say “somewhat” because, as I said, he was never the same after 1996, and every day he had to have an exhausting coughing session because his bad lung was in a perpetual infectous state.

Shortly into this new year, the daily coughing fits no longer served their purpose: he wasn’t able to bring much up. Moreover, he was constantly out of breath and couldn’t even stand 15 minutes to help my mother dry the dishes; he felt deeply, deeply exhausted. Ten days ago, after an episode during which my mother thought a few times my father would die in her arms, he was admitted to hospital. And from that night, my mother, both an optimist and a realist, has been saying, “He won’t be coming back home.”

Dr. J has confirmed my mother’s intuition. Additionally, she explained that all that coughing which he must do is putting a lot of stress on his heart, which it would on ANYONE’s heart. And there is now a tumour of some sort in the upper lobe of his bad lung; today’s CT scan will determine if it is cancerous. As for why he is more discombobulated as the day wears on: lack of oxygen in his system (even though he is on oxygen).

We’ve been painted into a corner. More surgery at this point will kill him. Simple as that. So it’s not an option. Thus Dr. J is speaking in terms of “keeping him comfortable” and carefully considering quality-of-life issues. Seeing how much my father is suffering and knowing now that there is absolutely no room for improvement, my mother has clearly expressed her desire that no heroic measure should be taken should his remaining lung or heart fail. And we, the children, agree. If my father’s current state is the best it’ll ever be, then he hardly has any “quality of life” left as it is.

This is, of course, a very sad time for my family. We would all want Dad to stay with us forever. But not at any cost. He is suffering so terribly right now. And although he is a devout Catholic, he is scared out of his tree at the brink of death. I don’t think, however, that it’s death he is fearing; it’s the thought that it’s possible the suffering could increase so many levels of magnitude. That thought haunts us, too — we love him too much to see him go through worse than he’s already been through.

Personally I’m so glad I got Junior when I did, for it means I have a reliable means of going to Moncton as often as I want. And what I want is to be with my parents as much as possible in the coming days, weeks, months… This is unconditional, just as all the love both my parents have given us has always been.

The waiting game has begun. Will he make it to the end of next week, let alone to Easter? Will he make it to his 53rd wedding anniversary on May 14? But the actual date really doesn’t matter; it’s merely that we would want to know when his suffering is going to end.

About Hope & “Counterhope”

Hope: I never thought the sound of a snowplow would make me so happy. I live on a relatively busy street in Halifax — not the busiest thoroughfare, but an important artery nonetheless. But the parking lot for my building gives to a residential side street, which city crews have been saying they wouldn’t be able to reach until tomorrow or even Sunday. However, just as I was zapping an e-mail message to the Bush Whacker, I started hearing a snowplow on said residential street. So I might be able to go for much-need groceries tomorrow afternoon.

Counterhope: A heavy snowfall warning (20-25 cm/7-10 in) has been issued from New Brunswick. Apparently the weather people are holding off on issuing a similar warning for Nova Scotia, since the track the storm will take will determine if we’ll be getting mostly rain or mostly snow. It may sound odd to you, but with the 95 cm from the blizzard still far from being completely ploughed, we want it to be snow rather than rain. Flooding could be awful if it’s rain, not to mention how it would make the clean-up operation much more difficult.

Common sense: Another historical first for Halifax — an overnight curfew. I fully understand and agree. But, at the same time, it feels rather weird to be in a city where a curfew has been imposed.


Counterhope: Well, just refer to my recent rant the other day about difficult, ungrateful clients.

Hope: I got a call today from another client whose website we made live this week after more than a year in the works. At one point, even after I had completed (and been paid for) my share of the work, I realized my client’s problem was in getting all its content together. So, feeling sorry for my client, I pulled up my sleeves and whipped the content into shape, including translating some of it. I didn’t plan to charge; I just wanted to get their bloody website online at last. But today, I found out that the board appreciated my effort so much that they voted to give me an honorarium. It probably didn’t hurt they came under budget on this project…


Hope: My dad’s been on the verge of kicking the bucket before, yet he always managed to come back.

Counterhope: Very weak today, he said to my mom, “I’m not going to see the house again, am I?” To which my mom replied with a truth and a lie. The truth: “You’ve been worse than this before.” The lie: In the back of her mind, she’s been thinking the same thing he has.

Dead Batteries…

…mean no pictures.

I just put on my parka and boots to go on my balcony in order to take a few pictures and show you what a sudden downfall of 3 feet of snow looks like, but when I flicked my digital camera on, I discovered the batteries were dead. And getting new batteries when everything is closed is, indeed, impossible. 🙁

Well, one thing I can say: Junior must be happy I have a garage for him. His “counterparts” in the parking lot are drifted over. I’ll have to tell him not to snicker when he sees them in such a state of disgrace. He can be so puerile. 😛

Although this blizzard is alternately being called White Juan, I must say it’s difficult to compare it to Hurricane Juan. The state of emergency is definitely warranted, even today. But we can’t speak of devastation as with the hurricane. The wind wasn’t hurricane-force with White Juan, and even if it had been, the trees would have been without leaves and all the snow would have helped ground the trees unlike during the hurricane. Furthermore, this is friggin’ Canada! We’ve seen snow before, but Category 2 hurricanes we’re not used to. That said, as a result of Hurricane Juan, people took the warnings about this “weather bomb” much more seriously. We’re just not as complacent as we used to be about extreme weather, for the hurricane has disproved the old lines that we’re tough and can take any kind of weather up here.

Old Media: 1; New Media: 0

I have to admit that I watched in disbelief Howard Dean’s U.S. presidential bid come crashing down in flames, and I’m bummed out about it. I’ve been trying to figure out why it failed so badly, and my gut has been telling me that his portrayal in the media must have had something to do with it, especially the overplayed “Iowa scream” which was so clearly taken out of context. Well, The Nation‘s Willian Greider seems to be giving my suspicion some credence.

The “Kerry is more electable” line doesn’t wash with me. In fact, he strikes me like a nasty, opportunistic slimeball. But if I were a U.S. citizen voting in November, I’d pinch my nose and vote for him in November. And remind myself that we only get the politicians we deserve.

If the Third Time is the Charm…

…what does that make the fourth time?

My father is ill again and in hospital again. He nearly kicked the bucket in 2001, which was the third time since 1996 he was gravely ill and needed to be hospitalized. But this time the doctors are even less sure what’s ailing him. Although she tries to remain optimistic, Mom fears that if he pulls through again this time, it might only be for placement in a nursing home. And, frankly, after all these years of my dad being sick, she herself doesn’t know where she’ll find the strength to live with that reality.

Cranky/bitchy clients and the blizzard aren’t helping: I want to set a few days aside and go to Moncton. Well, truth be told, the cranky/bitchy clients are the least of my worries. They can go piss up a rope. But travelling is tricky around here at this time of year. You never know if you’ll end up getting stranded a day or three longer than you counted on being away. And then those cranky/bitchy clients, all wet from the piss flowing back down the rope, can get even crankier/bitchier. For what that’s worth.

Anyway, it’s hard to say what we can expect in the coming weeks and months as far as Dad is concerned. We’ve been here before as a family and were convinced we were about to lose him. But he’s been like a cat with lives to spare. Still, the poor guy certainly can’t say that his 70s have been fun.