The Last Month
“It’s about this big,” the doctor said, holding two clenched fists end-to-end in front of his chest.
“Wait a minute, Didn’t you say it’s the size of an orange?”
“That’s the other one,” he said, holding a single fist in front of his throat.
I plopped down in the closest waiting room chair, and – in an attempt to zone out for a moment – let my mind drift to how we got here in the first place.
I immediately flashed back to a couple of weeks prior. We were just over mid-way through our recent string of travel, exploring Prague. The “things are getting really strange with Dad” calls started to come in from my family. It did not come as a shock. He had “survived” cancer two years prior – a near miracle, they said at the time.
He hadn’t been himself during phone calls over the last couple of months. In excruciating pain and unable to walk steadily, Dad’s days were growing more and more difficult. This, in addition to his nearly immobile left arm, brought him to the doctor again and again. Despite his history of cancer, a host of specialists couldn’t figure out what was going on. They put him on a treatment plan for arthritis. Baffling, I know.
Far away, Caanan and I discussed our confusion and concern at every turn – as we walked the streets of Prague, drank cheap beer and had a lifetime’s worth of goulash and schnitzel. It was all we could do at a distance.
“What questions do you have?” I heard the doctor ask through the fog.
“This is confusing. Why was he being treated for arthritis? What happens now?”
“We’ll know more after a biopsy,” he said hesitantly.
I think we all already knew what was coming, although it was difficult to metabolize. How could this once vibrant, uber-gregarious, traveling salesman/entrepreneur be in this situation?
The oddly sterile and disturbing smell of the hospital rattled my hyper-charged senses and threw me back into the fog, contemplating the progression of events.
After Prague, while we were in Massachusetts, we learned that – during one of his now regular trips to urgent care – Dad met with a new doctor on staff. This newbie was eager to figure out what was causing all of the odd symptoms that seemed to add up to a heck of a lot more than arthritis. Noticing a gruffness in Dad’s voice, the doctor thought he might have a cold – not good at his age and in his current situation. A chest x-ray was in order.
I can only imagine what it was like in that room when the doctor stridently threw the x-rays up on the light board to check for signs of a cold or possibly bronchitis. I wonder what the huge tumors looked like. I wonder if anyone could contain their shock.
In Boston, as we made our way back home, Caanan and I continued to talk about Dad a lot; it pacified our nerves. I talked about how, as a kid, I used to hit the road with him during summer break. It was fun to be in the car, traveling from town to town and “helping” him on client visits. Back in the car, after successful pitches, he would say things like. “Did you see that, Kent? That’s how you do it. You have to shoot the shit with ‘em first. That’s how you do business.” Off to the next town we’d go.
I am sure the foundation of my entrepreneurial spirit and travel fanaticism was being cemented during all of those summers. Oh, and my love of food. There were always snacks in hand.
On the very night we made it back to Seattle, my brother admitted Dad into the hospital. Well, he tried to. The hospital resisted because there wasn’t yet a treatment plan. My brother explained the pain, the immobility, the tumors that had been revealed in the x-rays. He and Mom refused to leave until they admitted him.
“What going on?” I asked my brother. It was about midnight and we were at baggage claim.
“I don’t know if he’ll make it through the night. He’s falling down, he’s delusional. This is crazy.”
Dad made it through the night. They later confirmed that the cancerous tumors, pressing on all kinds of nerves and the spine, were causing the problems. No arthritis. No surprise.
Neither Caanan or I remember much of what happened next, we somehow made it home, unpacked, packed, took care of essential things, rented a car and made it down to Portland.
We were able to spend much of the next weeks right in Dad’s room. The second half of the room was patient-less, so we made it our virtual office. We drifted between keeping Dad company, talking to doctors/nurses and working.
Days in – and several tests later – we got the news we knew was coming.
“I can’t fight this,” the radiologist said one memorable day in a right-out-of-a-movies moment.
I felt sick and speechless as I looked over at Caanan and Mom. I was relieved that the suffering would come to an end – just the way dad would want it to. The next days were focused solely on keeping Dad comfortable. We were grateful that he had made his final wishes clearly known. The staff followed those choices flawlessly.
As his body began to shut down in the hospital – and continued to do so at the hospice house – we were at his side. It wasn’t long before he couldn’t talk but, until nearly the end, he’d squeeze our hands. He’d even watch intently as we played solitaire on the iPad. It was comforting to see his eyes dart around when we held the screen up to him between plays.
We sat, listening for each breath and watching the slow drip of the morphine.
Things are just starting to settle down now, and Caanan and I are beginning to emerge from the haze. Our brains are still trying to catch up with everything that has transpired over the last months – both the travel and the drama. We’re happy that we can see some calm in the distance.
Through this last block of time, what we know for sure is that our No Vacation Required life allowed us to easily be right where we were meant to be during the last weeks. For us, NVR is not just about travel or giving back or working virtually, it’s about freedom. The freedom to be right where we need to be right when we want to be there.
We constantly think of what my mom has told anyone who will listen during the last weeks: “Live now because you never know what might happen.” That’s been her big take-away. Wise, for sure.
Thanks to Dad for being a part of the foundation that has led to this incredible life – a life where we don’t have to be told to live now. Because we wouldn’t have it any other way.