To Sink or Swim in Your Whiskey

-A piece from my memoir in progress

dad and daughter

The air is stale. There are numerous machines throughout the floor making the same steady beep, all working with one common goal.

I stare at the sign above the nurse’s station. My eyes trace the letters, “I”, “C”, “U” repeatedly, like a child driving their toy car from one race track to the next, and I wonder if this is a normal behavior or something I got from him.

The chair I sit in is hard, uncomfortable, and I wonder about all the people who have sat in this chair before me. Where are they now? Are their lives better or worse since they’ve been here?

My father is laying in the bed in the middle of the room. He is intubated with a thick tube. He looks calm, peaceful… vulnerable. Expressions I have never seen on him before.

I think about how everything I have asked for when wishing on a star or when the clock hits 2:22 has come true, but never in the way I had intended it to. I suppose my father dying is another wish granted.

Life will certainly be easier.

I suppose it’ll be sad that he’ll never see me go to prom or graduate from high school, he won’t be there to walk me down the aisle or be a grandfather to my kids. But then I laugh at the idea of him in a crowded auditorium or a church, or rolling on the floor with children.

My mother walks in the room, drying her shaky hands with a paper towel. Before she even opens her mouth, the doctor and nurse follow her in.

“Hi, how are we today?” The doctor robotically asks as he looks over my dad’s chart.

“Oh just ducky!” my mom answers, trying to be witty. She’s never grasped the concept of a rhetorical question.

“So John here has been in an induced coma for a few days now. He started waking up a little while ago, so we’re going to take out the tube and see if he can handle breathing on his own. The worst of the detox should be over by now.” The nurse is leaning over my father, checking his vitals and writing numbers down on her clipboard. The doctor continues, “This is going to be pretty touch and go for a while. The tests show that John suffered multiple heart attacks, but we can’t tell when exactly they happened. Chances are,” he looks at me, then back to my mother. His voice lowers, “he just wasn’t aware they were happening.”

The doctor looks toward my father and lets out a sigh, “The liver damage is bad, which makes all the organs suffer. That’s why he has the yellowish color. Realistically,” he purses his lips together and tilts his head from side to side, “he has about a 20% chance of getting out of this.”

Another nurse pokes her head in and asks the doctor for a “minute of his time”.

“Excuse me.” He says to us, halfway out of the room. He’s probably sleeping with her. I’ve seen ER.

“So, a 20% chance of living… those are not good odds.” My mother says as she twists the paper towel she’s been holding onto.

Ironically, I was thinking those are pretty good odds. But then again, our desired outcomes may be different.

“He did it to himself.” I say flatly. I’ve become accustomed to hiding all emotion when I talk to my family, especially my mother.

The nurse that was checking vitals lifts the empty bag of IV fluid off of the metal rod and detaches it from the tube that enters my dad’s arm. She exits the room, giving me a sharp stare out of the corner of her eyes before she goes.

“Well that’s the truth,” my mother says. “I don’t know how he’s going to make it when he gets out of here.” She searches through her purse, probably looking for lipstick that she doesn’t even need but doesn’t know what else to do with her hands.
He’s not getting out of here, I think to myself.

“I’m going to call your sister. She said she’d be up after work, but I think I’m just going to call her now” my mother carries on. “I’m just going to let her know what the doctor said. It’s probably better I call her now before I forget how he worded it. Twenty percent. He said twenty percent, right? That’s not good. I’m just going to let your sister know now.” My mother is a nervous person on a normal day, so given the situation, she’s on high voltage.

As she heads to the nurse’s station to call my sister, I look over at my father. I stare at his bloated face and remember a time when he was trim, handsome even. This could be one of the last times I see his face. If he went out now, he wouldn’t even know it. Death doesn’t seem that scary when you put it like that. It’s really only terrifying when you know it’s coming, even worse to look at your loved ones and think about everything you’re going to miss. If he took his last breath right now, he’d have none of that.

It’s strange to see him face to face with the one thing he has spent every aspect of his life avoiding. I feel a rush of excitement at the thought of finally being able to live in normalcy. Then I feel a bit of remorse, because I know that’s how I’m supposed to feel.

The nurse comes back in the room and hooks up the new IV bag. My mother comes in a moment later saying that she had to leave a message for my sister and listing off all the possible scenarios of why my sister may not have answered the phone. Without warning, the nurse begins pulling at the tube coming out of my father’s throat. My dad’s eyes burst open and he starts to choke. The nurse doesn’t look concerned, but doesn’t look old enough to know if she should be concerned, either.

My mother abruptly stops talking and stares with an open mouth. My dad thrusts his head and neck forward, not knowing what is going on. He can’t catch his breath. He starts to bat his arms around.

“Mr. Thomas, stay still!” the nurse demands.

I shouldn’t care. I don’t care. He did this to himself.

“John, you need to stay still!” the nurse insists.

My mother turns her head to avoid watching the scene.

My dad continues to choke. I see panic in his eyes, like a child looking for his mother in a crowd full of people.

I look for a doctor, but the only worker around is the one performing the exercision on my father.

He gags once more and then hurls back, like his heart has given out.

“STOP!” I yell as I launch towards the nurse and push her out of the way. “You’re hurting him! What the hell is wrong with you? Get away!”

            As the tube is ejected from my father’s throat, the nurse backs up, lifting her hands, as if to prove she’s not a threat. The doctor comes racing in. I’m draped over my father, who feels like a waterbed from all the fluid he’s retained. My mother is standing at the other end of the room with one arm tucked under her ribcage and the other bent up, covering her mouth. My father’s eyes have closed again and I feel the rising and falling of his chest.

4 thoughts on “To Sink or Swim in Your Whiskey

  1. Selena Whitaker

    You are a brilliant writer. I feel like I’m in the room with you. Very sorry if this indeed what you have gone through.



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