I am taking a memoir writing class this semester. I have no intention of writing my autobiography and I don’t particularly enjoy dredging up my ancient history. I’m just trying to improve my writing and this was the Osher offering. In a sense, I suppose keeping a blog is a form of memoir. In the first class we were given two topic suggestions: the kitchen of your childhood; or the most important thing that happened to you. This week’s suggestion: write about a family secret. We don’t have a lot of family secrets. Most of our dirty laundry got washed in public–my father’s paranoia, my ex’s alcoholism. I thought of one tiny secret, seemingly not important, but it opens up a Pandora’s box of aggravations. I’m still trying to decide if I want to go there. Class is on Tuesday.
For the first week’s topic I wrote about an experience I had with my father in an emergency room. It was a profound experience for me, but it actually had much more to do with health care than with my father, who was being subjected to what passed for care. This is the story I wrote for class:
I got a call from the nursing home at 10:30 on a Sunday morning; My father, Maurie, had coughed up blood and they sent him to the emergency room. I threw on clothes and rushed to get there before they did anything to him. My father was 92 years old. In previous occurrences of bleeding no diagnosis had ever been made.
The emergency room was unusually quiet, but I had never before been there on a Sunday morning. They had already done an EKG and taken a chest x-ray and found nothing. I spoke to the doctor at length, possibly for half an hour. He wanted to put a tube down Maurie’s throat to see if he could determine where the blood came from. He told me Maurie could hemorrhage, bleed to death. He repeated this several different ways, telling me over and over how my father could die. I restrained myself and didn’t say that at 92 there weren’t many other outcomes. The conversation was chilling. Finally I asked what he would do if he found the source of the bleeding; would he want to operate? Before he could answer I told him I wouldn’t want him to operate on a 92 year old man. My father had a DNR, hated hospitals and never wanted any procedures done to him.
The doctor emphasized again that he could bleed to death. I felt like I was signing my father’s death warrant. I knew he wouldn’t want any invasive procedures. I kept thinking about the sore throat he would have if they put the tube down him. I asked the doctor if he would be in pain if he bled to death. He said no, but continued to torture me with terrifying details.
This conversation was the most difficult half hour of my life. I felt like a killer, but I knew deep down I was right. Finally he agreed to send Maurie back to the nursing home without any further tests. When I told this to my father he thanked me. We both went back to the nursing home where I had to repeat this terrible conversation to try to keep them from sending him back to the hospital if there was another occurrence. In fact, he lived comfortably another two years and didn’t have to endure the terrible sore throat he would have had after the test.