Father's Day came a little late this year, as we found out today my dad does not have cancer.
He had his colonoscopy today and despite the dire predictions of his regular physician--a 70% chance of cancer--my dad came away with a reasonably clean bill of health, given his age.
Or, as the old man used to say when he was much younger, "you're in good shape for the shape you're in."
I will now take this opportunity to say that I was wrong to think we shouldn't have ordered the test. I thought the stress would be too much and not worth the effort since he's in no condition for surgery or chemo. Now that it's over, I see the value in having all the answers instead of just guessing.
What's causing the weight loss and the incontinence? I don't know. The specialist thinks my father's medication may be causing all the misery with his guts. I suppose they'll be more testing, but at least we eliminated one big question mark.
The Night Before the Day After
Father's Day was quiet around my house. My sister came over with a movie--My Left Foot, with Daniel Day Lewis--and we ordered my dad's last decent meal for the next 36 hours. I couldn't help but wonder how many more Father Days we'd have with him. We told him that he was going in for the test and that the next day would entail nothing but Jello and laxatives.
For those of you who've had to prep for a colonoscopy, you know what it's like, and for those of you who haven't, well, you'll find out soon enough. Take it from me, it's not pleasant, but after the first hour or so, everything calmed down.
My father went to bed, my sister came over to help me out and we wound up watching two solid hours of "Hell's Kitchen." Ugh, I'm so ashamed.I had to take the day off from work the next day and I woke up feeling irritable and nervous. I had a flashback to this day when I was about 10 or 12 years old, when my father insisted on moving my prized stamped collection. I forget the details, but I remember he was hitting me or yelling at me the whole day.
I recalled what a violent, vicious bastard my father could be and I guess my subconscious was dredging up these ugly memories to fuel my resentment at having to go through all this grief just so he could get the exam.
But whoever my father was in the past, that man is long gone, and a frail, elderly, sick man has taken his place. I would like to think a mature adult has taken mine, but I'll leave judgment to others.
Mary, my dad's aid, and I had to take him over to St. Vincent's Hospital in Staten Island for the test. My mother died in that hospital in 2002 and I can't say I missed the place, as it was a second home for me and my family while we took turns visiting my mother.
We had a car service driver come over and pick us up at noon. I figured we were in for trouble when the driver, a rather clueless Middle Eastern fellow, asked me if I knew where hospital was. I gently explain to him, why, no, numb nuts, I'm relying on you to know where the hell we're going.
So we set off over the Verrazzano, while the driver called the home base on his radio and asked for directions in a mix of Arabic and English. As a grandchild of immigrants, I support everyone's right to legally work in the United States.
However, as a consumer and guy with places to go, I don't want to deal with a driver who can't find his ass with his two hands and a roadmap.
We saw parts of Staten Island I didn't know existed. We went narrow dead end streets, we asked everyone we saw where the hospital was and seemed to get different directions every time.
My driver got on the radio again and I heard the guy at the home base give directions in Arabic and end it off in English by saying, "it's very easy." I wish that guy had been our driver.
Follow That Cab
I confess I was getting angry. I don't like that side of myself, but there is no excuse for dragging us over hill and dale. And the true irony here is that had my father been a little younger he could have directed us to the hospital with his eyes closed and relying on his famous unerring sense of direction.
But that knowledge of the city's streets and avenues is fading, now unreliable. The landscape has changed so much he'd probably feel like a foreigner in a new country. Sort of like our driver.
We finally got the hospital and the driver apologized for his abysmal performance. I just wanted to get out of the car and I told Mary to call the company and told them not to send Wrong Way Corrigan for the return trip.
Then we took my father upstairs where I put him in the dressing gowns and let the team do their work. I was nervous he would not survive the exam, that I had missed something in the prep that would lead to my father's death or injury.
I was ready for a long day. I had packed a bag with a book, the Times, a notebook, and fresh under garments for my dad just in case. Mary and I went down to cafeteria where we had the worst vegetable soup on God's green earth.
I suspect the guys painting the second floor lobby might have accidentally dumped a can of turpentine into the soup bowl because this stuff was vile. I guess the hospital wants more customers.
I remembered that my dad, my sister, and I actually had our Thanksgiving dinner here one year when my mother was hospitalized. We went to see her and came down here to eat, because we didn't want to go to a restaurant while my mother was stuck in St. Vincent's.
For some reason I was in a good mood that day. I guess we had come so close to losing my mother earlier that year that it was great to still have her around. Despite the dismal surroundings, the awful circumstances, and the cardboard turkey, I was happy and I was actually singing "Home for the Holidays" until my sister rolled her eyes.
Mary and I went back upstairs and discovered the show was over. My father was finished, the doctor had gone, and there was so sign of cancer. My dad had survived, I hadn't accidentally bumped him off, and he was in the recovery room trying to feel up the nurse.
We went downstairs to wait for the car service to send us a driver. While I sat with my father in the waiting room, this elderly woman with dyed black hair was struggling with her shopping bag.
The cap had come off her water bottle and I offered to take the thing outside and dump it out. On the way back in, I got some paper towels out of the men's room and wiped the thing dry.
"You're a sweetheart," she said. "What's your name?"
"Robert," I said, going formal.
"Do I know you?"
I guessed she wanted to know me and I explained I had spent a lot of time around the hospital during my mother's illness. I told her my mother had died and the lady showed me a medal she had around her neck with the name "Carl" engraved on it.
"My son died at 42," she said. "He had an aneurysm. His wife came home and found him dead."
"How are you now?" I asked, meaning why she was visiting the hospital today, but she read it another way.
"You never get over losing your son," she said.
We chatted for more minutes and then she and her friend went their way. It's amazing how many stories are out there if you just take the time to listen. And these people, they're not glamorous, or wealthy, or particularly lucky. They're just doing their best with what life has given them. And so often, they are invisible.
Mary rapped on the window, indicating our car had arrived. I got my father out the front door, where I had stood sobbing in my sister's arms four years ago upon learning of my mother's death.
"Guess what?" Mary asked.
I looked and saw it was the same goofball driver who had taken us to Staten Island by way of Belgium. I was about to lose it, but I figured he must have consulted a map since we had last spoke. And, honestly, I was feeling a little ashamed of my bad temper on the ride over.
We got my dad in the car and I slid into the passenger's seat.
"You know where you're going now, boss?" I asked gently.
"Yes," he said.
That's all I had to hear. We're in good shape. For the shape we're in.