Scott Adams might want me to die, if I weren’t so indecisive

Dilbert creator Scott Adams posted this blog entry recently, about his hope that his father, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s, would die soon, and how he hopes anyone who opposes assisted suicide follows him. (Note: His father has since passed.) I have mixed feelings about assisted suicide, and you’ve heard it all before, so I won’t bore you with more debate. I’m not worked up about what Adams wrote. They’re the words of someone who’s suffering, and I’m glad his family has finally found some peace.

I can say with certainty that I wish I’d let my father die sooner. If any of my family and his close friends are reading these painful words, I hope you can understand. Dad was a good man and I loved him deeply, but it was way, way, way past time for him to go.

In April 2010, I approved surgery to clear a bowel obstruction. I didn’t know it was a bowel obstruction. His doctors said it could be anything from a hernia to cancer, and they wouldn’t know for sure until they opened him. I felt like an asshole letting him die from a hernia, so I said OK. He couldn’t approve the surgery himself because he had Alzheimer’s and didn’t understand what was happening to him. He struggled while a nurse and doctor intubated him. I held him still while I stroked his hair and hoped I was doing the right thing.

I wasn’t. I was profoundly wrong.

It happened nine months after my mother died, and I wasn’t ready to let go. My weakness consigned him to another nine months of misery and pain, after which he finally died from another bowel obstruction.

I got a second chance to make things right after the surgery. His heart started to fail, and his doctor suggested a pacemaker. I could have said no. I should have said no. But after putting him through bowel surgery, a pacemaker was no biggie, right? Except that his body desperately wanted to die, and I robbed him of the chance to do it quietly.

Medical care for the chronically ill, and especially for the elderly, is a slippery slope. One thing leads to another, and eventually you find your father hooked up to a machine that’s keeping his kidneys functioning and wondering how the hell you got there. It’s like a TV movie of the week. One minute you’re drinking wine coolers in your high school parking lot and the next you’re a washed-up junkie snorting blow off a hooker’s ass.

I said no to the last surgery, but I wasn’t in charge at that point, so he went under the knife one more time. My biggest fear was that he would recover, in the sense that “recovery” meant more misery as he slogged toward the inevitable. I was relieved when he died a few days later. He never woke up.

Maybe assisted suicide is the way to go. Maybe it isn’t. I’m still not sure. I’d settle for the ability to back away from lost causes. For the most part, I followed his doctors’ advice. The decisions were overwhelming, and I held a helpless man’s life in my hands while everyone around me, doctors included, suggested treatments that would extend his life — and his suffering. It was easier with Mom. With a prognosis of three months to live (she died in two), it was easier to back away. It’s a relief to hear someone say “enough is enough” when the grieving people around you are begging you to fight on.

Dad’s been gone three years today. I’m not beating myself up over it anymore. I just hope the experience has given me a better sense of where to draw the line.

Check your fish, lest you DIE!

I’m 35 years old and I’ve been driving for only a year, because driving in New York City costs a billion dollars a year, not including parking tickets. So I scored another level in adulthood when I took the car in for a maintenance check. It was due for its 30,000-mile inspection, but mostly, I was worried about the fish living inside our Prius. The conversation with Devon went like this:

Me: I think there’s something wrong with the car. The “check fish” light came on.
Devon: The “check fish” light?
Me: Yeah. The light that looks like a fish. There was an exclamation mark in parentheses next to it. The dashboard REALLY wants me to check that fish. I’m worried.
Devon: Sigh. I see.

Check engine Prius

I don’t think he saw at all. Sometimes I think he just humors me. He said it meant “check engine,” and the exclamation mark meant I needed to check the tire pressure. But that’s retarded. I can barely drive, let alone diagnose problems with my engine and tire pressure. Toyota would never ask me to do something so out of my league.

Another year, another letter

Dear Mom,

You’re gone 4 years today. Most of the time I’m pretty philosophical about it. I mean, crying in my beer won’t bring you and Dad back, so I might as well get on with it.

I’m not feeling so philosophical today.

You died when I was 31 — hardly a child. But sometimes I think you never got to see the fully cooked version of me.

Devon and I are happy. We’re having a house built. It’s amazing. The kitchen would make you pee yourself. But then, lots of things made you pee yourself. We were a lot alike.

I had a baby girl in February. (I know, way to bury the lede.) The pregnancy was easy. The delivery was not. I spent two days giving birth to her, and it sucked, but I’d have done it for a week if I’d known how awesome she’d be. As I type this, I’m watching her try to eat her feet. You would have adored her. She has a smile that makes my heart happy. With the divorce and your sickness, I didn’t spend a lot of time being happy in those last few years before you died. This is a nice change.

I remember when you were in ICU, and Devon and I told you we were getting married. We told you if we had a baby and she was a girl, we would name her after your mother. You were so happy you cried. You died two months later. You weren’t going to see the rest of my life unfold, but I wanted you to know. I wish Aurelia had the chance to know you. You could make me guano fucking nuts, but I’d give quite a lot for some of your unwanted advice right now.

For years, I couldn’t remember most of my adult relationship with you. I remembered my childhood and the period I’ll call PD (Post Diagnosis), but the rest of it fell into a hazy void. I’m starting to remember now – sitting at your kitchen table gossiping, teaching you how to use a computer, helping you put on your socks.

It wasn’t all good. I won’t go into much detail here. Opening my own flaws to the world is fine, but laying yours bare, without giving you the chance to explain, seems like a dirty trick. But I’m not nearly as angry as I used to be. I know you were scared — too scared to do the things you should have — but you were good enough. I hope I will be good enough, too.

You would have been 80 tomorrow. Try not to get too drunk.

Scratch that. Party your old-lady socks off.