“Should we be talking about organ donation?”
He stated that it was probably a little premature, but that he appreciated that I had the courage to bring it up.
Megan, our nurse that day, who had walked us back to this room to meet the doctor, had left already. I watched her as she gracefully helped my mom pull out a chair and sit down, she touched the doctor’s shoulder, glanced at my dad at slid through the barely open door.
As if from out of thin air, she reappeared, now half sitting on the table against the wall, with an entire pack of tissues in her left hand.
Ugh, the tissues. It still makes no sense to me how a hospital can carry such terrible tissues. The boxes are extra small, and the tissues, though thick, are the texture of sandpaper.
But she had no tears. Not yet, anyway.
The doctor was casual, just as he was 6 days prior in the emergency room. One ankle crossed over the other leg’s knee, worn out running shoes and a strong 5 o’clock shadow on his chin and cheeks.
His hair, wild long and gray, was being combed through his fingers, his expensive watch glistened in the fluorescent light, making my involuntarily follow the glimmer on the wall beside me.
“But what if something goes wrong?” My mom’s voice was shaky, of course, but her face was stern. Lips pursed and fingers intertwined over her crossed knees.
This was why we were even having this conversation. It was implied that something would go wrong.
The ventilator had been working hard for him for the last 6 days, and a week with a tube down your trachea is the longest a human can stand before it begins to cause a problem.
Whatever that problem was, I envisioned, seemed so incredibly minor compared to the other things we were classifying as “problems.” I stumbled with the idea of us spending more time on a decision about his throat than decisions about his brain.
Nonetheless, here we were. In this room. My dad, still silent, my mom, stern, and me. I stood, my gaze going from the doctor and back to Megan, who finally caught my stare and never let go.
“What would you do if it were your child, doctor?”
I imagine that doctors hate this question.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, I asked him. If he remembered my dad asking this question.
His eyes fell to the floor, then to the wall beside us. Blank and yellow, the same walls we walked that day back five years ago to this very room. “I do, actually. And I had an answer, but it wasn’t the one you wanted to hear.
“Your dad is one of the most real people I have ever had to work with. I was not afraid to tell him the truth, because not only was he demanding it, but you all needed to hear it.”
The truth was this: that he may not make it through the simple surgery of performing a tracheotomy. The simple act of laying him flat could be catastrophic, nevermind the transportation of him to the OR from his quiet, dark ICU room.
He had been responding heavily to noise. We kept the door closed tightly, and the room dark. We whispered when bedside, wore slippers and socks and turned off all the beeping machines. Silence, for him, was the best medicine.
This conversation was “the conversation.” The one you talk about with your family when you are working on writing your will, or after a glass or two of wine and someone asks you where you’d like to spend eternity.
It’s the conversation you have with yourself at 16 when deciding whether to put the little pink organ donation sticker on your driver’s license or not.
You probably, in your entire life, spend less time thinking about this conversation than the 5 minutes we spent actually having it.
How much longer did we want to wait? How much longer could we wait? How much longer were we WILLING to wait?
You cannot answer these questions in a hypothetical situation. You can chat about it with your lawyer all you want, making sure the right person will be appointed to make this decision for you. But it won’t be the right answer. It never is.
There’s a magic number in there somewhere, between WANT and CAN and WILL.
Our magic number was 11. Eleven days.
Come to think of it, wasn't that his motocross number?