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Alan D Busch

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Is It Still Okay If Your Father Cries (newly edited for submission)
By Alan D Busch
Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rated "G" by the Author.

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revised for submission

Is it Still Okay If Your Father Cries?

The day did not go well for my older brother Ron who had

flown in from St. Louis to help care for our father. Dad is

dying of colon cancer. He fights for his life at Northwestern

University’s Prentice Hospital, in the oncology unit, room

1676.  I figured that now with Ron in town, I could take the

day off, having spent every one of the previous forty-eight

hours with Dad. My conscience, however, had other plans for

me. I wrestled with it off and on all day long.

Ashamed of my selfishness, I left my house around noon

and drove as far as the on-ramp to the expressway. Traffic

was backed up for miles. I turned around and went home,

squandering the remainder of the afternoon.

Unaware that Ron had been expecting me, he called at

7:30 p.m. to ask if I would come down for the night shift. I

jumped at the opportunity.

I found my brother waiting for me in the family lounge. He

stepped out of Dad’s room for several minutes after he had

fallen asleep. Worried that he won’t be in town when our

father expires, Ron works hard to expiate the guilt he already

feels.  A good and doting son, the manner in which he cares

for Dad reminds me of how he used to watch out for me.

Combining the best of mothering and ‘big brothering’, Ron

reads to our father engaging him in esoteric discourse. I watch

them revel in each other’s company.

A Few Days Before

The phone rang on Shabbos morning. Bobbie, my father’s

wife, was calling to inform me (as we had prearranged) that

she was rushing Dad to the emergency room. My wife and I

left immediately for the hospital. Minutes later, the  

receptionist directed me to the treatment room.

“Hi. Dad’s inside,” Bobbie greets me, her head and eyes

gesturing toward the door. I gird myself. She follows me

in. The room is cramped, its air hot and fetid. My father lies

atop a gurney in a loosely-tied hospital gown battling severe

diarrhea. Two nurses attend him while Sarah, the head nurse,

rifles through the cabinets for more adult diapers, fresh gowns

and bed sheets. The nurses’ pleasant professionalism reassures

me that my father’s in good hands. Another recurrence

happens within seconds of the previous clean up. Sarah asks us

to leave, but nods approvingly when I remain at my father’s

side. Bobbie steps out.

“Alan?” Dad whispers, grasping my hand with his powerful 

clench, a good sign. “Yes, Dad, I’m right here.” We both

 manage a little smile. As my dad understands and I’d soon

learn, unrelenting chronic diarrhea, a side effect of

chemotherapy, would prove to be our most formidable  

adversary in the coming weeks.

“Dr. Busch?” inquired the attending resident who entered the

treatment room sporting a three-day growth of beard and a

black suede kippah.“Shalom Aleichem. I’m Alan Busch, Dr.

Busch’s son,” I quickly responded. “Aleichem shalom,” he

returned the greeting, extending his hand in Shabbos  

courtesy. ”Dr. Busch,” he addressed my father, “your chart

indicates some problem with chronic diarrhea, high fever,

dehydration and urinary tract infection."

“Yes, that’s correct, doctor. ‘some problem’ indeed!” my

father responded, chuckling at the doctor’s understatement.

“We’ll be admitting you as soon as the paperwork is

processed. May your father have a refuah shleyma.”

Within half an hour, just as he had indicated, patient

transport moved us to room 1676 where we spent

the next thirteen days.

To say the first few hours were busy would constitute a

misleading understatement. ‘Maniacal’ might better describe

them. The diarrhea was merciless. I was so embarrassed for my

dad (and me frankly) that I hesitated at first to call for nursing

assistance and began cleaning up Dad by myself. Physically

demanding and emotionally stressful, each clean up Is a

tiresome repetition of the previous one: helping Dad wash

himself, changing his gown and bed clothes, bagging it all  

and calling upon housekeeping to pick up the soiled linen.

And, in case you’re wondering, it’s nothing at all like

changing a baby’s dirty diaper.

It didn’t take me long to realize I had little choice but to put

my embarrassment aside. After all, my father adapted to it

quickly, even telling the nurses one rather ribald joke that

made them blush. My father, May God Bless Him, remains

fully in charge.

"Call the nurses, Alan. Please, please don’t do any more,” my

dad pled with me in a tone sounding more like an order.

"Dad, let me. I can take care of this by myself.”

“I understand your feelings Son but the nurses are better at

this than you. Let them do their jobs. It’s not right for a son

to help his father in this way.”

In deference to his wishes, I called for assistance no fewer than

five times between midnight and 6:00 A.M. on each of the

first two nights I stayed over. Though certain they were doing

their best the oncology nurses and assistants: selfless, hard

working women, could not arrive in time we needed them.

I can’t begin to recount the number of times Dad and I had to

shuffle from his bed to the bathroom, a distance of eight feet

only. Sometimes we made it. Sometimes we didn’t. Despite its

humiliating nature, Dad remained determined to break the

back of  this “Amalek”.

He continues to suffer terribly, his spirit wanes, our

desperation heightens. The doctors have no answers, their

treatments remain ineffective. “There is nothing more we can

do for him,” according to my father’s oncologist. My father is

not ready to go home, but the hospital is ready to release him

tomorrow. Time is running out.

