On June 1st 2006. my dad lost his very one-sided battle with pulmonary fibrosis. Before he died, and since, I’ve been trying to capture my feelings in fiction. I found this short bit looking through old files. Very little of it is fiction.
What happened next was anybody’s guess. After retirement, after lung cancer, after kids having weddings and kids of their own, after new homes and small problems and new clouds on his chest x-rays. After naming those clouds pulmonary fibrosis and receiving his first shipment of oxygen tanks. After purple fingernails and the occasional panic attack. After the crisis was downgraded and all the O-shaped faces went home and he was left with his clear tubes and his cable television and his new restricted life and the daily phone calls became weekly phone calls. After his wife changed from part-time to part-part-time at her job that was more distraction than paycheck to be near him and available down the hall in the room with her cable television and her couch.
What happened after the past was someone else’s life and just a collection of distant memories of when he used to be able to work on car engines in his garage and lift heavy tools and put them to work and be of some use. When he used to be able to take the boat to the lake and launch it and enjoy the day. When he had more to do than wait for death. When he measured time around the work day, not the oxygen tank.
The tanks came as he needed them. A phone number, a delivery truck, a little more time in a metal canister. They sat in a plastic rack to the left of his recliner, always in his peripheral vision. He liked to watch the old All in the Family and Gunsmoke reruns on the television that was never off. Part of him was always watching the tanks. Part of him was always wondering when he became a scuba diver. How could he have gotten so deep underwater without hearing the waves or feeling the cold embracing his legs? Everyone became fish overnight. His wife and children were fish. He lived in an aquarium. He would drown in their world without the oxygen pumped up his nose.
His wife was always telling him to go out. Go to the garage and sweep the floor or clean your tools or sit if you can’t sweep or clean. It’s nice out today. Take a tank outside. Go get some Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. Go listen to your country music collection, the one you pined for since Kenny Rogers told you about it on late night TV after Barney Miller went off the air. Go visit your brother in Plainfield.
It always did him some good to leave, but he didn’t always leave. If he left, he might be seen by other fish as he carted his tank behind him. And they might want to know how he was doing and he might not want to tell them. He might not want to waste his breath.
What happened next was anybody’s guess, including his doctors. It took them a long time to name his disease. And once they named it, they could only tell him how little they could do for him. His only hope was a double lung transplant. He was 63 1/2-years-old. If he didn’t get his new set of lungs by the time he was 65, he would be off the transplant list. If he didn’t pass the stress tests and prove he was healthy enough to survive and that he wasn’t a waste of lungs, he wouldn’t get on the transplant list. If he waited any longer to take the stress tests it might not even matter if he passed because by the time his paperwork was sent to Washington, it might not be processed in time for his 65th birthday. He wouldn’t have a new set of lungs to blow out all the candles on his cake, or anything to wish for, for that matter.