There is some comic relief. My father's roommate, 49-2, has been in the hospital since last Friday awaiting hip surgery. Everyday, he fasts in preparation. And every night, like clockwork, his starvation is rewarded by being informed that his surgery has been bumped. He now exists on cigarettes and donuts, as that is the only thing available in the cafeteria after 10:00 pm. At midnight fasting begins anew, giving relatively little time to enjoy all the pleasures of this nicotine and sugar rush. Despite this, he remains in good spirits always cracking jokes at his predicament and placing bets as to when he will actually receive the treatment he needs. I've informed him that he isn't getting out of this salmon pink prison anytime soon and have so far been (regrettably) correct.
Visitor hours end at 8:30pm but hospital staff are very lax with enforcing it. I often stay until midnight using this downtime to hone my craft as my father sleeps. Occasionally I read a book I picked up on our trip titled "Secrets of Versailles". When he awakes, I detail the fascinating hidden history of the place we visited just over a month prior. He seems interested but I know the words I speak are soon to be forgotten in the haze of meds that are placed on his bedside table every few hours. The moments of lucidity are becoming few and far between.
But he is still there.
And I know he knows I am still there.
When I do depart, 49-2 always assures me that he will act as my father's sentry in my absence.
Few people stay beyond the visiting hours but those who do get moments of quiet that are ripe for reflection. During this situation, a part of me has felt like a failure for not taking the traditional path that modern life encourages: A spouse to help pay for an over-valued property. An SUV to help haul all of the items required to make that over-valued property seem less empty. A few kids to mask the hollowness of the house and - subsequently - the marriage. There is a societal guilt for not choosing this life and I've been burdened by not giving my father the comfort of normalcy. But then I sit and listen to the conversations that surround a dying man. Of excuses as to why spouses don't attend family gatherings. Of the days when getting a manicure is the highlight of one's week. And I know that my father would not want this banal existence for me, nor expect it of me. He's been teaching me this all along.
It's been an unseasonably cool summer in Winnipeg and has been raining a lot of late. Walking out of the hospital, the reflection of stop lights in the puddles has provided prismatic distraction from the dreariness of literally everything. But one day something else caught my eye. In the distance, city workers surrounded my vehicle. I initially assumed I had been parked there too long and was getting the dreaded boot; then I thought a sewer backed-up as a result of all the rain. As I approached, I realized that it was much more significant than that.
"Is this your car?" one of the workers asked me as I stood agape. "You don't know how lucky you are. A limb from this tree fell, missed your vehicle by mere inches. Must have weighed 3,000lbs."
This instance of pure chance jolted me from my near-constant state of depression to offer a bit of hope that the nearly year-long holding pattern of bad news wouldn't last forever.
The next day when I visited the hospital, and after nearly a week of waiting, 49-2 finally went in for surgery.