Monday, October 13, 2008
Like a Child
Dad had his second open-heart surgery yesterday. For those keeping track at home, his first was in the mid-80s.
We went to church Sunday morning and as the senior minister was out on vacation, Dad was scheduled to preach. It wasn't one of his better or more memorable sermons - it was new, anyway - but I really enjoyed hearing him preach. I always enjoy it, but since I don't live nearby and since he's no longer the senior minister, hearing him preach is always a treat. It was good to see some folks there that I hadn't seen for a few years. People offered their prayers; one of Dad's parishoners stopped by their house yesterday afternoon specifically to pray with us. As I don't know her, I didn't know what to think of it. Her prayer though was really sweet and comforting. She referred to Dad, in her prayer, as a man with a heart as big as all outdoors; and he is one of the very few people I've ever met for whom I think that description is perfect. She also brought my mom a little scarecrow rag doll she picked up at a crafts store. Ultimately, I really appreciated her visit.
Mom had been tearing and crying a little here and there all Sunday. I had been playing the supportive daughter, there to cheer on Dad and comfort Mom. I was definitely worried, but I wasn't letting myself show it. I had actually convinced myself that I was okay, that I had my worries in check. I suppressed my own emotions so much I almost snowed myself over. Almost. Before I went to sleep Sunday night, it all came out. I cried and cried and let myself be scared and just let it out to God telling him how scared I was and how worried I was. All my doubts and fears. I'm not sure I'd talked that candidly to God in a long, long time. Years maybe. In crying and reaching out, I discovered I suppress a lot of my negative emotions. Or I have been in recent years. It felt genuinely good to weep and genuinely good to just get candid with God.
This was different from his first triple by-pass. I didn't go with him to the hospital on the day of the surgery the first time. I was eight. My brother and I stayed the night with my mom's baby brother and his wife. They were so cool when we were kids, simply because they were young. I remember my uncle gave me an Apple computer t-shirt with the colored apple logo on it. It was sized for an adult male, so it swallowed me up, but I wore as a night shirt. We didn't get to see Dad for a day or two after the surgery. When we finally went to the hospital, my mom warned us to be gentle and not too loud because he was trying to recover. I remember walking into his room and him standing up from the edge of his bed, wearing a green bathrobe, and seeing the stitches on his left shin. That's where the doctor had removed his leg veins, which were transplanted to his heart to replace (or by-pass?) the old clogged arteries. But to my eight-year-old eyes, the stitching was sinister. Had the surgeon made a Frankenstein monster out of my dad? It sure looked like it! He opened his arms wide to receive hugs from us, and I delivered, cautiously, in case he was a Frankenstein monster and tried to kill us suddenly. During the nights he was in the hospital, my brother and I slept with mom in their bed. It felt good to all sleep together when we all felt so sad and scared.
Sunday night, as I hunched on my parents' guest bed, crying and clutching a teddy bear mom had bought as a stage prop for a one-act she directed when she taught high school in West Texas, I realized I felt just as scared and vulnerable as I did when I was eight. Not only that, I wish I had the protections provided me when I was eight. When I was eight, I didn't have to wake at some ungodly hour to go with Dad to the hospital for check in and surgery prep. When I was eight, I didn't have to watch as they wheeled Dad away into surgery. When I was eight, I didn't have to wait for hours in a waiting room, anticipating each visit from the nurse. When I was eight, though I've always feared losing my parents, I think I was maybe less afraid of losing my dad than I am now. ... no, I've always been exactly as afraid of losing him as I am now.
