Thursday, December 5, 2019

I sit here past midnight, waiting for the reassuring sounds of the CPAP machine as my father breathes with it. There is a gradual slowing of the breathing and then a frightening silence that lasts 10, 15, 25, nearly 40 seconds till he takes the next breath. A few rapid breaths, then a slowing, and there it is the long pause again. Initially I used to run to his bedside to wait anxiously each time he stopped till he resumed breathing, but now I expect it.

This is called Cheyne Stokes breathing and is often present in patients with advanced cardiac failure, among other conditions. It is also associated with a greater risk of sudden cardiac death. Being a physician I know this, and it does not help me deal with it. He is on a cocktail of medicines.

In the silence of the night I hear the ticking of the clocks in the house. The train that goes by.  A dog that barks. The silence of no drills and machinery that surround us during the day. And I hear his breathing.

My father is six months short of being 90 years old. He is diabetic and hypertensive, has had a cardiac bypass, and is on a pacemaker. I know his heart is very tired. I know he cannot live eternally, but - I cannot bear the thought of him not being around.

But when I see him as he was today - feet and abdomen swollen, his face puffy, him breathless with the least exertion, my heart goes out to him. I do not want him to suffer like this.

He continues, even now, to take care of himself as much as he can: using the toilet, bathing, shaving, etc are all done independently, though slowly as he has to pause frequently to catch is breath. How I wish I could breathe for him.

On days he feels better he reads the news on his iPad, watches news on TV and watches one TV serial that he enjoys. He watches TV on mute as his hearing is very poor  and he dislikes using his hearing aid.

I am watching my father wind down.