Since his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer at the end of January, with details of treatment options given to him and some of the family in February, it’s been moment after moment of charged presence.
I showed up at the end of February to witness the Palliative Care team step into action. The social worker, the doctor, the nurses, the physiotherapists. I heard my dad go over and over his history – professional and personal. They needed to appraise him and we got to hear him conquer his innate feeling of exhaustion to elucidate his past. When the pain was great, he sometimes searched longer for the correct wording, but always the words appeared.
He’d sit on the couch slouched over, breathing heavily.
“Dad, are you in pain?”
“No,” he’d say. But the breath, the exhale and the position said something else. “Dad, from 0 (no pain) to 10 (horrible pain), what number would you give how you feel?”
When he finally admitted to something, he’d say “6 or 7”.
By then the drugs at his disposal back then were hardly enough to numb his discomfort. We’d begged him to tell us as soon as it was a “1” or “2”. He had other ideas. He’d never taken drugs for pain and I guess he was waiting for what he imagined would be the big guns.
His sister had died painfully of pancreatic cancer back in 2011. She’d gone quickly with agony. He knew it and knew it well.
One day he said, “What do you think? Should I pull the plug?”
I couldn’t deal with that. I cried, then tried to find my voice. “Dad, you’re so full of life. If you’re asking me, I’d say please no.”
Later on when I had to fly back home, I regretted my words. I felt that I should have withheld my own feelings and instead said: “Dad, it’s up to you. Do what you feel is right. It’s your decision and I’ll support whatever you decide.”
But the tears belied my ability to be logical. I was aching. My beloved father was beginning a path that could be outrageously torturous. But meanwhile, he was lucid.
My niece filmed him as she conducted interviews about his past experiences. She’d ask questions and he’d gather his forces and answer thoughtfully and energetically. When we watched the clips, we learned so many new things. He shared a fountain of experience.