IN MY head, he would always be young and strong.
Staring at my father in that moment, though, all I could see were the lines of fatigue around his pale eyes, the hands that were as white as the bones I could just make out beneath his skin. Glancing around the little room didn’t help, either. Everything was white and gray. Even the dull greens and hospital pinks seemed colorless.
My head jerked up and to the side, my gaze connecting with Dr. Birk’s. He was smiling at me the way he had been doing since I was six. Sitting there, staring up at him, the chair almost felt that big again. I almost felt that small.
My father was dying, and at twenty years old, I had never felt like more of a child.
“Yes?” I asked wearily, the sound of my voice bitter and gritty even to me.
Dr. Birk softened his expression further. “I asked if you had any questions.”
“No.” I shook my head. I hadn’t heard a word he’d said, but I wasn’t interested in listening to him repeat it. Chances were I’d just end up reading it all off the chart later anyway. “No questions.”
I rose slowly, already turning to try to help Dad off the exam table, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Just another minute.” Dr. Birk had a look on his face like he wanted to talk. Sitting back down, I felt cold, but my neck was sweating. “It’s time we start thinking about palliative care.” His eyes darted to my father’s stone form. “Making your father more comfortable.”
The doctor’s smile was so kind and wide now. I knew this had to be really bad. Everything in me was numb as I watched him scrawl a few words on his prescription pad before tearing off the top sheet and passing it to me. My eyes moved over the looping script a few times before I fully processed it. When I did, my hand fell to my lap and I looked up with my mouth hanging open.
My father was a lawyer. A former judge. There was no way.
Dr. Birk was already shaking his head, expecting my response. “It’s an option that’s worth investigating, and Hank and I have already discussed it,” he said, gesturing with his head toward my father.
My gaze flitted up to where my dad sat, his eyes trained away from mine and his mouth tight. Only the slightest nod gave away his acknowledgement. A twisting of his hands in his lap betrayed his shame.
I couldn’t believe he was considering this.
Gulping, I thought back on how lost in a miasma of drugs and pain he’d been these past few months. As I returned my attention to Dr. Birk, my opposition was already wavering. “Is this in addition to everything else, or…?”
With a carefully controlled expression, Dr. Birk set down his charts and leaned back. “If you’re open to the idea, I would reevaluate the rest of his medications. The painkillers, specifically.”
I glanced at the piece of paper in my hand again as if it held the answers. Only, like everything else in the fragile world I had constructed, it was silent. But it was something. Folding it carefully, I nodded, my eyes still cast down.
“Good,” Dr. Birk said. He was rearranging the paperwork spread out across the desk behind him, muttering to himself, pausing just long enough to say, “I think you’re making the right decision.”
All I could do was hope that he was right.