The phone rang as I was driving home Monday evening. It was my brother. The kids and I had just decided where we were going for dinner, and they were chattering the backseat, as always. I shushed them and turned the radio off and answered the phone.
have you talked to mom? dad…dehydrated…turned yellow…unresponsive…wake forest…that’s all i know…call me if you hear something else…
I took the girls to dinner and of course I couldn’t eat. I called my husband. I texted Jeff. I debated calling my mom. I made the kids eat faster. I cried when the lady refilled their drinks. We went home, a blur, disbelief.
not again. not something else. liver failure?
I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this.
I called my mom’s friend, the one who is always information central.
the ambulance driver said he perked up when they gave him fluids. they think it might be gall bladder, hepatitis, internal bleeding. your mom thought he had died in the ambulance. she’s exhausted, you know. she’s worn out.
I called my mom’s friend’s son, the one who interrogated the ambulance driver.
they said he was joking after he got fluids but I don’t know how that could be true, based on what dad said he saw when he got back there to see him – he wasn’t alert. he wasn’t talking. i didn’t go back there. i couldn’t see him like that.
More debate. Should I go?
i don’t want to do this. i don’t want to do this.
I called my mom.
dehydrated, yellow, unresponsive. very sick. i just don’t know. don’t come tonight. we’ll see where we are in the morning.
I got some dinner. I tried to eat it. Mom called back at some point.
daddy’s in icu. crticial condition. touch and go. german doctor. prepare yourself. we just don’t know.
we just don’t know.
She dealt with things I can’t even imagine. She bears the brunt of his outbursts, of his dementia, of his fear and his not knowing and his immobility. I don’t know how she does it. I can’t do it.
I called my brother. Do I go?
i would go if i was there. if there’s any way you can go…
praying…for what? end of suffering, if this is the end, just let it be fast. he’s suffered so much. let him not suffer in this, in death.
i never thought i would say that. i never thought i would wish for an end to this fight, i never thought that at this stage in my life i would be saying these things.
but there is a sort of peace in saying it, in letting go of it.
and i have to go, and i have to be strong, and i have to have peace to be strong.
so we will pray for peace and acceptance and the end of suffering.
I threw some clothes in a suitcase. I got my medicine, my makeup. I pointedly did not pack a black dress. I may have accepted it, but that doesn’t mean I had to be totally prepared for it.
I drove. It was a blur again. I have no idea how I got there. How long it took. What I thought about.
I listened to NPR. They were talking about bin Laden’s death.
my daddy can’t die. not this close to that fucking terrorist.
the news. it sounds better in british.
that would be a great tweet, must remember for later.
when i care about twitter again.
I got to the hospital and parked. I grabbed my backpack and walked to the emergency room. I never told my mom I was coming, so I didn’t know where they were. I asked the lady at the desk, prepared to show my id, prepared to fight for information, in case she didn’t believe I was his child. She didn’t care. It was 2:30 in the morning, and she was just glad I wasn’t bleeding from anywhere.
go up the stairs. turn left. follow the signs. fourth floor.
I buzzed the ICU intercom. The door unlocked and I walked in. The nurse at the desk pointed to his room.
He was awake. Staring at the ceiling. My mom was in the chair, wrapped in two blankets. Asleep.
I walked to the bed and held his hand.
His grip was strong, stronger than I expected.
I breathed, maybe for the first time since the phone rang at 5:30. My mom saw me, and burst into tears.
We hugged, and she wanted to know what I had done with the kids, how I could miss work, what I was doing there.
how could i not be here?
Nurses came in and brought blood and plasma. Double and triple checked it. Hooked it up. I watched it drip into his IV, moving him closer to life, further from death.
i know one of these times he isn’t going to get better. i know death waits for all of us. i know i’m not the only person in the world watching this very drama unfold right in front of them. i’m not the only person to lose a father. everyone loses their father sooner or later. just not tonight. just not my father.
i don’t want to do this.
The nurses finished and left quietly.
Mom and I walked over to him.
do you know who this is?
that’s my shannon.
My Shannon. And I always have been. Since he was adopted, he always said I was the first person he ever knew who belonged to him.
He went back to staring at the ceiling, fixated on something there. I had seen that before, that staring. It scared me, as much as him talking to his own long-dead father, as much as him not knowing who half of his grandchildren were.
The death stare.
was he seeing a benevolent white light, where i saw only a ceiling tile? was he seeing his dad, his mom, our beloved yellow lab, choirs of angels? did that look better than this? how could it not – his faith told him in heaven there was no pain and no more suffering. i didn’t blame him for staring at the light. i wouldn’t have blamed him for disappearing into it.
It’s one thing to know in the abstract that your parents will die one day. It’s entirely another thing to stare it in the face, to accept it but not want it, to be at peace with it and fight it at the same time.
Nurses came back in, went back out. I read in the glow of the light from the office beside his room. I tried to sleep, and failed. I watched his vitals. Everything was steady. He was still staring.
I texted. I facebooked. I emailed my boss. I repeated the facts over and over and they became true to me. It started to sink again, the truth of everything around me.
Machines beeped. The helicopter pilots came in and left again. The Department of Corrections guards changed shifts, handing off the guarding of a prisoner. Nurses put on masks to go in certain rooms, and sanitized their hands coming and going from every room.
let’s go home and get some sleep for a few hours.
I had been up for more than 24 hours. I had worked, dealt with kids, driven 100 miles, cried so much my eyes were swollen and painful. I had prayed, I had been granted a reprieve.
he was alive when i got here. i told him i loved him. mom wasn’t going to have to get the news of his death from the doctor by herself. someone, me, was here to deal with it, to hold her up and deal with whatever needed dealing with. i could sleep now.
We somehow made it back to my mom’s house. Another blur. A couple of hours of sleep, a hot shower.
Phone calls, emotions, rollercoaster ride.
i’m not even crying. is something wrong with me? am i at peace, or am i numb, or am i some unfeeling bitch?
is there any difference among those things? the end result is the same..impatience to just go and see how he is and deal with what needs dealing with.
We got there and he was sitting up.
He was pink instead of yellow.
He wasn’t in pain. He was talking. He wanted his glasses, some water, someone to scratch his nose, TV on.
stable but critical. not out of the woods but definitely better.
seven units of blood. seven units of plasma. not done yet.
It was a miracle that he lived. My mom saved his life, the doctors and nurses kept it going. Blood donors, plasma donors, prayers, love made it stronger.
Today he was better.
Tomorrow he might leave ICU.
prayers answered. not his time. not this time. i can dry my tears, go back to my real life, the life of work and kids and homework and bills and what’s for dinner and can i have some ice cream and where did you leave that paperwork and does everyone have clean clothes for tomorrow? the world i am enormously gateful to have. the world my dad encouraged and supported me in creating, the one he expected me to dwell fully in.
Someday I will get over the trauma of this. I know when his time does come, memories of this week will surface. The image of him staring will haunt me. But for now, we’re in a different place. We’re cautiously optimistic. We’re guarded, but relieved. We’re hoping for healing, still praying for the end of suffering. But for now, we hope that has a different meaning.
we almost lost him.
but not quite.