Dad and I pulled up to the surgery entrance. I helped him get inside and checked in, made sure that he had his book and reading glasses, paperwork, and medications. I headed back out to park the car. Walk, walk, walk - or rather, endless waddling, at my stage of pregnancy.
By the time I returned, a nurse was taking a list of his medications.
Dad is mostly deaf and due to neurological damage suffered during his adrenal crisis and resulting coma almost twenty years ago, many people can not understand what he says.
Since I'd been with him for every doctor's visit from endocrinology to nephrology for the last four years, I was fairly used to this. The nurse or doctor would ask a question. He would pretend that he heard, and smile happily at them. I have learned that my parents are "authority pleasers." They come from a generation that respected authority, and as such, they "over-perform" when they are talking to the doctor. They may have been writhing in pain and unable to walk at home, but as soon as the doctor hits the door they are right as rain and capable and agreeable. It's only after the appointment they realize that they never told the doctor how badly they hurt nor what their difficulty might be. The main thing to them is that he is pleased with them, and that they made a good impression on him.
Well, dad was grinning, and the nurse was writing down his answers. Only problem was, since he couldn't hear her, and she couldn't understand him, the answers were all wrong.
We started again with his complex list of medications and with directions for surgery as related to his adrenal insufficiency. We got him gowned up and the proper hip swabbed with betadine solution. Labs were drawn and an iv started. Nothin' to do but wait.
I sat and read; Dad got quiet as he contemplated what was going to happen to him. He likes drama, but this was a little too real. At his age, many of his friends had not survived surgeries.
I tried to not notice how very, very small this person who fathered me really was.
In real life, in his element, I forget how small he is. His "in charge" presence has always dominated in our family. But here, on the flimsy hospital bed, in an even flimsier gown, I noticed that my papa was the size of a boy. Five foot tall, 124 pounds.
"It hurts me to see you like this, old, and small. I could pick you up, if I needed to."
"Why am I the one doing this? Why me? I'm the youngest - I'm not really strong enough to handle seeing my Dad like this, to be the one to hold his hand and see his skinny white legs and hold his gown down when he turns over so he's not ashamed."
"This hurts too much. I can't do this. This is too intimate. I've borne enough suffering. This is the fifth time I've sent a loved one into surgery this summer. I handled so much: Nick's mugging, Sammy's accident, Jeff's illness, mom's fear, her recovery. I can't handle his fear too."
"Why is life like this? Why does it come down like this, Jesus? Old, frail, our dignity at the edge....oh, we need YOU, Jesus. I don't understand this, but I need you today."
I didn't say it, of course. It was all inside my head.
Outside my head, I snooped around his bag and saw that he has snuck in contraband soda for after the surgery. Bubba. Dad loves a generic, awful soda called Bubba. Just like Dad to make sure he had his Bubba addiction covered. He also had a flashlight in the bag. Once a boyscout, always a boyscout, I guess. Always prepared. I can't imagine when he thought he might use the flashlight - perhaps if there was an emergency and the hospital generator also failed, he and his new hipjoint might be able to heroically lead the rest of us unprepared people out of the building. Never mind that if the power failed the elevators would also fail - and we were on the fifth floor - Dad was sure he would still find a way. It made me grin.
This was my job. I knew his medical history, his idiosyncrasies. I was his interpreter. There was no one else. He was mine, and no one else could or should be doing this for him. He gave me life - I was holding his hand when he needed me. No matter what, I would do what needed to be done.
I kissed Dad goodbye when they said that it was time, and headed for the coffee at the now-familiar waiting room.