Chain of Command: The Rest of the Story

Nick Walters gave Pedro a bendable 'dog' for his birthday shortly before this story took place.

Nick Walters gave Pedro a bendable ‘dog’ for his birthday shortly before this story took place.

A Life of Death Decision

After an agonizing night, an interminable trip, and an expensive taxi ride, I had arrived in Pedro’s hospital room by three o’clock, just as I’d promised. He didn’t have a private room, but fortunately no one occupied the other bed. After all, we had some serious talking to do.

“I don’t want to be a vegetable.” Each word took effort—formed by lips partially paralyzed by lymphoma cells. Pedro’s emotion radiated from his frozen face.

“Tell me again what the doctors said,” I asked. Already knowing the options but unable to believe them.

“More radiation. Like Alzheimer’s. No radiation, die.” His words as stark as the hospital room.

“Can they give you just a little more radiation, and a lot more chemo?”

“Don’t think it will work.”

“When will someone come by on rounds?” I asked, eager to hear first hand and unwilling to accept that Pedro had heard correctly.

“Home. I want to go home.”

“What!” I exclaimed. “You know they can’t do anything for you at the hospital in Bozeman!”

“Just wanna be home. Don’t care.”

“You mean you want to go home to DIE?”

He nodded.

“Do you think that’s fair?” The words popped out of my mouth unbidden and unasked for. Had I really said that? Pedro looked miserable; he couldn’t stand or sit up because of the dizziness. The doctors had subjected him to every regimen of chemo and as much radiation as his weakened body could handle. Who was I to deny him a little comfort?

I had relinquished Pedro to God that very morning, and here I stood spouting off my desires and worried about fairness to our daughters. Where had those words come from?

Chain of Command

We locked eyes and started to cry. I think I blubbered something about needing him and Laura and Sarah needing him, and people in the community needing him. I honestly don’t remember much. The room lacked oxygen and I found it difficult to breathe.

My sobs started to get a little noisy when the door swung open and Dr. Nick Walters bounced into the room. He looked startled.

“You guys o.k.?” he asked.

“We’re just trying to make some tough decisions about Pedro’s options,” I answered while heading to the bathroom to find some toilet paper.

“Options?” Nick looked bewildered.

“You know, about whether to have more radiation or not.”

“No one told you?”

“What?” Hope stole softly into the room. Nick looked too happy for the news to be bad.

“Pedro has too much Dilantin in his system—that’s what’s making him dizzy.”

“No more radiation?” Pedro asked.

“Nope. Evidently there’s still some issues with the cancer, but we’ll tackle that with salvage chemo.”

Nick could make salvage chemo sound like a day at the beach. After a few more cheery words of encouragement, he left to check on the other patients.

Pedro and I looked at each other in relief and disbelief. No Alzheimer’s. No radiation. Definitely no going home to die.

It’s only now, years later, that I realize that the Eleven Long doctors do their primary rounds (group meetings with all of the interns, fellows and attending physicians where they discuss each patient case and decide on treatment options) at about nine in the morning—the same time I received a spelling lesson on the way to Seattle that very morning.