In an act of desperation, I called my dad’s gastroenterologist

at 5:00 a.m. and left an urgent message with his answering

service. He called me back within minutes.

“Doctor, the “tincture of opium” you prescribed to treat my

dad’s diarrhea hasn’t worked. There is still no change,” I

explained as calmly as I could. It wasn’t easy. I was at wit’s end,

ready “to strangle” anyone who crossed my path.

“I’ve tried everything I know to do, but if the tincture is not

working, I do not know how to stop it,” he admitted. My

heart sank.

“The prognosis varies with each person,” my dad’s oncologist

explained later that morning. “This could go on for three to     

six months or even a year,” he added, shrugging his shoulders

and turning up the palms of his hands.

Dad was getting sleepy. We all needed a break. Ron went

downstairs to get a coffee for himself and Bobbie.  I wandered

over to a computer lounge with a picturesque view of Lake

Michigan. If only I had been able to enjoy it. It was one of

those moments, you know, when you just stare out of the

window …

“Prayer is like dialing long distance to ‘De Aibishter’”, the

voice of my late mentor, Reb Isser, spoke to me. “Dial His

number every day, Mr. Busch. Remember to daven ‘Shema

Koleinu’ with koach. The lines are always busy, so be patient.

There are lots of callers out there. Leave a message if you like.

He listens and returns every call. Oh, one more thing …

remember the pasuk from Tehilim, ‘HaShem, hoshia, Ha

Melech ya’anenu, b’yom koreinu.’”

The sound of my brother’s voice “awoke” me. "It's so darn

pitiful," Ron remarked, explaining how he and Dad had made

it to the bathroom in time that morning.

“You did? That’s good news!”

“Wait. There’s more. Dad told me he needed to sit for a while,

and that I should lie back down for a few more minutes. He’d

call when finished. Shortly thereafter, I heard him quietly

crying.” Ron detailed the rest of the day, one that had gone

downhill from the start.

Is it still okay if your father cries?

Do you remember what General MacArthur said about old

soldiers never dying but fading away?  Well, as a matter of

fact, my dad is an old soldier, United States Army, Brigadier

General, retired, who is fading away.

His skin does not fit him anymore. He has lost so much

weight that the skin from his neck just sags. His legs and arms

have become spindly, the skin of his legs is tightly stretched

and transparently thin whereas that of his upper arms sags like

his neck.

I watch him for hours while he sleeps. His once cheerful face is

now gaunt and expressionless. This is how he’ll look when he

dies, I suppose. I try to block such thoughts, but they intrude

upon my privacy nevertheless.

I glance at the clock radio, 3:00 a.m. Outside our door, I

catch a glimpse of the early morning nurses’ aides as they

scurry about from room to room. Barbara, a heavy set woman

in her mid-forties, currently assists Dad. I like her. She is good

at what she does and seems to care about my father.

I returned to the same lounge at 3:15 a.m. No other souls but

the sound of Reb Isser’s voice faintly echoing in my memory

and me … “Keep dialing His number. De Aibishter will pick

up. You’ll see.”

“Master of The Universe … I stand before You pleading on

my father’s behalf.  He is selfless, loving, generous and has

thus ever been. His kindnesses have benefitted everyone from

his grandchildren to a shivering homeless man to whom I saw

him once give his new long coat straight off his back on a

frigid winter day. Do You remember that? I do. Heal his bowel

so that he may live out his last days in dignity and peace.”

And so, I waited for De Aibishter” to call me back.

Next morning, after two weeks, we left the hospital feeling

ambivalent at best. Dad’s cancer was a foregone conclusion. I

had heard him say on several occasions that he was at peace

with that. I summoned all of my faith that The One Above

hear my plea and answer my prayer. We waited for the

tincture of opium to do its job during his first few tenuous

days at home.  And then I got a call …

“Good morning Alan!”

“Dad?” I answered, surprised both by the call itself and the

upbeat tone of his voice

“So Dad, what’s …?”

“It’s worked. The tincture, Son, has finally kicked in,” he

blared so excitedly I had to remove the phone from

my ear. And kicked in it had, my father’s happiness … well, it

skyrocketed. “So Dad, tell me how you feel?” I asked, sharing

in his excitement. “Sonny Boy, I feel … I feel,” his voice

cracking ever so slightly. “I feel … like I’ve so much to be

thankful for.”

Reb Isser was right. ‘De Aibishter’ had played back His

messages and had not only heard my prayer … but granted it.

Alan D. Busch




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Reviewed by Robert Ballard 8/26/2009
Alan, I lost my Dad in 2003 to pancreatic cancer. We were so blessed that he didn't suffer and ate breakfast on the morning he was taken to hospice house from his own house. My dad was one of the greatest men I ever knew and one of the most humble. Thanks for sharing this about your dad, it is inspirational and there is no doubt as to the bond of love you all share. Best wishes.

Robert Elias Ballard
Reviewed by Micki Peluso 8/25/2009

I have read this beore and feel it is certainly ready for publication. I have been thinking about you lately--not having heard from you for a while. I hope you are doing well. I had a bad bout with atrial fibrillation last week but I seem to be okay now-it's such a scary thing and my pacemaker only helps ventrical fibrillation--the more serious one, yet the other is not pleasant either.Who knew when we were young what the future would hold for us?

all the best,


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