Last Wednesday night, I went to see my dad for what I thought would be the last time.

He fell and broke his leg — his femur, of all things — three weeks ago last Friday, and as things are wont to do with old people, the broken leg set the dominos of death in motion. For a while, he was pretty good, except for some confusion. But he began to slip after a few days. We got word that he had pneumonia, an early calling card from the Grim Reaper. We were also told his kidneys were beginning to malfunction as well, and it looked like the end was nigh. Dad was in pain from the broken leg, and more than ready to go. And I don’t mean home.

“Why won’t I die?” dad would ask. There’s no answer for that question. He’s 93 years old, in hospital with a broken leg and facing a long recovery (maybe), in pain, with nothing to look forward to.

By the middle of last week, it looked like he was going to get his wish. With pneumonia and kidney failure, and his express wishes to be allowed to shuffle off this mortal coil, it was decided that he should just be kept comfortable until the time came. No antibiotics, all the painkillers he wanted. Just, hopefully, a peaceful death, an end to a wonderful, full life. We started making funeral plans, although there isn’t that much to plan. Dad, being dad, paid for his funeral in advance. There is music to pick and a eulogy to write, that kind of thing.

On Wednesday, I took my wife Holly and my son Richard to see him. He lay in bed, and did not waken to acknowledge us. He was breathing with his mouth open, making a horrible gurgling sound that I assumed was what a death rattle sounded like. He didn’t grasp my hand, and only twitched his shoulders. We stood in silence, stifling sobs. We left in tears, sure that it was going to be our last visit with him. And, to be honest, even he lived for a day or two, I wasn’t coming back for another visit. Call me a lousy son, but I just couldn’t do that again.

At home, every time the phone rang, I expected The Call.

Later than night, my brother Todd (who had cut short a business trip to race home, so bad was the situation) stayed with dad for a few hours in hospital. And he spoke — dad, not Todd. He coughed up a lot of vile stuff, and slowly but surely came around. He started talking and his grip was strong.

I went back a couple of days later, returning to the hospital room I was sure I would never visit again. He was sitting up, still weak, but talking. By Sunday, he was carrying on fairly normal conversations (with the exception of occasionally asking if he could call some long-dead friends). His breathing is gurgling free, and the signs of kidney failure are apparently gone. And, more importantly, he’s not begging for death, or even talking about it.

So, in the span of about five days, we’ve gone from making funeral plans to planning his future. Of course, this could well be a temporary reprieve. He health is still fragile, and he’s still flat on his back in a hospital, an inviting target for the sort of bugs that hang around hospitals. But somehow, we’ve still got him.

I don’t know what to make of this. Treatment was stopped on a sick, old man who was ready to die — who wanted to die — and he survives.

I can’t figure it out, and I don’t care to try. I’m just glad to have a little more time with the old man.


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