“We are no longer looking for a cure.”
I’ve been quiet for a long time about one of the strongest people I know — my dad.
In Hong Kong, my sister texts me that my dad is in the hospital. I didn’t get the details but instead counted down to the days when I’d see him next. The first evening of my return, I visit the hospital and he stands to hug me. His cheeks are hollow, eyes huge.
We talk about the sights I’ve seen, how he’s been counting down and knows the date today: December 19th, the day I fly home. “I lit a lantern for you in Taipei,” I say. “It turned out to be a four-hour round trip. We wanted to go hiking but it was raining, so we came right back.”
“It was worth it,” he says. “I felt better the next day.”
We walk into the TV room without a TV, and I hear from the resident doctor for the first time, about the cancer. It is in his heart. They are no longer concerned about the strokes; the cancer is travelling to his stomach, blood, and brain.
“We want to give you end-of-life care,” the resident doctor says. “To make sure you’re as comfortable as possible.”
“If at all possible,” he says. “I want to continue chemo.”
“The chemo wasn’t working,” she says. “And you’re too weak.”
“I don’t want to give up,” he says.
“Can I see the scans?” I say.
He is adamant and energetic and so much of the person he was, the man his coworkers called the King, the man who solved my problems. I was gone for little more than three months — you cannot tell me that he is now approaching the end of him life, when he is gesturing in front of me.
How is this the image of someone who will soon pass on? Motioning with my balled-up tissues towards the door, I rise. “If it happens,” my mother says, “we’re okay if you watch over us from another world.”
I ask myself whether I should’ve stayed in Vancouver, or flown home early without knowing the entire story. But then my dad would’ve hated that I didn’t finish what I started.
On Day 2, I sleep until 5pm. Again, he is sitting by the bed. I show him my Hong Kong flag that my friends signed for my goodbye. “We need to get the other oncologist for chemo. We need to try everything we haven’t tried before.”
The needle in his arm is ready for a blood transfusion. “Good thing I talked to this new doctor,” he says. “Almost missed the chance for recovery. The transfusion.”
It kills me.
“Any hope is worth it,” he says.
It’s Day 3 and he wants to leave the hospital.
“I feel fine,” he says.
“That’s what you said last time,” my mother says, “and it didn’t work at all.”
On Day 4, he says, “Let’s follow the hospital’s plan.”
Palliative care. Despite doing exercises to regain strength, he is the thinnest I have ever seen him.
Day 5, and eleven people sit down to decide the course of his life. It carries on like any typical meeting about an app or an event, where someone leads and different teams report.
The Stroke Team. Palliative Care Team. Community Nursing Team.
For the first time I realize that my dad is often confused.
“He wants to go home,” the social worker says, “and we want to honour that. He has made an incredible rebound physically.” Anyways, there’s nowhere else that he fits, because he no longer agrees to the Do Not Resciciutate forms he signed.
Everything that I’ve wanted to do with him, or learn from him, comes back to me.
He can fix a computer by sticking pieces of paper into a machine (“It’s only temporary–don’t move the papers.”). He works more hours at the airport than he is ever paid for. He has a decent temper.
We said we’d do the Grouse Grind hike again, walk around the Whistler ski village, make scrambled eggs at home.
I’m awake at 4am and I miss him. When I was younger, he’d ask about piano. He’d drive me to teach piano lessons after school and I’d have milk and a sandwich in the car.
There are so many things I had wanted to learn from him.
The next days are a blur. He repeatedly asks every doctor for treatment, the whole-brain radiation, to be rid of cancer. Except the cancer is in his heart, stomach, and brain.
On Christmas Day, I get him a blueberry muffin. “There are antioxidants in blueberries,” he says.
“I know,” I say. “This is only for Christmas though — muffins are too sweet.”
“The doctors are talking about radiation again,” he says. “It’s my best chance for survival.”
The doctors say radiation will only make his last days all the more painful, and possibly not make a difference as we’re looking at either weeks or months.
“I don’t want you to do it,” I say.
“Stop,” he says, frustrated. “If they offer it, I’m going to take it without thinking.”
“Do you know why none of the doctors are willing to do it for you?” I say. “Because it’s dangerous. Because it won’t work. Because it’s painful.”
I ask why he signed the Do Not Resuscitate forms, then.
“I’m not sure what I signed,” he says. “But I’m retracting it.”
The last thing we can hold onto is hope. We don’t know how long a life well-lived can continue. We don’t know how fast an injury will recover. We don’t know how great a musician’s practice will perform onstage.
But we can hope, because hope keeps us strong.