Monday, November 5, 2012

When Life Gets in the Way

No doubt you’ve noticed it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted anything here. It’s not just my blog that I let go but all of my social media. Messages piled up in my email inbox as well while my laptop sat dormant for several weeks all for one reason. Life got in my way.

On October 19, 2012 I got a call that changed my life and not in a good way. It was Friday afternoon and I was in the middle of editing a manuscript during the lunch hour of my day job when my stepmother called. Rather than calling to say hello, she was frantic. My stepmother was out of town and had been unable to reach my father by phone. She sent my eighteen year old stepsister to the house to see what was wrong and my sister was unable to wake my father up. Pushing back my panic, rather unsuccessfully, I assured her I’d take care of everything and call her when I knew what was going on.

After letting everyone in my office know what was happening, everyone who hadn’t left the office for lunch, that is, I called my husband. Needless to say I was a bit put out when his voice mail picked up, though I knew he was in the middle of a coworker’s retirement luncheon. As I hurried out of the building, I left him a rambling message. On my way out to my car, he called back to clarify what was going on and I managed to make a little bit more sense. While sending him to my dad’s house, I went to the Veteran’s Hospital to await the arrival of the ambulance.

I’d just pulled in the VA parking lot when my husband called. My father was awake and speaking but was obviously ill and in need of the hospital. The problem was that he was refusing to go. This isn’t unusual for my dad. Like most men, he’s always denied the gravity of any illness he has. Frustrated, I drove the distance to my dad’s house. By the time I got there and saw my dad, my frustration gave way to full blown anger. My dad looked terrible. His blood sugar and blood pressure may have been fine, but he was twitching violently as though he was having some sort of seizure. I was less than nice when I insisted he go to the hospital. Even the paramedics didn’t want to leave him. It was a phone call from a paramedic supervisor that convinced him to go to the hospital.

So it was back to the VA hospital. I followed in my car while he went by ambulance. The trip was around fifteen minutes for me. Somehow, I managed to arrive before the ambulance, and it was another half-hour before I saw my dad again. By then, he was unconscious and still shaking. The doctors fired questions at me that I couldn’t answer. When did his symptoms start? What other complaints did he have? How long was he like this? What medications was he taking?  As much as I would’ve liked to answer their questions, I fired off one ‘I don’t know’ after the other. I didn’t know. I don’t live with my dad, and the last time we spoke there was no mention of any illness.

Several hours later, my dad was in intensive care and still unconscious, and my stepmother was cutting her church retreat short to come home. After almost ten hours at the hospital, and after the arrival of my stepmother, I headed home. My father still wasn’t awake and test results were still pending to pinpoint his problem.
Saturday October 20, 2012, I went to see my dad. I was pleased to see he was awake. Though he was still weak, he was awake, and he seemed to be himself. We joked with each other the same way we always had. When I left to go to my daughter’s band competition, I was confident he’d be better and be home soon. Sunday night, I learned how wrong I was.

For some reason, my dad took a turn for the worse. He was struggling to breathe and hadn’t slept the night before. As my daughter and I sat with him, he spat out delirious questions like asking us if we had a knife to cut the cake. While we were there, the doctors came to assess him and discuss a course of action. Thinking my stepmother should be a part of the discussion, I took my daughter and went in search of my stepmother who assured me she’d keep me informed. By ten thirty that evening, my father was sedated and intubated.

It seemed my father had pneumonia and had not only been admitted with septic shock but had subsequently contracted Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome. The idea of the intubation was to allow his lungs to recover while he rested. It was only supposed to be a few days. Instead, it was almost two weeks.

Every time they tried to take my dad off the respirator, he became combative and refused to follow their commands. I will never forget the first time the doctors tried what they called a “sedation vacation”. The plan was turn off the heavy sedatives so that he could wake up. Once awake, they’d turn down the respirator to see how well he could breathe on his own. You know what they say about best laid plans right? My father raged against their efforts, and I mean that in a literal sense. He kicked and thrashed and fought tooth and nail. It took five medical personnel to hold him down while they turned on the medication and waited for it to put him under once more. As I watched this, I couldn’t help feeling I’d failed my dad. We’d never expressly talked about it, but I suspected he didn’t want this kind of intervention. I feared his fight was his way of telling me that, but my stepmother insisted he agreed to be intubated. He agreed? He also asked me if I had a knife to cut the cake. I didn’t think much of his agreement, and I told her so.

Day after day, I sat at my dad’s side trying to come to terms with the fact that he was going to die. I was never going to speak to him again. Rather, he was never going to speak to me. There was so much I wanted him to know, and I was afraid he didn’t know any of it. I wanted him to know how much I loved him and appreciated all he’d done for me. I wanted him to know I was glad he’d been my dad. I wanted him to know I was going to be okay, and I’d do my best to always make him proud.

My friends and coworkers asked about me and my dad daily. As I gave the updates, I confessed I didn’t have a good feeling. I should tell you this is my dad’s fault. He raised me to be a pessimist. Expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised if the best happened.

Almost two weeks later, you can color me pleasantly surprised. It was the doctors’ fourth or fifth day of their “sedation vacation”. My father was a bit more responsive but still very combative. Their plan was to put him back under and try again tomorrow. This was always their plan, and I was getting angry. Luckily, my dad had other plans. Despite his wrists being restrained, he managed to use the muscles in his neck to dislodge the tube halfway from his throat. On seeing this, the doctors called in the respiratory therapists. My stepmother and I were asked to leave the room while they worked. By this time, it was nearing lunch time. I told my stepmother I was going to have some lunch and would be back in the afternoon. When I returned a few hours later, my father was no longer intubated or sedated. He was wide awake, and I wept as I hugged him and told him the things I’d longed to say while he was unconscious.

As you can imagine, during this ordeal, there wasn’t time to write. I wanted to write, knowing how it would heal at least me. The problem was I couldn’t bring myself to make the time. Certain my dad was going to die, I didn’t want to miss the last of the time I thought we had. I couldn’t let myself do that and regret it, especially if did pass while I was pounding away on my laptop.

With this ordeal sufficiently behind me, my dad’s been home from the hospital five days now, I’m finally able to write again and let me tell you what. It feels good!

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