In our reaction to death, to dying, we see that which is true in the universe.
APRIL IN LOS ANGELES
by Eileen Tabios
Everything is a relationship.
My family relied on the doctor to cure my father.
The doctor caught my mother in a weak moment and got her to concede, "Yes, he's dying."
I arrived in Los Angeles to hear my mother report on how a doctor discussed the best ways for a man to die, rather than how to heal.
"Doctor," I said in a conversation I plan to have. "Your role is not to advice how a person best dies. Your role is to treat illness, hopefully cure it."
I heard his thought, He's dying.
I replied with my eyes, We're all dying. We're also all living.
The words I said: "What do you recommend for someone who wants to live, with a family who wants him to live?"
Since I last saw her, Mama has sprouted snow on her head.
Mama, ever by Daddy's bedside.
F. beats himself inside his mind for having chided Dad for not eating. Later, we would learn his throat was blocked by so much phlegm he could not swallow.
Tears firmly jailed by the mind.
I beat myself up because I don't want to be here -- where Dad has shrunk to "Daddy" cradled among plastic tubes delivering antibiotics, antibiotics, antibiotics ... and oxygen.
I am glad to be here. He saw me enter his hospital room and his face was suddenly the sun. His arms entwined with plastic tubes reached forth to hug me. I am glad he felt my arms, suddenly trees surrounding him. He hugged me back but I only felt more air.
Kaiser Permanente -- ever stupid with cost-cutting cruelty. One hospital forced my father to leave -- "he's fine; he just needs to go home."
On the way home, Daddy started to have trouble breathing and they turned the car to take him to another Kaiser hospital's Emergency Room.
He is still in the Emergency Room.
Once, the ER nurse asked my mother in sincere confusion, "Why did the other hospital discharge him?"
A new question added to the list of questions which will never have adequate answers: How could the other hospital have discharged him?
My father is better treated at the second hospital.
At this second hospital, there is an experienced nurse with the ability to dislodge the phlegm that had been blocking my father's throat for five weeks in the other hospital.
They kept the jar with the sucked out phlegm. Ugly. Yellow. And the last piece sucked out was solid. Ugly. Brown.
"Like a piece of paper," my cousin observed about its solidity.
I would not be able to breathe, too, or swallow with paper stuffed down my throat.
As if my poems remained trapped there as I gasp unsuccessfully to sing.
I would not be able to breathe if my body jailed my poems.
My father is ill and I think of poetry and and and all of that saddens me.
The conversation unfolded as I imagined it.
I asked, "Doctor, I'd like an update."
The doctor -- this one with a better "bedside manner" than any other Kaiser doctor I've met -- replied, "He's dying. I don't know what update I can give."
My father's youngest son -- my brother -- died unexpectedly less than six months ago. At one point this evening, not knowing where next to turn my mind, I turned to a cousin H. to say, "If my father is to die soon, it's too bad he couldn't have died before my brother. It must be difficult for a parent to witness the death of a child."
In response, H. said nothing.
Belatedly, I remember that H., with whom I'd lost touch over the years, has two children, one age 2 and the other age 5.
Except that since I arrived by his bedside, his condition markedly improved. Within hours after my arrival, he improved enough to be taken out of the emergency room. The technician unplugging his various tubes in preparation for moving him said, "It's always good news to be transferred out of ER."
Later, I joked to Dad about how his improved condition must be due to my arrival. Grandiosely, I emphasized, "It must be my presence!"
He turned his head slightly, pretending otherwise. But his lips smiled.
He had called me a few weeks ago in the midst of delirium caused by his medicines. Not knowing what else to do, Mom had put him on the phone. That's when he scared me shitless by announcing, "I've got a tumor coming out of my nose."
Later, Mom would explain that the "tumor" was the feeding tube inserted through his nose. But, first, he pleaded with me to talk to Dr. G -- the very useless Dr. G -- to take away the tumor. To ease his mind, I lied and said I would. That's when he broke my heart by saying so plaintively, like a child just melting in relief, "Thank you."
As if I had the power to make things better.
The painful, conflict-ridden relationship we had all my life and, despite the criticisms he'd levied, he still believes me to be a bigger person than I know myself to be.
As if I had the power to make things better for him.
I left him nearly 30 years ago. I have finally returned.
Everything is a relationship.
As if I could make things better.
No. Thank you, Dad.
The adult ages into child. The parent becomes a baby. The only difference, I thought as the tossed-aside blanket revealed how thin and ravaged his body has become, is that all babies are beautiful.
It took three seconds for my mind to skid, turn a corner and conclude, His ravaged body is beautiful. The purple bruises and purple lines of collapsed veins caused from too many intravenous tubes. The folds of skin loosened as his inability to eat pares down muscles and fat. The brown age spots. The skeletal legs undermined by lack of exercise. A body that I suddenly realized his daughter can probably carry.
O, Fallen Angel.