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El Doctor Cortez by Salome Vera



The front door says family practice. A pastel-colored waiting room waits for us, and its brightness is upsetting my eyes. The patients are old and young, and they seem to have been waiting for a long time now. It is as if I could see the dust collecting on their clothes and the cobweb under their chairs. The room is cold, and I might have to go back out to the car to get my sweater. I took my dad to this waiting room as I have many times before. The doctor is running late. What was supposed to be a forty-minute doctor's visit has now turned into a two-hour wait. I want to suggest that we leave. So that we get something to eat instead, but each of these appointments are important and they take too long to be rescheduled. This is an urgent appointment or at least that is what my mom says about all his doctor's visits. I know he is dying. I tried to ignore it. The grandmas sitting beside me are planning what to do after their visit, “Let’s try that Mexican place down in Arlington” says one of the old ladies. Their conversation is loud enough to hear from the hallway. I am not sure if it is their hearing that is bad or if they hope someone will join their conversation. Although they sound welcoming, I could not bring myself to join in. But now my attention is placed on the music coming from a kid's tablet. His mom does not seem to care that her son is being annoying but then again, she looks tired, and he looks bored, so I try not to care. It looks like they need a break from each other.

  Finally, we are called in: “SEÑOR DURAN” calls out the nurse. For some reason, my dad has started going by his mother's maiden name instead of his dad’s. I am guessing it is a way to keep her memory alive. So, we begin to trail behind the nurse. She is in a hurry and looks a bit tired, as if she woke up late and left without getting ready. She leads us down the long hallway where the floors are scuffed and worn down by past visitors. Eventually we turn a corner, and we are met by the scale and monitors. The nurse has an intimidating energy. The dark circles under her eyes show she is burnt out, yet she still looks pretty. She tells us that she needs to record his weight and asks him to roll into the scale. The bright red analog on the scale displays 60 kilos, well 75 if you count his chair. Do you drink alcohol or smoke? the nurse asks. My dad begins to give an anecdote of his life “ever since I came to work here to the United States, I have never done anything like that it doesn’t…" The nurse interjects and asks so that is a no? I admire her directness. I know she is not a people pleaser and this kind of inspires me to be a bit like her. “Any new medication that you're taking?” asks the nurse. “He takes the same medicine, but is running low on his pain killers,” I tell the nurse. “Okay, Doctor Cortez will come in soon; he would have to approve the request for a refill. I have also scheduled a nurse visit to check your blood pressure this week,” says the nurse. My dad has not looked at me all morning but now it looks like he is hiding his face. I know he is trying to conceal his grief and embarrassment. Although his gaze is empty and composed, I know that he will cry soon. The sight of him breaking down has stopped disturbing me. I have already mourned him, so it does not bother me when he cries. The walls are paper thin as I can hear the conversations around me in a faint tone. I think I am just trying to avoid today's visit by focusing on other people. I begin to look through my purse, trying to find some type of upper or downer, anything really. It would have been easy to have them on hand since my dad uses them for pain management, but I am not to be trusted with them anymore. The only thing I find in my purse that belongs to him is his wallet. His wallet contains the last of his relics. His old wallet, not even real leather, had been worn down. An old driver's license that is only used for identification, a picture of my sister and I as kids, and a lucky two-dollar bill neatly folded. He gives the wallet to me on days like this so I can check him in and secure his belongings. I am unable to take any more of his pills, so instead I spend his money. It is not like he will be taking it with him when he goes so, I try to rationalize stealing by saying I deserve it. I deserve it for all the pain I endure when caring for him. Our deep conversations have retreated to small exchanges. “Good morning, how are you feeling today?” I ask every morning. “Not so bad but not so good either. I can’t complain," he responds as always. I remember how, before he was sick, before the decline of his kidneys, we used to be happy people. I remain composed yet frozen reminiscing about his humor. It has now turned into cynicism as he continues to decay. “Thank you doctor," I hear someone from the room next to me say. The doctor knocks on our door and says “good morning” to both of us. “Is that normal?” my dad asks. “I feel like my foot is still attached to me and the pain feels just as real," he tells the doctor. His right foot is gone, and his left leg is no longer there either. The amputation gave him another chance to live. I know he wishes for death, but she is ignoring him. Ever since he lost his limbs, he has been bound to a wheelchair and from that point he has given up. Seeing your parents admit defeat and abandon hope, you begin to feel it too.

 

I’ll be honest, I have been destroying myself ever since his last hospital visit. He stayed there for a month and a half, and it seemed never ending. My mom and I had become familiar with his nurses, aids, therapists, doctors. We had the hospital's entire support; we even had a priest come in and say a prayer for us and my dad. It worked since we were able to leave a week later but since then my own deterioration began. I started with one or two pills a day. Just enough to cope. Morphine was given to him for the phantom pain. Since then, my tolerance has increased, and I can manage with four. I am searching for something that removes me from the present and delivers me to a different time and so far, these have helped but in high doses. He is running out though and this doctor's visit should supply him with just enough for the month. I am hoping he does not begin to question why his medicine has been disappearing but deep down I know he is aware that I have been the one taking them.

It turns out that this visit is different. He is ready to die and has decided to begin the process. The doctor seems surprised to hear this from my dad and tries to tell him that he is looking healthy, but my dad knows that it is not true. His kidneys no longer function and so far, he has lost faith in finding a donor but most of all I know he is tired. He is tired and is seeking a better ending. It could be that he is trying to claim his autonomy once again by deciding to end his life.

I don’t find relief in his choosing to die. But I also don’t find comfort knowing I would have to be the one who takes care of him if he were to live. This startles me and I find myself sobering up.

The doctor asks him if he is considering at-home hospice care or at a local facility. My dad does not answer the doctor and instead begins to cry. My role as his child has been dissolved. He ceased being a parent when he admitted defeat and now, I must be the one to claim that role. I listened to the doctor explain all the care he would receive in at-home care. He would be waited on by a team of nurses, aids, social workers, spiritual healers and whatever else he needed. It sounded fancy and unfair to the people who were still living. My voice is broken. I cannot find the words to give to my dad and I find myself forgetting to breathe. I really wish someone were here to help me but so far, the most help I have gotten was from my sister, but she lives in another state, and she deals with the insurance and the other things I don’t know about. I tried to call my mom in hopes that she would leave work. The only help she offers is with reminding me of the dates. I am alone in this and despite being in my early thirties I find myself needing them as if I were a child. I am unable to continue so the doctor suggests we take some time to discuss this with family members and gives me brochures to take home.

This folded piece of paper will provide me with the answers I need like where to find my next fix and what to do when grief is unbearable. As we exit, I see that most of the visitors have left. The mother and son are in each other's arms; I think he might have gotten vaccines from the way he is crying and holding his mom. The grandmas have left and are on their way to eat Mexican food. My dad and I finally leave the pastel room and return to our lives.

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