Saturday, April 14, 2007

This Gonna Hurt Like Hell


When the phone rang at 11:27 Wednesday night and my bother-in-law's name appeared on the caller I.D. screen we knew it couldn't be good. I let Jon answer it, and when his eyes began to tear-up and his end of the conversation was only "Uh huh. Okay. Are you all right? Do they know anything?" I knew something was wrong with one of my parents and more than likely my dad. He's the only one who could make Jon cry that quickly.

When he hung up the phone I immediately asked, "Are my parents okay?"

"That was your mom. Your dad is in the hospital. He was having trouble breathing and was rushed to City Hospital in an ambulance. They don't know what's wrong, but she said she will give us a call as soon as they do. Your sister and her husband are there with her."

"I knew something like this was going to happen. I've been feeling it for a couple of months now. My dad doesn't care about taking care of himself."


My dad suffered a severe heart attack when he was only 44-years-old. I don't remember much; only him lying on the couch, looking as though he was in a lot of pain, and telling one of my brothers to call mom at work. They handed the phone to him after they got her and he told my mom to come home because he had to go to the hospital. I didn't know what was going on, but it obviously wasn't good. My little sister and I were shipped off to the babysitters for the night where I vaguely remember sleeping on the couch, waking up in the middle of the night, and pulling the rotary phone up next to me. I tried calling home but no one answered, and so I went back to sleep with the phone next to my head just in case my mom called.

My dad was lucky 17 years ago and survived a heart attack. He was diagnosed with diabetes and many changes were implemented into our lifestyle. We started drinking skim milk, which was quite gross at first but eventually grew on us, we had to use artificial sweeteners, and very, very lean meats. The two things we couldn't get my dad to give up, unfortunately, were cigarettes and Reese's cups. Still, the candy was, for the most part, an easy fix because you either just didn't buy it, or if you did, you kept it hidden from him. The smoking, on the other hand, was something only he could fix and it was obvious that he didn't want to fix it.

And so the reason I say the man doesn't care about taking care of himself is because for the last 17 years he has smoked like a chimney, and for the last 17 Easters he has quietly raided all of our baskets for those darn Reese's Easter Eggs that send his blood sugar through the roof.


My mom finally called back around 6:00 on Thursday morning. She said that my dad was being kept in the Critical Care Unit but that he was stable. He has suffered from congestive heart failure and pneumonia, which is why he was having trouble breathing. He was not breathing on his own so they had him hooked-up to a ventilator and had to keep him sedated because he was fighting against the tube that ran through his mouth and into his lungs. She said that he had suffered from a second heart attack but the doctors could not tell if it was 2 hours ago, 2 days ago, or even 2 weeks ago.

I took the day off from work and spent it at the hospital. My dad looked pale, uncomfortable, and very frail in the hospital bed. He was under for the most part, but occasionally he would open one eye and cough, struggling against restraints that had his arms tied to the bed as his reflexes wanted to pull out the massive tube that was running down his throat. I felt useless, but unable to be anywhere else.

The hospital has been very understanding of our large family. Even though signs are posted at every door about the limit of 2 visitors at a time they did not protest when we had all 6 of us kids, 2 spouses, my mom, and my aunt and uncle in the room at the same time. We tried our best to keep quiet, to not disturb my dad or any of the other patients in the unit. We were all worried, but we were all functioning, which I took as a good sign.

Very late into the evening the doctors began reducing his intake of drugs that were keeping him under. They said they needed him awake, and breathing on his own, in order to remove the breathing tube which was prohibiting them from running further tests on his heart. They still needed to find where the blockage was and determine what type of surgeries would be needed. And by the time that I left Thursday night around 8:30, he had come around enough to grunt that he was hungry and wanted some water. And though his communication skills were poor with an obstruction in his mouth he managed to ask, "What is wrong with me?" My mom and older sister did the explaining.


I went into work, even though it obviously wasn't a very productive day. I spent most of it explaining to my co-workers what was going on, how he was doing, and what the next plan of action would be. I kept it light, tried to appear optimistic, mostly for my sake, and gave everything that I had to give. I looked like hell and felt even worse. I'm sure most of them wondered why I had come in, but the feelings of uselessness at the hospital were too much for me to bear.

When I came home I called my mom for an update. She had good news in that he was breathing much better, on his own, and would hopefully be able to remove his ventilator soon. She also had scary news that the doctors, in testing, had found a tumor in his esophagus, which was small but more than likely cancerous, and two more in his stomach for which my dad has to be transferred to Cleveland to have the biopsy done. We are hoping that the lump in his esophagus is only irritation from the breathing tube, and that the two tumors in his stomach are benign. We won't know anything until next week.

By the time I arrived at the hospital last night they had removed his breathing tube and restraints, and he was sitting up in bed watching the news while my brother and sister worked on a crossword puzzle at his bedside.

"Hi Daddy, how are you feeling?" I asked as I took his hand and smiled. "O.K." was all he could manage in a very raspy, gurgley voice. "Well, you look much better," I said and sat down to watch tv with him.


I'm jumpy whenever the phone rings. While he was visibly doing better when I saw him last night I know he's not quite out of the water yet. I feel as though every muscle in my body is cramping up with stress. I have so many things that need to be done at home but I don't care to do them. It is just after 11:00AM, when visiting hours begin, and all I want to do is be there.

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