There was a notch out of his ear. Just a small one near the top, but noticeable. He was sitting in the wheelchair waiting for his next appointment and I couldn’t help noticing his ears. They were so much bigger than I remembered. Old man ears, that’s what it was. The cartilage in the ears (and nose) keeps growing as we age while the bones and everything else stops growing or shrinks. Throw in gravity on the lobes and Dad’s ears really were big. I stared at the little notch. It had been a spot of skin cancer a few years before. This past year he had some more spots of cancer removed from the top of one of his hands. Nowadays it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on. Heart, lungs, kidneys, thyroid, joints, eyes, you name it. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Dad’s arms have been so discolored with blotches of purple, mahogany, burgundy and brown. The skin is so thin and bleeds so easily. He stains the bed sheets, the blankets, the couch and chair cushions. Most of the damage is due to one of his blood thinners, a necessary side effect if he doesn’t want to add a stroke to his list of problems.
I came out of the bedroom at 6 AM to make coffee and he was up and dressed, steadying himself in the doorway between his bedroom and the kitchen. Joyce was asleep, her oxygen pump softly maintaining its electronic rhythms. Dad stood stooped, leaning against the door frame reaching forward toward the stove so he could begin the ten foot onslaught to the table. He looked puffy, his face bloated and tired. He was obviously weak, but anxious to get going. His first appointment at the hospital was at 8 and I told him we’d leave around 7. It had snowed the day before and a little more overnight, but mostly what snow had fallen had been blown into drifts. I showered, drank some coffee and then went outside to get the car warmed up and to shovel the driveway. I wasn’t sure how the roads would be. Dad waited impatiently.
Once out the house dad grabbed the railing leading down to the driveway with his right hand and slowly, cautiously maneuvered his cane down the three steps with his left. I stood one step below ready to catch him if he slipped or fell. I took my Mini, which was a stubborn lapse of judgment on my part. Dad has had a difficult time getting in and out of my car, the seat is considerably lower than what he’s used to and the door opening isn’t as wide as his minivan’s. But the heated seats pleased him to no end and partially made up for the struggles.
He shuffled anxiously to the car and together we awkwardly shifted his body around, aiming his butt just so toward the black bucket seat below. Unconsciously he grabbed the top of the door’s window to brace and steady himself. I was worried he would break the window if he fell and thought about the fingerprints I’d need to wipe off later. He let gravity take over before we were perfectly centered. He landed on the edge of the seat. He swore. I tried to reassure him that it was ok, we’d inch him back and around. He weakly lifted his legs one at a time up and over the door frame but not without some assistance. We rested his cane between his legs and I stretched the seatbelt around his bloated tummy and into its slot hidden beneath his jacket.
We casually chatted on the drive and he retold stories about his days plowing snow for the DOT, him getting a flat tire on the far end of the county during one Christmas blizzard and needing to wait several hours alone in the cab of the truck before help came. I tried to remember the number of Christmas mornings my excitement over opening presents was delayed because he had been called out overnight earning much needed overtime pay.
I pulled up to the hospital entrance and ran inside for a wheelchair. Dad opened the car door and shifted his weight around, ready for me to help him the rest of the way. The hospital’s valet secured and held the chair for us. I grabbed Dad under his right arm pit and hoisted him as he weakly tried to raise himself up. He didn’t have the strength to do it alone and he couldn’t lock his knees or straighten his hips so I slipped behind him to brace him and hold him up. He had to step up onto the curb but couldn’t command his legs to the task. The heel of his right shoe lifted half an inch then fell back down.
“It’s OK Dad, there’s no hurry.”
A mumbled “Shit.”
“Take your time, you can do this.”
A dispirited moan.
“You need to step up over the curb.”
“Yes you can. You can do it.”
A minute seemed like ten. With resolve he did it, as I knew he could. The valet caught my eye and said he’d wheel my father up to the registration desk while I parked the car. He whispered that he understood. “My mother,” he said, and trailed off.