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"I Want to Live"

Peter Hutchinson June 2020 Angela McMullen Photo

After a long wait in the emergency room, my 84-year-old father, Pete, was diagnosed with kidney failure. It was 11:00 PM on a Thursday in May of 2020. The halls and parking lot of the hospital were all but empty. Doctors and nurses wore masks due to COVID-19, and hospital entry was restricted. Waiting rooms were sparse of people and chairs. And on every corner, there was a bottle of hand sanitizer.

Dad was told that his kidneys were functioning at less than 10%. “Your kidneys are not happy,” said the doctor. He was confused, mostly because of his hearing impairment. Dad reads lips because he is hard of hearing. Communicating under the best of times is challenging, but the mandatory mask policy added further difficulty. “You will need surgery,” the doctor told him through the mask.

“If your heart gives out on the operating table, do you want to be resuscitated?” the doctor asked loud enough so that he could hear. Again, Dad looked confused. Just moments ago, he was singing and carrying a conversation. What a difference a minute can make. Suddenly, without warning, he faced a difficult situation. Without hesitation, he looked at me and said matter-of-factly, “Well, I want to live.”

Hours before, and up to the diagnosis, Dad was laughing and singing. “I’d better stop laughing, or they won’t think I am sick,” he said. He surrendered to temporary silence like a scolded schoolboy.

Dad was told that he would be transferred to a nearby hospital as soon as possible. As-soon-as-possible was the next day when he was loaded into an ambulance and scheduled for surgery.

One week later, he had undergone three surgeries. Days later, he was on the golf course. “I’m not going to play. I am just going to walk around,” he assured us. Golfing is his passion. In his world, there are only two seasons-golf and winter.

Weeks before the diagnosis, before the official lock-down, Dad embraced self-isolation. “I’m used to this,” he said as if welcoming the opportunity to practice his learned survival skills. “I was brought up during the war.”

As Dad waited for his body to resume its natural state of health, he sat in stillness with his hands together, patiently waiting for wellness. Here he surrendered to the inherent intelligence of his body to ease the (dis)ease. Angela McMullen Photo

Dad was born in 1935, making him nearly eighty-five years-old when Covid-19 broke out. He is no stranger to uncertainty. His childhood was tainted with disease, hunger, and violence. His entire family was quarantined when his four-year-old sister had scarlet fever. During air raids and evacuations, the family laid low. Hardship was familiar to a man who had grown up during wartime.

Humbled by horrific beginnings, he had learned to embrace adaptability. For example, when faced with the possibility of blindness in his eighties, his attitude was, “Well, I will have to learn braille, that’s all.”

Weeks after recovering from kidney failure, other parts of Dad’s body began to fail, and as a result, he found himself back in the hospital. He decided to donate his body to science. Again, he was preparing for the worst. His Will was signed, and the Power of Attorney was in place. Dad had made it clear that he wanted to die by the river. Near the water was the best place for him. He is happiest in the natural world.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, Dad had no visitors while he was in the hospital. He was in touch with his family through texting, but he was sick that he could not text on most days.

After another three surgeries, he found himself back home. His appetite had waned, his energy level had dropped to nil, and he found himself at the mercy of those around him.

When his family doctor made a house call weeks later, Dad only had one thing on his mind. “Can I golf?” The doctor asked him to demonstrate his golf swing. And with a force of a man half his age, he made a swift swing into the air. Both the doctor and my sister, who was there for the appointment, were taken back.

Miraculously, Dad made a full recovery from six surgeries and two major health crises’. Ironically, there was no correlation between his signs and symptoms and the test results. The only direction the doctors could follow was to manage the presenting issues.

“I bet a lot of people will be pissed off that I lived,” he said. “I guess I showed them.” Another victory for the child of wartime.

“The doctor said that I would have this colostomy bag for the rest of my life, but he didn’t say anything about the kidney drains.” Ever the optimist, Dad expects the best outcome for every situation.

He managed prostate cancer for twenty years, so there were concerns that cancer had spread. “I don’t care what’s wrong with me, as long as I’m not in pain,” he told us.

Dad’s goal was to feel good. He focused on the best-case scenario. Within three months, he had undergone six surgeries and showed up in fine form at his 85th birthday party in August of 2020. Children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren gathered to celebrate an accomplished life.

Dad’s life had taught him how to make the right decisions in a crisis. As a child, he was able to escape being buried alive in a snowbank. He once steered from hydro lines while parachuting. He’s prevented car accidents and drownings and even jumped into a moving truck to save lives. And he recovered his health during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This child of wartime attributes a full recovery to a healthy lifestyle driven by purpose. He quit smoking and drinking in his thirties, eats well, exercises, takes natural medicine, and maintains deep family connections.

Dad says that a person’s strength is in the family unit. “The Roman Empire fell when the family unit fell apart,” he says.

Angela McMullen is a freelance writer who lives and writes in maritime Nova Scotia, where she is inspired by the rhythm of the Bay of Fundy tides, the pulse of long-standing forests, the expansive fields of the Annapolis Valley, the backdrop of North and South mountain ranges, and the distinction of the four seasons.

Angela's most recent work is a slim book of poetry that captures the pure essence of nature and her unwavering resilience. Infused with undertones of Italian influence, this collection of poetry speaks for itself.

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