I brought the party to my dying father's hospital room
My father and I spent 28 glorious days together in Room 346, and I never saw him more free
"Operation Good Times" won a gold medal at the New York Festivals of Radio in June 2018. Click on the "Listen" link above to hear it.
By Samira Mohyeddin
When my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I moved into his hospital room with him. We lived there together for 28 days.
It all began on the night of my uncle's funeral. My dad collapsed at around 3 am and was holding his abdomen, writhing in pain. We called 911 and when the first responders arrived, I was on the floor holding my father from the back. The ambulance attendants began asking him questions about the pain in his abdomen and as I was instructing him to tell them where the pain was, my dad turned around to me and whispered, "your breath smells."
We all burst out laughing for a split second, and then he went right back to his pain.
That's my dad. No matter the situation, there was always time for tomfoolery and laughter.
After a week of tests, my father, Faraj Mohyeddin, was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.
I began recording our meetings with doctors because I didn't quite understand what they were saying at the time, and I wasn't really listening — I was in a fog, in disbelief as to what was happening.
I would then go home, replay the meeting and look up all the words they were using to talk about my father's illness. All of the research I found on pancreatic cancer said that my father had four to six months to live. I would read these statistics incessantly night after night, but how little time we had wasn't sinking in.
I kicked into a 'fix it' mode unlike any 'fix it' mode I had ever found myself in before.
Next, my father underwent four rounds of chemotherapy treatment, but further scans showed the tumour on his pancreas was actually getting bigger. The treatments were not working. When he fell ill with pneumonia on top of it, he was admitted into the hospital permanently.
That's when I kicked into a "fix it" mode unlike any "fix it" mode I had ever found myself in before.
I quit my job and moved into the hospital with my father. I didn't know how long it would be, I just knew I didn't want him to be alone. Ever.
I also decided that Room 346 would be different from the other rooms on the third floor; the palliative care floor. Room 346 would be full of all the things my dad loved to do, mainly singing and dancing.
And I kept recording.
By this time, my dad was in a lot of pain — and on a lot of morphine — but somehow, we sang and danced our way through it.
We played games. We watched football, which my dad loved, in Persian. We danced to Donna Summer and Bob Marley. We sang old Iranian folk songs my father had known since childhood.
I stayed awake and listened to the sounds of my father's breathing. At times he sounded like a flock of seagulls.
Our room became the talk of the ward, and pretty soon other patients, and some of the nurses, were hanging out with us as well.
After a week, we really got into the rhythm of hospital life. Our days were filled with a steady stream of visitors, but the nights began to get harder and harder. I wasn't sleeping most nights. I stayed awake and listened to the sounds of my father's breathing. At times he sounded like a flock of seagulls. I was captivated by the sounds he made.
As the pneumonia progressed, I could see him fading away. He was down to 112 pounds and very frail, but still dancing and singing.
On day 25 in the hospital he told me, for the first time, that he wasn't feeling well.
He never spoke about how he was feeling. Ever. I never knew what was going through his mind. We would just go through the days together, being present in the moment.
I called my mom because I could tell something was wrong. This wasn't going to be like other days.
On day 28, we woke up just like any other day and had breakfast together. Donald Trump was still campaigning and the Fort McMurray fires were raging. My dad kept asking how far away Alberta is. The nurse came in and my dad asked her for more morphine.
He then began to sweat profusely. I changed his T-shirt twice because he was soaking through them. He asked me to take him to the washroom. While he was in the washroom, I called my mom because I could tell something was wrong. This wasn't going to be like other days.
After the washroom, he asked me for some vanilla pudding, and so I sat at the edge of the bed and fed him pudding. When my mom arrived, he told her he wanted to play cards. All of this happened in a matter of 15 minutes. He was all over the place — restless and wanting to do everything at once.
I sat with him and held him in my arms, trying to calm him down. He then closed his eyes, lifted his shoulders and took a forced breath in... and he was gone.
My father was DNR. Do not resuscitate. So there were no bells and whistles. No code blues. No attempts at reviving him. He was just gone. Just like that. My mom and I laid him down and sat down at the edge of the bed.
My father and I spent 28 glorious days together in Room 346. I never saw him more free and true to form, and I never felt more useful in my life than when I was taking care of him.
I doubt I ever will.
At his funeral I read this poem by Rumi.
Dance, when you're broken open.
Dance, if you've torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance when you're perfectly free.
Listen to the documentary "Operation Good Times" by clicking the Listen link at the top of the page, or download and subscribe to our podcast.
Listen to PODCAST EXCLUSIVE: Behind the scenes of "Operation Good Times" from The Doc Project from CBC Radio in Podcasts. Learn how to download our podcast here.
This documentary was made through the Doc Project Mentorship Program.
About the producer:
Samira Mohyeddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster. Samira ran off to Manhattan right after high school to study at a theatre conservatory program at AMDA. It was there that she realized how much she loved to tell stories. She then decided to come back to Toronto to study the greatest stories ever told and obtained a Bachelor of Arts in religion and then moved on to more story telling by completing a Master of Arts in gender studies and modern Middle Eastern history from the University of Toronto. Naturally, she then decided to open a restaurant with her siblings on Toronto's Queen Street West. After a decade at the restaurant, she went back to school, this time for journalism, and completed the advanced post graduate journalism program at Centennial College's Story Arts Centre. Samira is now happily making radio as an associate producer at CBC Radio One's The Current. She has also made radio for q and The World This Hour. You can find some of her writing at the Toronto Star, National Post, VICE, and Torontoist.
This is Samira's first radio doc (be gentle).
This documentary was co-produced by Julia Pagel and edited by Alison Cook.