We arrived at the Emergency Room. The day was cold and the sky was a very stark, unemotional, flat blue. My hair blew into my face as I walked around to the passenger side of the car and as I pulled it back I could hear the static electricity in my hair, as if the tension I felt was escaping into each strand. My breath could be seen on the wind, hanging there for a brief moment before disappearing just like the flickering memories I was fighting back.
My dad struggled to get out of the car, again, gingerly lifting his swollen leg, pulling on the frame of the car and with all the dignity he could muster, lifted himself from the seat. He grabbed the shabby Louis Vuitton bag he brought with him and carrying the faded status symbol under his arm, we walked in. We checked in at the window and then took a seat.
Not long afterward we were called into the intake room. The nurse was kind and talkative and as my dad took a seat in the exam chair, the nurse began to ask questions, “What brings you here today?” My dad replied, “Well, I have a hernia and the blood, as it’s passing through, is poisoning the blood in my leg and it’s swollen and infected. I’ve gone to Doctors in Southern California and they don’t know what they’re doing. I’ve asked them to give me an antibiotic to get rid of the infection but they refused and now my leg is swollen.”
The nurse asked to see my dad’s foot, so my dad reached down to remove his sock. Because of the swelling in his leg, he could not reach his foot so I walked over and gently removed his sock. I was not prepared for what I saw. His foot was swollen at least 3 times the normal size. His toes and heel were purple, almost black in color and the skin was stretched with huge dry flakes of skin tenaciously clinging to its taut surface. It hurt just to look at it.
The nurse then asked my dad if he had ever been hospitalized or had any surgery. My father replied no, he’d never been in the hospital and never had surgery, in fact he had played golf the day before! This was a surprise to me because, number 1, my dad never played golf in his life and, number 2, how could he possibly play golf with his leg and foot like that?
The nurse then asked about medication. My father brought out a plastic bag that contained at least 20 different bottles of pills and handed them to the nurse. The nurse glanced at a few and then began to enter each one into the computer system. As he entered the medications into the computer, the nurse asked my dad, “Which of the 4 antibiotics here are you currently taking?” Without skipping a beat my father replied he wasn’t taking any of them, in fact, he wasn’t taking any medications at all. The antibiotic bottles contained pills, in spite of the fact the instructions said to take the full dose completely. Finally, the nurse took my father’s blood pressure which was enviously normal. His temperature and oxygen levels were unremarkable. When all of this was completed, we were moved to another exam room, this one with a bed.
My dad was handed a hospital gown, told to remove his clothes and get into the bed and the doctor would be in shortly. I stepped outside the room to allow him to undress and obediently, my father did as he was told.
The Doctor came in and from the bars on his collar he was a Captain. My father recognized this and quickly moved into “Sir” mode. Every question was answered, “yes, sir” or “no, sir”. My father explained to the Doctor about his hernia. The doctor asked my father how long his leg had been like this and my father replied, “Oh, about a week. I played golf yesterday and it was fine.” I told the doctor my father had driven himself from Southern California through the night and he was quite surprised. The doctor said they would do a CT scan to see if they could determine what was causing the swelling and it would take just a little while. They came in and wheeled my dad far into the long corridors of the hospital.
After a while, they came back and we waited. In the room with my dad the uncomfortable silence was difficult. I tried to chat with him but it was hard, as the lies told to the nurse and the doctor were painful reminders of how my father would constantly lie. Our conversation would start and stop, lurching along like someone learning to drive a stick shift car for the first time. The sounds of our voices like the gears grinding and the starts and stops in the conversations were jerky and jostling.
The Doctor came back in and sat down. He looked at my father and said, “Sir, I usually try to soften this but I’m just going to give you the news. You have cancer and have had it for quite some time. We suspect lymphoma. You have 2 large abdominal masses and what we call a deep vein thrombosis in your leg. The DVT is most likely caused by the cancer and we are going to schedule you to see the oncologist who will do more tests.”
I was not prepared for this. Disbelief. I felt hot tears rising in my eyes which I fought back. How could he not know he had cancer?
My father’s response was bright. He said, “Oh, good – you’ve caught it early. That means with treatment you can get rid of this.” The doctor replied they would have to do more tests. He then said he would leave to get the discharge papers going, as well as order a blood thinner for the DVT.
After the Doctor left, we were again silent. I looked at my dad who started to cry. He then said a very strange thing to me. He said, “I will tell you the truth about how your mother died.”