Three days of silent Hell. I found no comfort in the steady beeping of the machines surrounding Dad. They signaled he was alive but just barely. His heart beat was slow–too slow, they said. The nurses came and went reassuring me if anyone could pull him out of this, it was me. They all knew who I was and guilt rolled in my stomach as I realized I barely knew one of their names. For months they had been keeping him alive, and I barely knew their names to thank them.
In that moment I was too much of a zombie to try to memorize each of them. I hadn’t left the hospital in three days, and I barely left his side. I watched him now, pale with lines running into his arms and monitors hooked up to him in too many places. He was supposed to start physical therapy, but the chemo treatment he’d had that day had knocked him on his ass. The fatigue was so much he hadn’t woken up at all. His eyes fluttered across his cheeks, and I leaned forward, squeezing his hand. Words failed to come out of my mouth.
“Ellie? Is that you?” he murmured, and I put my head on his chest. His hand raised and slowly patted my back. “Woohee, that last round was tiring.”
I nodded my head into his chest as the tears rushed down my cheek onto his white gown.
“Ellie, look at me,” Dad ordered and I followed. His shaking hands cupped my face. “You look like a ghost, honey–so pale and drained.”
I closed my eyes, my chest rising with a pained laugh. “You should talk, Daddy.”
He moved my bangs away from my forehead, pressing his lips against them before I sat back in my chair.
“How many days?” he asked.
I held up my fingers, still struggling to speak.
“Is that how long it’s been since you’ve been home?”
He wrinkled his nose. “I could tell. You should go home and sleep in your own bed…and shower.”
I rolled my eyes. “I do not smell.”
His eyes widened at me. “That’s what woke me up.”
I laughed, shaking my head in my hands. “You’re insane,” I said, my nose and eyes tingling.
“Paul,” the nurse said, coming in the room. “You’re up!”
Dad nodded. “Just trying to get my daughter to go home and relax.”
“I’m not leaving until the doctor comes in and says you’ll be okay.”
Dad locked eyes with the nurse, and she smiled. It was the same nurse who had come in when Dad was making perverted jokes last week. She nodded over her shoulder, saying, “I’ll go see if he’s available.”
“I’m going to the bathroom,” I explained. “But I’m coming right back.”
“Brush your teeth while you’re in there,” Dad joked, and I looked at the ceiling before walking out of the room.
When I returned the doctor was already in the room.
“Ah! Ellie, your father is doing quite well right now,” he said, closing the chart and putting at the end of the bed. “His heart rate is much stronger, and his other vitals are showing recovery.” He looked up at me and frowned, stepping forward. “I’d like to speak to you privately, though. Step outside the room with me?”
I tried to inhale, but the air caught in my throat as I nodded. I stepped outside, putting my cold hand to my forehead to keep myself from fainting.
Here comes the day count.
Dr. Williams placed his hands in his pockets, pursing his lips before he spoke, “Listen, Ellie, your father has expressed some concerns, and I can see he may be correct about feeling the way he does.”
I opened my mouth, but no words came out. I could hear my heart pounding as I stared at Dr. Williams’ brown eyes, framed by serious gray eyebrows.
“I’m not sure I understand where you’re going with this,” I finally managed to say.
“You look as if you’re having some difficulties yourself. Your weight is a bit low for someone your size. The nurses told me you haven’t eaten since you’ve been here. This sort of situation is extremely stressful, and being anxious or depressed is completely natural. We can help you with that,” he said, taking a pad out of his pocket and clicking his pen. “This is a prescription for a moderate anti-depressant. It should help with some of those things. I also think counseling would be a good idea.”
I put my hand up, blocking the paper. “No, no, I’ll be fine. We’ve been dealing with this for years.”
Dr. Williams sucked in his lower lip before continuing, “We all deal with these things differently, but your father is right in saying that if you continue like this…he won’t be the only one in the hospital. You’re weak, Ellie. It will do your father no good if you’re sick as well. You need to take care of yourself for him.”
I nodded my head, pursing my lips as I controlled the tears threatening to pour from my eyes yet again. Stop, being selfish, was what I was hearing. I took the prescription he pushed into my hand.
“Your father will be fine. You should go home–sleep, take a relaxing bath–but most importantly eat. Do something that makes you happy, takes your mind off of this. Your happiness is the best medicine for your father–for any father, a daughter’s happiness is the greatest cure.”
I looked down at the scribbles that said Zoloft. “Thank you, Dr. Williams.”
I watched him walk away, my eyes following him over my shoulder. I tucked the prescription in my back pocket and went back to Dad. He was looking down at his hands, a guilty expression tugging at the edge of his lips as his concerned eyes met mine.
“So,” I said, sitting on the edge of his bed. “You’re tattling on me now.”
He grimaced, his eyes darting away from me. “I know you get so wrapped up in worrying about me that you forget yourself, but you can’t, Ellie.” He put his hand over mine.
“Yeah, I know,” I whispered.
“Go home, El.”
I leaned forward and kissed him. “Love you.”
“Love you more, princess,” he replied.
I stood, turning at the door and he smiled. “Call him.”