I arrived at the hospital at around half past nine. Dr. Ivanov, my dad’s primary physician, is a stately young woman with smart girl glasses. She pulled me into a private lounge area, held my hand, and not once did she break eye contact. After explaining the aneurism operation step by step, she said that his numbers looked better than they had over the past forty-eight hours.
“He’s a tough guy. We’re not giving up.” Her voice had resolute authority unlike her colleague, Dr. No Hope.
I sat in the same chair as I had twelve hours before, and massaged my dad’s forearm, the only part of him I could reach without interfering with the machinery. Mucus was dripping from his swollen eyes and mouth. That was new, but I thought it could be a signal of the infection expelling itself.
I went downstairs to call his family and give them the good news. His sister, Ruthie, sighed and said, “Yep, he’s a Danuser. He’s gonna make it.” Norm, his brother, thanked me.
“I’m just going to be out in the lounge for a little bit, right around the corner. I’m not leaving,” I said. I leaned down, kissing my dad’s arm, and told him how much I loved him. I ran my hand around the bottom of the Coke I’d been carrying and collected the cold beads of dew. I reached out and held his arm again, hoping the temperature change would alarm him and cause a response. I don’t think it did. I’m not sure.
I sat in the lounge for about a half hour when I decided to go downstairs for a smoke and make a few more calls. As I passed the main nurses station, the PA was announcing a code blue in a recorded voice. I ran into the surgery ICU and saw a huge team of people crowding in and around my dad’s room. The red light above his door blinked with the loud buzzer synched in time with the flash.
A young intern was on top of my dad, pumping with his hands on my dad’s chest. I looked through the window, at the numbers, at the heart line that just stayed flat. Dr. Ivanov was in there, commanding different methods of resuscitation. A nurse came from behind me and put her hand on my shoulder.
I stood there, watching it all happen through the window, weeping.
After about ten minutes, they got his pulse back. Dr. No Hope edged toward me, whispering that if he crashed again, he would suggest that I authorize them to let him go.
“I need to talk to his family.” The team left, all but one nurse, a short woman named Sue, and I told my dad to stop scaring us like that. I kissed his arm again.
I staggered downstairs, calling everyone. With each new voice, I begged for some guidance. I didn’t want to make this decision alone. There was no consensus. I headed back upstairs to the ICU.
Sue was still in his room, tending to the controls and the bags of drip, and I sat there, my hand on his arm, squeezing. I watched the blue numbers, the heartbeat. It hovered in the sixties, but after about a half hour, I saw it slipping into the forties, then that hateful sound started again.
Nurses and doctors rushed into the small room. I screamed, “I love you, daddy.” I didn’t mean for the words to come out that loudly. I was in the way. I backed out and let the crew into the room.
Dr. Ivanov came over and hugged me while I wet the shoulder of her white coat with snot and tears. She looked at me, looking for a sign. We both knew. I nodded.
The crew backed off.
After they cleaned up my dad, removing the pipes and tubes that he’d worn for the past week, I went back in for a moment, but I couldn’t stay long, because he already started to turn white, that white. I couldn’t.
Dr. Gonzales put his arm around me as I left the room. “You know, I got to know your father very well over the past three weeks. I don’t usually get involved with patients, but your dad was something else.”
“Your dad talked a lot about you. Would you like to go someplace where we could talk?” There’s nothing more I want to do, I thought.
We went into the lounge, thankfully empty, and he sat by my side.
“Your dad was a talker. A genuinely nice man. He told me how proud he was of you. I hope this isn’t too personal, but he told me of your preference and said it never once fazed him. He told me you lost your lover not long ago—“
“Right—Billy. He said he considered him another son,” he said. I cried without shame. I remember my dad telling Billy that, one Christmas, and how much it meant to Billy while Billy was mourning the loss of his own father.
Dr. Gonzales told me more and more, and I realized that this man knew every detail of my father’s life. And he remembered it—he cared. His words started to catch in his throat. I thanked him, hugging him as I said goodbye.
In the elevator, my shoulders slumped, the reality settled in, and I felt wretched relief even if I had to go downstairs to make all the calls I didn’t want to make.