Paul Hostovsky

Bill sure hated to work.
He didn’t hate his job, he just hated
to work. And then he got sick
and being sick became his job.

“Going to dialysis three days a week
sure beats going to work,” he said.
“Are you serious?” I said. “You’d rather
be sick with renal disease than go to work?”
“I have every other day off,” he said.
“I get disability and social security. It’s a great
country. I don’t do a stitch of work, I just
sit in the dialysis chair all day
and get a lot of reading done. I get to flirt with the nurses.
It’s a good life.”

But after eight and a half years of it,
Bill had had enough. His vision was going
and his knees were going and his feet
were almost gone. And he didn’t want
to end up blind and in a wheelchair, he said.

“So what are you going to do?” I said.
“I’m going to stop going to dialysis,” he said. “It’s the perfect
suicide. It’s legal. It’s painless. Come on up to Schenectady
and say goodbye to me.”

So I drove up to Schenectady
the day after his last day of dialysis. And I spent the long
weekend with him. Three days of gallows humor
and morphine which he got from the hospice people
just in case he needed it. He didn’t need it
but he wanted to try it.

And he wanted to start smoking cigarettes again because
what the hell, he’d be dead soon anyway.
He was free to do what he wanted to do,
free to eat what he wanted to eat, and free
from the dialysis finally. He was even free from the guilt
that some of his friends and family tried to lay on him,
‘selfish’ they called it. But the guilt got filtered out
like the excess water and toxins the dialysis
had removed when his kidneys stopped doing the job.

And now that his job was dying, “It sure beats going
to work,” he said, taking a long drag on his cigarette,
coughing fitfully for a breathless minute,
then smiling at me boyishly through the tears.