Live-alysis. Not Die-alysis.
As Dad settled himself into chair #15, I flittered around looking for a good space to park his pull bag of treatment “aids”: blanket, pillow, mini DVD player, iPad, two newspapers and a French novel. He had already carefully weighed himself and was patiently holding his paper printout waiting for the tech to take his vitals, check his lower legs for swelling and tenderly examine the protruding fistula on his upper left arm. Dad lit up when his favorite tech, Mel, came around the corner and flashed him a welcoming smile. “Ready for some fun today, Hal?”
My parent’s non-stop, action filled life came to a screeching halt the day Dad found out he was not an eligible transplant recipient and his kidneys were rapidly approaching complete failure. After years of carefully watching what he consumed and faithfully taking blood-pressure control medications, Dad’s Poly Cystic kidneys screamed “No More!”
Dad liked to refer to his time in dialysis as Live-alysis. As much as he hated the excruciating treatment, he tried his best to continue living a full life: attending symphony and ballet, going to mom’s many art openings, attendance at weekly French classes and swimming or working out with a personal trainer at the health club. He squeezed in travel around thrice weekly treatments, even managing a final trip to his beloved Paris, where he praised the Parisian –style of dialysis complete with an attractive attendant offering café au lait and fresh croissant off a rolling cart. Very unlike his drab, lackluster dialysis center with it’s worn linoleum floors, dingy lighting and jarring cacophony of 15 whirring machines constantly punctuated by blaring alarm bells.
I felt guilty having not yet escorted Dad to dialysis to sit with him for the three plus hours it took for the sophisticated machines to churn his blood, carry out the wastes, and then re-enter freshened up. My mom was transporting him 3 times per week and faithfully sitting with him, only leaving for brief moments to grab him a sandwich and coffee: black with a tad of Splenda. As a retired psychiatrist, Dad was more a listener than a talker. Besides, he had a tough time getting in many words when Mom was so enthusiastic to do the talking. In addition, struggles with declining hearing and general memory had taken its toll.
In part, I blamed preoccupation with my own nuclear family as the excuse for not taking on the dialysis shift. My teenagers, including one with development delays, demanded my presence during Dad’s regular time slot. I was also a bit scared to see Dad in such an intractable situation surrounded by others whose fates were tied to these lifesaving machines. The ages and conditions of his fellow patients were as diverse as their ethnicities. Each had their creature comforts and routines around them, though I was the only non-patient hanging out chair side on that particular day. Dad just didn’t like being left alone.
After retrieving Dad’s bagel sandwich (mustard, no mayo) and coffee plus a salad for myself, Dad and I started conversing about the recent movie that Woody Allen had shot in San Francisco. Dad had a nice cameo in one of the airport scenes with Cate Blanchet. Mom, as usual, had ended up on the cutting room floor. Dad observed Woody Allen to be a very casual Director, who wrapped most of the shots after one take and was quite self deprecating.
Trying to encourage Dad to exercise his memory muscles, as well as test out his new hearing aides, I inquired about other movies and television shows he and mom had acted in as extras. Notice that I said acted in, rather than appeared, as extras. In reality, my parents generally ended up on the cutting room floor. That would be the title of my next novel.
For the following three straight hours, Dad regaled me with some amazing gossip-worthy tidbits about various actors and directors. After lunching with Clint Eastwood, “Dirty Harry” asked the wait staff for the recipe of one of the served dishes. Robin Williams was so laid back and liked to talk about different delis in the Bay Area. Reece Witherspoon inquired if Dad was a real book store manager after he gave her a tour of the “set” for the day’s shoot. (He shared he was not, but that he once worked in his high school’s library). Don Johnson was a womanizer and may have even hit on Mom.
His most exciting film shot was taken atop Telegraph Hill in “George of the Jungle” and Eddie Murphy surrounded himself with bodyguards so he did not have to interact with the lowly extras. Julie Andrews was so very kind and Penelope Cruz was not nearly as beautiful in person. All this came pouring out as casual as could be. I learned that SAG had merged with AFTRA, extras got paid more if their car was used in a scene and how my parents got into the business. (refer to that next novel mentioned above).
Dad was finally unhooked, re-weighed, used the restroom and slowly walked to my car a few blocks away. He managed to stay awake for the whole drive home but immediately nodded off on the couch a few minutes after we arrived. As hard as it was on one’s psyche, dialysis was double-fold tedious, exhausting and brutal on the body. Mom was relieved to have a day to herself to shop unhurried in Japantown and I was thrilled to have helped my Dad through another round of live-alysis because continuing to live was really what dialysis was all about. Nearly three years later, after over 400 dialysis sessions, my amazing father succumbed — the day after celebrating his and Mom’s 50th Wedding Anniversary. As I sat with his body waiting for the funeral home attendant to arrive, I felt relief that he wouldn’t have to endure any more sessions. I also finally realized why he wanted to LIVE.