Wednesday, March 21, 2012


The cardiologist is looking at us strangely because we are staring at him, my sister and mother and I. There is silence where he expected something else - cheers? smiles?

He clears his throat. I mean, it's the most boring echo I've heard today. His heart's in great shape.

Between us, my father slumps in his wheelchair, oxygen tube hooked behind his ears, fragile arms covered in bruises from the falls.

Annie speaks deliberately. We're surprised, you see, because his doctor told us he was dying. Days or weeks.

My father's expression does not change. There are toast crumbs on his sweatpants.

Oh, I don't dispute that. But it's not his heart that's causing his lungs to fill up. You say he's on dialysis?

The doctor flips through my dad's paperwork. He's never seen it before.

I'm not a kidney guy, but geez that's a lot of fluid. He raises his voice to my dad. Bill, are ya getting too much sodium? The food in those nursing homes is always too salty. How much coffee are ya drinking?

My sister continues to ask deliberate, reasonable questions. It's only later that I'll know she felt like I did, that she wanted to scream at the strange doctor talking about valves while being totally unaware that my dad's in end stage renal failure, absolutely unaware that his transplant from thirteen years ago is in the last stages of shutdown. Oh yah, you betcha, he's dying, but it's not his heart, those valves look great.

Is it too much to ask that these doctors have a conversation? The heart guy, the kidney guy, the generalist in our little town? There he sits with his paper, his specialty, his one little answer.

My father, the oxygen, the sweatpants.

My family, another collection of silos across the wide prairie, jealously guarding our stores, disconnected.

We do: driving, calls to the bank, careful questions to the doctor, reminiscing about good times, birthday cake with the grandchildren. We ask about his favorite songs and if there is anyone who should know.

There is no plan. I guess we aren't set up for that either. Scattered, we gather around a disappearing man, each with a separate desire and fear, asking and forgetting to ask. A man without a family, there is no one to know him in his entirety, only a million shards we try to reassemble.

Maybe if we keep trying. Maybe it will be enough.