I’m Dying, Can I Call You Back?

My father came to Connecticut to live near me. Within weeks of his arrival we found out he was dying.

It shouldn’t have come as too big a surprise. Only a year earlier we moved my 89-year-old grandmother from New York to Connecticut. We packed and unpacked all of her things. She was even going to bingo for a while and it looked as though she might live past age 95. Just six weeks after she moved in she fell, banged her head and died soon after that.

I spent my entire adult life wishing I could live near my grandmother and for those six weeks it was a dream come true. Back then I might’ve said it wasn’t in the cards, or just wasn’t meant to be, but when the doctors told us my father had amyloids in his heart, I knew it was my bad karma not his.

Of course we were all in shock. It’s easier to blame the sick person. You’d like to believe that somehow they’re smoking or conspicuous consumption of pickles led them down the path to poor health but that wasn’t the case. It turns out amyloids are a rare condition, so rare that the very doctor who diagnosed it had never seen a case before my father’s. As a doctor explained what in fact was happening to my father’s heart, you couldn’t help but notice he had what could only be described as pride. He had discovered the amyloids like those medical mystery shows where the viewer has to guess which of the three conditions the patient has, the doctor had guessed correctly and it was all he could do to hide his excitement. Unfortunately his prize was my father’s death.

Everything seemed unreal. My father had smoked three packs a day for most of his adult life; he even had a heart attack. He drank Yoohoo and ate Drakes Cakes. One of his fondest childhood memories was eating rendered chicken fat on a piece of rye bread. He bought a NordicTrack and kept it for 20 years as a dusty lawn ornaments the middle of the living room. It was as if owning it made him part of the fitness world.

By today’s standards my father’s lifestyle was more like a suicide mission. Yet he was now dying of a rare disease that no amount of exercise could have prevented.

Once the shock of his pending death took hold, we all retreated to the Internet for more information. The news was grim.

The more we read the worse things seemed. My brother and I compared notes on the phone and my father; he just kept trying to catch his breath, literally. He’d been short of breath for over a year and now with such a poor prognosis instead of looking winded he looked like he was catching his last breath. It took several days to get a referral and by the time we were in the hematologist’s office both my father and I had reconciled with the prognosis.

The doctor asked my father a series of questions. Each time we answered yes we felt we were further cementing our fate; weight loss, shortness of breath, lethargy, my father had the endurance of a slug.

Tests were ordered. These were the kind of tests only very sick people have to get. The first, a bone marrow biopsy took seven days to get the results. Time was of the essence, I started cooking my father’s favorite foods albeit without salt. There was no point in hastening his death. I reassured him that the second the doctor said his death was imminent, I would be the first person to get him a pack of cigarettes and a Big Mac.

The test results came back negative which was good news except the doctor reassured us that there were more tests to be done as if to squash the smallest hope that my dad indeed wasn’t dying. The second test called fatty tissue biopsy would surely be more conclusive. We watched a how-to video on YouTube about the procedure. It went through each step of the procedure just in case we wanted to try it at home. My father watched the video as it showed each gruesome step. Surprisingly he remained optimistic even cheerful.

Meanwhile my father got a pacemaker which improved the quality of his life in significant ways. He was able to breathe, and even remain awake while sitting in front of the television, a significant improvement from before. As his health improved so that his spirits. When Citibank called hounding him for minimum payments on his credit cards he was quick to tell them that he was dying from a terrible terminal illness, that he had been awakened by the phone, had to nearly crawl across the floor to answer it and no, he didn’t think he could make that 38.00 a month payment.

Soon he was telling anyone who would listen that the angel of death had knocked on his door. The reluctant clerk at the video store extended a membership to my dad with the promise that I would return any and all rented videos should my dad’s untimely death occur before the videos were due.

I suppose when you know your time is near, life’s consequences don’t seem quite as dire. In fact, my father seemed to enjoy all the advantages of being dead soon. He no longer concerned himself with the outcome of nearly any medical tests because as he liked to remind me, he was dying anyway. Any junk food left at his apartment would be eaten in a single serving. I reminded him that we would still have to get his fat ass into the hearse but that wasn’t enough to discourage him from eating an entire package of Oreos.

One Sunday afternoon we went for a short boat ride on the Long Island Sound. We spent the sunny afternoon weighing the merits of the burial at sea.

Things were going so well that even I had to admit there was a bright side to this grim prognosis. For Father’s Day, my brother and I threw all caution to the wind and bought my dad some new clothes despite their expected shelf life.

The following day the doctor’s office called with the test results of my dad’s most recent biopsy, they were negative. I guess those Father’s Day clothes weren’t such a bad idea after all. It turns out, whatever is killing my father, it’s not happening quickly and it’s not happening now which means he is dying just like the rest of us. I just wonder how he’s going to tell the folks at Citibank

[this story ends here]

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