We were very fortunate to be surrounded by friends and family yesterday. Dad's boss, the senior minister at his church, arrived at the hospital around 5:50, when we were arriving and stayed throughout the whole procedure until we got the all-clear, around 1:30 yesterday afternoon. I didn't know him well, but got to know him better; he's a nice guy and I can see why my family likes him. My uncle who lives in the Dallas area was down for a 6-month check up from his oncologist at a nearby hospital. (He's been cancer-free for years now, but still has to get the official thumbs up every 6 months.) He stopped in for a while, between appointments, to sit with us. We made waiting-room friends with a Muslim family who were awaiting news about their brother. One of his sisters - the one who wore a scarf and traditional clothes - had a chain of prayer beads that reminded me of a rosary. Though I cherish the iconoclasm of the strain of protestantism in which I was raised, sometimes I wish we had retained traditions like that from our Catholic forebears. We're 3-D beings, having something tactile to cling to doesn't have to be idolatry. But I digress. Other friends from my parents' church stopped by to check in. A little after 2, about 45 minutes to an hour after surgery, Mom and I were allowed to visit him in the ICU recovery room. Poor guy was so far whacked on anesthesia, he barely opened one eye. Mom held his hand and talked to him for a few minutes and then we both said goodbye.
Mom had to return home around 4 to meet with a repairman about some light fixes to the house. There's still a lot of Ike debris around the city: tarps on roofs, tons of tree branches gathered here and there; signs knocked off. My brother arrived in time for the 5PM visitor period. Before we went in, I warned him that a few hours earlier, Dad looked like a coma patient and he had tubes coming out of him and he was pasty white and cold. He nodded. We're grown ups. We can handle seeing our dad look like that right? HA! Immediately, we both started tearing up. By this time, Dad was more responsive. He couldn't speak with the tube in his mouth, but at least his eyes were open and he could communicate non-verbally. "Blink if you know we're here, Dad," my brother said. He blinked. "Blink twice if you're still going to vote for Obama," I requested. He blinked twice of course. My brother and I did what we always do when we're scared or sad, we cracked wise. I think Dad appreciated it because we could see him sort of turn up the corners of his mouth in an attempted grin. I figured out that he had an itch on his right arm, so my brother scratched it. "There are so many tubes coming out of you, you look like a cow being milked!" my brother told him. Immediately, I SO wanted to say, "Dad! Be careful! Soylent Green! It's made of PEOPLE!" But everyone else in the recovery room was so quiet. We were the only ones really talking aloud. Other family members just hovered over their loved ones. Thankfully, Dad wasn't the worst looking. I actually feel sorry for Dad in that hall. Not just because he's uncomfortable, but because he's having to share space with people who really do look a lot worse off than him, right now.
After our visit yesterday afternoon, my brother broke down in the hall outside ICU recovery. I held him and let him cry on my shoulder and let myself cry on his. Seeing Dad as vulnerable as that exposed all our vulnerabilities. Again, I was grateful that when I was a child, I was protected from that.
Mom visited him this morning. He's still in ICU recovery, but he's sitting up, the tube is out of his mouth, and he's talking. It takes forever for anesthesia to fully wear off, so he'd forgotten that we visited yesterday, but that's fine. The fact that he went from droopy-tongue coma to Diving Bell and the Butterfly messaging within a couple of hours yesterday to sitting up and talking this morning is really, really encouraging to me. Bro will be coming by in about 15 minutes to pick me up to hang out before we visit him at 5. Dad will probably be moved out of recovery and into a room tomorrow. That will be a good thing, as the poor man needs a window, and we won't have as restrictive visiting times. I leave tomorrow morning, so I'll probably say goodbye to him tonight as the 8 o'clock visitation ends. Which sucks. I'd much rather get to say goodbye to him in his own room, or at home, but I'll take what I can get.
I waffled a bit on whether or not to come down for this. They don't "need" me. Technically, there's nothing I can do to help the situation. And, selfishly, I'm scared. But in retrospect, I'm terribly glad I did. A triple by-pass surgery is nothing to be trifled with and a second one, even less so. I think it was heartening for him to see me in his time of need. Maybe I also needed to come down, to expose myself to my own fears and become a little girl again. That wouldn't've happened had I stayed home.