In my childhood years, my father taught me how to play baseball. I played shortstop and third base on a little league in Beirut, Lebanon, where we used to live before we moved back to Saudi Arabia. He never missed a game. He taught me how to ride a horse. The first horse we bought was named Princess. Riding in front of him in the leather Western style saddle, he would let me steer with the frayed, rawhide reins. He also taught me how to dance the waltz. I am still not very good at following, but I remember he would always say I needed to know because on that day I get married; he will demand the first dance! I used to watch him play ball with his friends. He seemed to be such a strong and athletic man.
But now I am his strength. Nowadays, I have to put his socks on…slowly so it doesn’t hurt his ankles. I have to tie his shoes, and then help him to his feet. I make him breakfast, and go with him to his dreaded doctors’ appointments. I have to massage his weakening legs and feet to improve his circulation and stop the hurt. To hear him cry out in pain, or to know that he can never do those things he loves, like sports, horse riding, and dancing ever again is heart wrenching. These days I play alone; He can’t throw the ball. I ride alone; he can’t sit on the horse. I dance alone; he can’t even walk.
My father has been chronically ill for sixteen years now. He has Rheumatoid arthritis
and type B diabetes. A stroke has caused the loss of vision in one eye and because of his medication, he now has high blood pressure
, a low immune system, and 70% of his kidneys are gone. I’ve watched him in agony my whole life. At times I have found myself feeling numb towards my father's cries. I try to shake the uneasiness. But what always plagues my mind is that fear for when I leave the house, I may not ever see him again. It’s a whole different outlook on life
Yet, regretting his illness is something I try to prevent. I love my father very much. People say, by the way I talk about fathers, that I must have a good relationship with my own. And I believe we do because we have been through so much more than most other daughters and fathers. At an early age, I had to realize he was never going to get better and I chose to grow up and become a help, rather than a dependent, to my family. Worldly things are less important now and some things must be put to the side. My family’s well being deserves my attention above all.
On the other hand, I didn’t always feel this way. As a typical young girl, I was selfish. Even though we all knew my father was very ill, I still wanted that awesome new outfit that Sarah wore to school yesterday, or the brand new and improved Barbie with the folding lawn chair. What wasn’t clear to me was the seriousness of these diseases that were ravaging my father’s body. We we’re always in and out of the hospitals, treatment for this, check-ups on that. It was only a part of my life, and what seemed to be merely routine.
Then one day, I came to understand that “life” is only a string, slowly untwining, and ready to snap at any moment. It was that upsetting day that everything became surreal to me.
I was 15 years old. It was a chilly morning. I woke up to faint voices through out the house. I sat up, taking a deep breath and slowly arched my back to stretch. That’s when I noticed the red and blue lights flashing outside my bay window. It was an ambulance’s light. My stomach dropped. “Please God no….” I prayed.
I walked out of my bedroom to see two young men lifting my father on a black stretcher and readying him for the ambulance trip. Then they just took him away. They didn’t even acknowledge me, not even a “Good Morning". When most families are waking up to school or work, I woke up to confusion and nervousness. I learned that he had pneumonia. The odd thing about the medication he took, called prednasone, is that you never know when he is sick. It masks a lot of the symptoms so you never notice them until it becomes almost fatal. My family and I stood in the living room for a moment. We were silently waiting for my mother’s reaction. After pausing for quit a long moment, she looked up at us from her seat, shrugged her shoulders, flashed a fake smile and with obvious disappointment in her voice, she said, “Well then…..time to get ready.”
We were pointed in the direction of a small room with rose and tan-colored wallpaper at the end of a short hallway. Inside the oak-wood door, four chairs with brownish upholstery faced a repulsive couch done in reds with brass trim. A couple of small coffee tables with formica tops separated the chairs from the couch, and a stack of homemaking magazines were tossed on the tabletops, no doubt intended to fill the nervously waiting people with images of flower bouquets and chocolate chip cookies. Still, it was a hospital. It smelled like plastic, sterile instruments and old people.
My two brothers, and two sisters and I huddled with my mother on the couch. When the doctor came in, he made his way straight for the chairs, as if it was where he always sat. I got the idea that this was just a routine procedure for him also. This was no different than anything else he did during a normal day. He got his coffee in the morning from the same pot in the same staff room on the same floor of the hospital. He poured it into the same dirty mug and went on his rounds, following the same route, saying the same things, casting the same facial expressions, and speaking in the same tone. He had walked into the room where we have now sat hundreds of times and made his way to the chairs because, like always, the families of the helpless victims were sitting together, nervously waiting, on the disgustingly flashy couch.
The doctor tried to seem mellow and soft, but it was more of a trained response than anything else. We were only another pitiful group of people who didn’t have a clue what was going on; just “that patient” who is keeping him from going home early enough to catch his favorite game on TV. He introduced himself without pausing to shake our hands or smile. He just fell into the chair and started talking.
“Mrs. Assmmahi,” He spoke in a quiet tone.
“Yes”, Her eyes looked up. I saw a different look in her face. She was bracing herself although usually she was always good at hiding her fear.
“Do you have any idea as to the condition of your husband?” he asked, but it was obvious he wasn’t interested in an answer. His lips were poised to start speaking again as soon as the question had left his mouth. He flipped open a small notebook and glanced at it, while he spoke, mumbling medical babble, and then, suddenly, for a moment, there was something that seemed to remind him that he was human and he put the notebook away in his lab coat pocket and looked at us.
“In short, I’m sorry to say that I only have bad news,” he said with some small amount of compassion. “Your husband is falling apart at the seams,” he said. It stung me and my eyes darted up at his. My skin crawled with the sharpness and cruelty of his words. “He’s a ticking time bomb. It’s amazing he’s made it this far.”
I heard my mother inhale slowly and then let out an awkward sigh. She has always been able to take in this anxiety and turn it into strength. She stays tough for her children and husband. But as for me, I wanted to scream at him. Didn’t he understand that we already knew all this? Didn’t he know that every time I hear him cry out in pain, my heartaches so incredibly? What I wouldn’t do to take away some of his pain. But once again, the doctor seemed to act like this was all routine. He sat forward in his chair as if trying to engage our attention for some crucially important announcement. His eyes met mine, and the room blurred away and it felt like he was talking straight to me. “You need to spend as much time with your Dad as you can right now, because he’s going to be gone soon. I’m sure you’ve got a year, maybe less. You never know when this time may be the last time you ever speak to him.” Then he faded away and I was suddenly left alone, with nothing but a numbness that made my mind heavy.
I felt a sickness hit me in the stomach like a baseball bat and my head dropped as I tried to shrug off the heartless remarks I had just heard. Denial partially blocked the pain, and I struggled against a flood of panic. I felt like I was drowning in a dream. I tried not to cry. I tried to pull myself together and provide some strength for my brothers and sisters since I'm the oldest, and I blinked hard, pushing away the tears. When I looked up, the doctor was walking toward us with a semi-sympathetic expression across his horrible face. I hated him.
“This was nothing new,” I tried to tell myself. But never, in the years I have known my father was ill, did someone talk about death. It was right there, in that cold, sterile, uncomfortable room that I knew I had to come to grip with my father someday leaving me. Although I never wanted to hear what Dr. Aboud had, so hurtfully said, that day, I still understood that I needed to ready myself. My father got worst from then on. His immune system never fully recovered. And since that time my family and have been changing our lives to fit our father’s needs.
The doctor then touched my shoulder and tried to gather some sort of apology, but the attempt was worthless, and he quickly walked out the door. And what he left was a discouraged family, huddling on an ugly couch, in a dull room, in the corner of a hospital, hoping and praying for better days.