by 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 I 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 of it. 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. “What are you going to do?” I said.

“I’m going to stop going to dialysis,” he said. “It’s the perfect way to go. It’s legal. It’s painless, from what I’ve read. Come on up to Schenectady and say goodbye to me.”

So I drove up to Schenectady on 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 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 finally from the dialysis. He was even free from the guilt that some of his friends and family had tried to lay on him when he told them in his lively way that he was choosing to die. ‘Selfish’ they called it. But the guilt got filtered out like the excess water and toxins that 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, then coughing fitfully for a breathless minute, then smiling at me boyishly through the tear.