You know how, when you're little and your stomach hurts or your throat itches or your head aches, your mom or dad will say, "Oh I wish I could have that instead of you"?
I never really understood that until A. My son was born and B. I saw my dad grimmacing in pain.
Dad has had way more than his share of ailments lately. A bad knee, congestive heart failure, a broken back. He has spent many more nights in hospitals and a rehab facility than he has his own home, in his own bed. Not a person previously known for his patience, Dad doesn't complain. Instead, he makes certain he knows the name of each medical professional (and there are a lot) who enters his room, and he thanks them when they leave.
When one of us pops our head into his room, his face lights up. He thanks us when we remember to bring him the newspaper. He appreciates every Schlotzsky's sandwich we bring him, every Starbucks drink, every milkshake -- even though he can hardly muster up an appetite for a bite, or for more than a tiny sip or two.
So when I went into the hospital room yesterday and his eyes hardly showed a glimmer, I knew he felt awful. When I called him last night from the car, he said as much: "Honey, I feel terrible." I had to hold my breath and keep quiet for a second so he wouldn't hear the sob that almost slipped out of my throat.
"Oh, Daddy," I said. "I wish I could have that pain instead of you, even just for a little while to give you a break."
"Aw, honey," he said. "It's going to be fine. The doctor said I'm healing; it's just going to hurt for awhile. I'm going to watch the World Series now, and besides, it's almost time for my pain pill."
I told him I had a morning interview, and that I'd stop by afterward. He said he was looking forward to something from Starbucks.
I got to the hospital around 9 today, just as my sisters and mom were arriving. I brought him oatmeal and a pumpkin latte. He had a few sips and ate more than half the oatmeal, something he hasn't felt like doing in weeks.
When the nurse came in, he turned around her name tag so he could read who she was. After the two orderlies straightened him up in bed, he asked them theirs, and thanked them too.
I told him I needed to leave, and bent down to kiss the top of his head.
"Love you," he said, as he always does when he says goodbye.
"Love you too, Daddy," I said. I walked out the front door and into the October sunshine, happy for its warmth and beauty, but still fairy-tale wishing he could be there -- even for five minutes -- instead of me.