“Wes, I love to fly, LOVE it! Damn, if I could pick how I’d like to go, I’d be at 10,000 feet and have the engine stall. Crash and burn, baby. That’s how I’d love to go!”
“Wes, I wonder if you could come out and look at Dad.”
“Well, he’s having a hard time breathing.”
“Did you take his temperature?”
“Well, I tried to find a thermometer, but with everything going on lately, I just can’t seem to find one. I hate to bother you…”
“No problem, Mom. I’ll be right over.”
I grabbed a stethoscope and thermometer, dropped off my daughter at a friend’s house, and headed out to their place. It was a beautiful day, light breeze, sunny, light-blue wildflowers lined the road. How come I never noticed them before? The hour-long drive passed quickly. Lots to think about.
I soon arrived and knocked.
“Hi, Wes. Thanks so much for coming. I just got done bathing him, brushing his hair and putting some lotion on him…”
There he was in his mechanical-lift chair – his favorite lately – one that helps lift him part way to a standing position. He smiled and was happy to see me, but I could tell he had another agenda.
“Hi, Wes. It was so nice of you to come,” he said.
On the surface, he didn’t look that much worse that I remembered, perhaps because my mother had spent much of the morning making sure he looked presentable. He sat there with his shirt off, much as I had remembered him from earlier years sitting poolside during so many other summer months. And as I looked closer, he was breathing more rapidly. Accessory muscles could be seen in play over his hearty ribcage. Like a dutiful doctor-son, I listened to his lungs and didn’t hear many breath sounds over his right lung field. His neck veins were prominent, even when sitting upright. His pulse was slightly irregular, but not rapid. I placed the small electronic thermometer beneath his tongue. 97.4.
“I’ve been thinking,” he said. “It’s time. I just feel miserable all the time. The last year has been hell. I go through all of this, and I just never feel better. I’m getting weaker and weaker. I try to walk six feet, and I’m just exhausted. My fingers have nowhere left to check my blood sugars, all I ever do is sit in this chair and watch TV. Hell, I can’t even do that – I just fall asleep. Everything is a chore, and it’s costing us a fortune. And for what? I just worry about your mother. She’s been so good to me.”
“I even tried to play some family videos of our earlier years, and he doesn’t even want to those,” she chimed in.
I looked at him and realized that the decision was final. This isn’t how he’s wanted to live. "... Crash and burn, baby. That’s how I’d love to go!"
“I’m okay with that, Dad. There’s no one whose worked harder for their health. It’s hard to believe all you’ve been through.”
I looked up and could see a tear forming at the edge of his eye. I followed suit. I’ve got to keep it together here. I looked across the room to my mother, fully engulfed in the emotion of the moment, but shaking her head in agreement. We all knew.
“I mean, what’s going to happen now? I don’t want it to be ugly.”
“Well, Dad, I mean, nothing’s going to happen right away. I mean it’s like you’re at 35,000 feet – sometimes it takes a while. I mean, we can get hospice in here, and hell, they could make it easier for you. You know, like a greased landing! Not a crash and burn – greased.”
“I’d like that.”
“So I’ll call your internist tomorrow and take the day off. We’ll meet with hospice and get things arranged. I’ll be here for you and Mom.”
“I’m the luckiest man alive – I mean I’ve had a eighty-three wonderful years, three beautiful kids and a wonderful wife….And damn I’ve had some fun….”
We sat in silence. My mother was brave and looked at her husband with an exhausted, and perhaps relieved gaze. But she sat somewhat catatonic as he rose with great difficulty to the table to take his medications, staring into space, shocked at the implications.
“Let’s start the descent,” he said.