My father died of COPD. Yes, he smoked for years, but he had problems with asthma and bronchitis also. I don’t think we should say, “oh yes, so and so died because they smoked, because they ate the wrong foods, because they drank. ” Because people who do none of these things develop COPD, cancer and numerous other diseases. We live in an age of tainted air, food and water. The disease forced him to have a portable oxygen tank, an inhaler, steroid injections. Because the air did not move over his lungs like it should when he took a breath, like air skimming over a lake, and instead soaked into the holes of the lungs, every breath was an effort. It robbed him of doing simple things that he loved like getting into his car and taking pictures of old barns and sunsets. Getting to the bathroom was a chore. Gone were the days of just doing what he wanted. Each day was all about being able to breathe. But in spite of all this he retained his sense of humor. My dad never called anyone by their real name. My brother (Chris) was Scootsie. My daughter (Hilary) was white fang because her teeth were very white before she started drinking coffee. A man named Jeff was Schmen. Places of business had unique names too. Ruby Tuesday restaurant was called Sapphire Saturday by my dad. He like to reverse letters in words so a sentence such as “Get on your shoes” was transformed into “Shit on your gooz”. But the expression that stands out in my mind was “Fourteen/Thirteen” You could ask him what time it was and that was his answer. It was the answer to mileage, prices, the date for that day, ages of people.
There was a surgery performed on his foot. I still say it was a botched surgery. It was done twice because the first time he kept feeling like his heel was “floating” in his foot. It was…something came undone or wasn’t done right to begin with. Infection set in. Do you know where infection goes? To the weakest part of the body. The frail part, the part screaming for air. My brother was here and we went to see my dad and there was a dry-erase board in the room and he was supposed to rate his pain on a scale of one to ten. We changed the board, drawing faces for each number. One was great, ten was death. We drew X’s for eyes and a mouth with the tongue hanging out. Little did we realize that two days later he would be dead. I sat in the ICU watching the numbers change on the machine that monitored heart rate. The tube was in his mouth, he did not know I was there. His lungs were saturated and there was no way to relieve it. The priest came in and we talked about my dad and his sense of humor, his cartoons that he drew, the way he could make a tiny airplane, cannon, windmill out of nuts, bolts, nails, sockets. He had a vision of something and he produced it. He could not produce his vision of being able to breathe on his own though. The numbers were falling. I knew that when they got to a certain point the doctor would take away the tube and wait for him to take his last breath. …….Which he did—in a huge gasp, eyes open and looking straight ahead as if seeing something glorious. When Jesus comes for you he doesn’t send his angels, he comes himself. Time of death: Fourteen/ Thirteen. I still encounter Fourteen/ Thirteen. A receipt from the store, an address, a score from a game. Dad is breathing again. The pure air of heaven. And if that is the only thing he has to do up there I am sure he is content with that.