The following is an account of simple domestic events. Draw your own conclusions from what it says.
A few evenings ago, my 74-year-old father came to me asking about private clinics. This is in Ontario, Canada, where health care is usually paid for by the government, but there are clinics that permit you to pay more out of pocket. I told him the little a guy on my sub-poverty-line income knows about private clinics: that the care you receive at them is often better than it is at public ones, but they tend to maximize diagnostic tests and treatment in order to make the most money. My father wanted to know whether the doctors at private clinics are “connected” to the doctors at public ones (as it is his view that “doctors are all connected” and you can’t say anything to one without all of the others finding out about it, which he says has led to bad experiences). I told him that I didn’t know anything about that.
Then he got to the real point. He’s been having knee pain, and wants to have it checked out, but the care from his regular doctors has been unsatisfactory. The mention of knee pain immediately made me take notice. Eleven years ago, my former coworker’s husband went to his doctor complaining of knee pain. The doctor told him it was arthritis. A year later, it turned out to have been lymphatic cancer, which by then was out of control. He died within months. I was concerned about something similar happening to my father, so I advised him to go see some doctor somewhere right away and make sure his knee pain is nothing serious. He said okay and went away.
Some time later the same evening, he came back to me, looking subdued, and asked me whether I thought he should go see a doctor. I had already given him my opinion, but one of my father’s dynamics is to ignore the answers I give and keep asking me the same question until he gets the answer he really wants. This is especially prominent at dinnertime, when he will ask me whether I want a particular kind of food, such as mashed potatoes or pickles, and I’ll say no, so he’ll ask me again whether I want it, and I’ll say no again, so he’ll ask me yet again whether I want it, and I’ll finally say yes just for the conversation to be over; except then he’ll ask me whether I’m sure I really want it, and I’ll have to lie and say yes one more time. It’s something that could be connected with my father’s culture of birth, which I disowned and walked away from a long time ago because of him and my brother (who was born in Canada but is very much his father’s son). In this specific case, I had already told him I thought he should see a doctor right away, but it wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear, so he was going to keep asking the question until I told him what he did want to hear. But there is a difference between food choices and potentially fatal illness, so I saw no choice but to keep telling him to go see a doctor, no matter how much it prolonged the conversation. He must have sensed that, because then he asked me if “all three of us should talk about it together,” which is his and my brother’s euphemism for them consulting each other while I’m not even in the room. I told him yes, and he seemed satisfied with that, because he didn’t mention the matter for a couple of days.
Last night I heard my brother veritably shrieking in the living room and went to see what was going on. They were discussing the knee pain issue, but were having a language barrier. My brother, who has far more mental pathologies than me except they’re not the kind you can diagnose, has a mental block on speaking my father’s language of birth, and my father’s English is terrible. My brother was expressing frustration that he couldn’t make himself understood. I offered to help because I speak both languages fluently, and both of them accepted that (even though it’s a hard and fast rule in this household that I am to be treated as entirely useless and incapable of doing anything). Judging by my brother’s long-winded speeches, which I was supposed to remember and translate, the problem wasn’t really a language barrier. It was my brother’s fear that our father was having a serious health problem, which led my brother to bury his head in the sand and become emotional. He kept carrying on about exercise-related injuries until I was bewildered by the wealth of verbiage he was throwing at me. In the end, just to avoid having my brother intimidate me with his size (since he is much bigger than me), I helped them agree that our father would take a break from their morning power-walks for about a week and see whether the knee pain resolves, and then re-evaluate. I got out of there and went to bed.
A few minutes ago, I went to the kitchen for a coffee and passed them at the apartment door, getting ready to go out for their usual morning power-walk. I said nothing, because my input was not wanted, as it never is. Now, I sit here thinking about standing at my father’s graveside during the burial, my psychotic brother standing beside me, grief-stricken. And then I imagine myself walking away after the burial, just walking into the unknown with whatever little cash I have in my pocket, finally free.