Tuesday, March 20, 2007

My Dad's Relationship to Optimism

"Is it compassion, or a morbid fascination with death that compels a medical oncologist to volunteer to predict how long his or her patient will live?" asks The Cheerful Oncologist in his Sept. 22, 2004 blog, "The Oncologist as Soothsayer".

"I personally have found it more helpful to use this occasion as a chance to sow encouragement, and shift the focus of all onto the life of the patient. It is easy to be the bearer of bad news in this world - but an oncologist should always carry the light of hope inside, and shine it on the cancer patient just when his or her world seems darkest."

My dad was moved into hospital care this morning despite having made arrangements to die at home. My sister came to get me on day two of my new job, and we went to my dad's apartment to wait with him and my step mom for the ambulance to arrive. His recent blood work showed very low hemoglobin and very high potassium levels. So off he went to the hospital.

My dad has been the sort of person to never see lemons, but lemonade. Last year when he had his initial diagnosis, his blinders-variety optimism really served him well. He had an excellent year and responded to treatment with flying colors.

The beginning of this year took some of the shine off of his personal view of the world. Getting the word that The End is Nigh can do that. Even to him. So today when Dad found himself being taken to the hospital, I could tell he felt his optimism had gone Elvis and left the building.

"Take a look at your relationship to optimism," says Helaine Iris in her Nov. 1, 2006 blog "A Downside to Optimism". "Ask yourself if you use optimism as a skim coat for denial, perhaps bordering on delusion. If so, find the perfect balance between staying positive yet not being afraid to look squarely at reality. In my experience I know that reality is always deal-able, it clearly may not be my preference in the moment, but life always turns out ok in the end - somehow."

By the time Dad got settled into his shared room and spoke with several doctors, his familiar fighting spirit was back. After all, would they bother bringing him in when beds are at a premium? His surgeon from last year popped in to see him and said Dad would get a "turbo tune-up." I think Dad's delusional optimism is contagious, even to the surgeon who had to back out of removing Dad's kidney last year because the snake-like tumor was wrapped around a main artery.

In the grand scheme of things, I like Dad's lemonade world. I'm going to pour me a tall glass, sit on the porch and sit awhile.


annette said...

Some people spend their final days steeped in bitterness and regret, which makes things even sadder.

I truly admire your dad's spirit and outlook. He is a remarkable man. With a remarkable daughter.

Kelly said...

I like your dad's brand of optimism too. I think positive thinking is half the battle, and even if you don't win the battle it probably makes the fight much more bearable because you spent the time happier than if you mired yourself down with negativity.

Annie Mac said...

Your Dad sounds like a wonderful person to be around. I wish you and your family all the best.

julia said...

Thank you for your thoughts, everyone. They wash over me like a hug just when I need one.