Sunday, May 11, 2008

An Extra Birthday

One year ago today, I got one of the worst phone calls a person can get.  

Linus and I enjoyed a fun Mother's Day Luncheon, then Army and I headed out with our agent to look at houses.  While we were out, my mother called.  I confirmed that we were planning to go to her city the next day, and then asked her if I could call her back when we were finished.  She realized just how busy we were, and readily agreed.  She planned to go shopping with one of her friends, and then possibly out to dinner.  My father was out of town.

As Army and I were driving home, my cell phone rang.  I fished around for it, and just as I found I found it, voice mail picked up.  I looked at caller id and grumbled when I saw it was my mother.  I though, ugh, she knows how busy I am--I told her I'd call when I could.  Right before the tone went off to let me know I had a message, I though to myself, oh no--what if something is wrong.  I dialed her number, but I got a busy signal. She has call waiting, so I knew that meant she had to be calling somebody else.  I went ahead and listened to my message. It was short and her voice was filled with fear: Lan, I need you

I tried to call back, but now there was no answer.  I thought about calling my dad's cell, but since he was out of town, I knew all I'd do was worry him.  Just as I was in near full panic, Army's cell rang.  It was my mom.  I could only hear his side of the conversation, but I knew instantly it was really bad. Then he handed me his phone.

"Lan, I'm on my way to SmallCity (where my dad was).  They found Dad in a parking lot.  Lan, he wasn't breathing and he didn't have a pulse. They think he had a heart attack. They have him at the hospital now. That's all I know. Can you come?"

"Wait, Mom. What are you saying? Is he dead? A heart attack is impossible. He had an angiogram not long ago, and he had no blockage.  Something is not right.  I just don't understand. Yes, I'll come. Where is he? Is he alive? Who found him? How long had he been down? Mom, IS HE ALIVE?"

"Lan, I've told you all I know.  Can you come?"

"Mom is he alive? What hospital?"

"Lan, I don't know. I think he's alive. They had him breathing when I spoke with the hospital, but he keeps slipping."

"Hang up now! Mom, you've got to call the hospital back and tell them he's on a blood thinner and all his medications."

My dad carried a list of all his medications in his wallet, so thankfully they were able to have immediate access to all meds and dosages.  "Lan, I've done that. Can you come?"

"Mom, who is with you? Have you told Sis? What about your sister?"

"Lan, I'm alone. I really need you.  I called P, J, J, and K. None of them answered their cells.  I was supposed to go out with P and J. They are probably in a store and not getting good reception. I haven't told you sister yet.  I can't Lan. I just can't do it and drive to SmallCity.  I've just got to focus on your father living."

At this point, I'm in tears.  We pulled into our garage, and I'm immediately greeted by Linus.  In my not-so-finest-hour, I barked at Linus to go to her room. I didn't want to make her panicked.  Duh, not quite sure about seeing her mommy in tears and telling her to go to her room was going to keep her from getting upset. Thankfully we had a great babysitter here, and she went and took care of Linus.  WonderDog was already at the vet's clinic--we had boarded her since we were planning to go out of town early the next morning.  

Mom called back and said J and P had  called her back when they saw their missed calls, but that she told them not to go up, she'd be fine.  I called J and begged her to go to my mom even though mom had said no.  J told me she and P were already in the car--they were dropping off J's daughter and then headed for the hospital in SmallCity.  Funny thing is, they had no idea where the hospital was. Army went to med school in that state, so he knew and had to get them there over the phone.  I felt better knowing my mom wasn't going to be alone the whole time.

I called Mom again and asked if she'd told my sister yet.  She said she hadn't and that she couldn't.  Calling my sister was soooo hard.  She was in the car with her whole family.  I asked her to call me back when she got home, but she could hear the emotion in my voice and demanded that I tell her what was wrong right then. I told her and she fell apart. 

Next I called one of my mom's sisters despite my mom asking me not to.  I had no idea at the time, but my aunt had just learned my uncle was terminally ill, yet they didn't have any answers beyond that he would die.  She dropped everything and decided to come right up. I knew she would. My mom and that aunt are super close, and I also knew she'd make the trip with my sister. My sister had decided that her husband would stay home with the girls, and she'd come alone. I didn't want her making that trip alone.  

Next I had to focus on getting us out of there. It took us a little while to pack and get on the road (it felt like forever!) because I had no idea how long I'd be gone, nor did I know if I'd be attending my father's funeral.  It was awful.

On the trip to get to SmallCity (about 5 hours away), I was on the phone constantly.  I tried so hard to be very cryptic in what I was saying--I wanted to shield Linus as much as possible--but it was near impossible.  We called Army's brother and asked if we could drop Linus there for the night, and of course he said yes.  I called my mom's other sister and asked her to pray.  She lives about 15 hours away from SmallCity that my dad was in. She offered to take the next plane out, but I asked her to wait and we'd assess everything in the morning.  

On the way there, there was an unbelievable amount of road construction, so our 5 hour trip ended up closer to 7 1/2.  I was constantly in contact with my mom and sister getting updates.  

I prepared my mom for seeing my dad with tons of tubes (assuming he was alive) and his color being off. Thankfully, Army knew exactly what to expect, so he had me tell her exactly what she'd walk into.  Finally she was able to call us with the good news that he was alive.  Better yet, he didn't look bad at all. Sure he had a few tubes, mom said, but he looked just like himself.  Why I believed that, I'll never know. I guess I needed to believe it. 

Mom called and asked us to stop at her house and let her dog out. I wasn't all too happy, because I wanted to get to my dad, but we did it.  At that point, I decided Linus would go on with us.  She knew something was up, and I could NOT just toss her off to a relative.  

After what seemed like forever, we arrived at the hospital.  My father had been moved from the ER to CICU.  Since it was a small city, they had a small hospital, but that small hospital was wonderful.  They didn't want my mom to be alone (before her friends got there), so they had one of the security guards available for anything she needed. He brought her fresh coffee constantly, bottled water, blankets, etc.  We all came to love this man.  He checked on my dad for the longest time after the incident.  They also had a private entrance to the CICU.  We LOVED that!

We finally learned that what we were originally told wasn't accurate.  Dad had been in a place of business when everything happened.  This business had security cameras that captured it all, so we were able to get a detailed story.  Apparently Dad had cardiac arrest (but NOT a heart attack) and his heart and breathing stopped.  He dropped between two displays, and it took three minutes for anyone to see him. Once he was seen, they called an emergency, and two other people there began CPR.  An ICU nurse noticed the commotion and removed the CPR guys because they were doing it incorrectly. By this time a person at the business trained to use a defibrillator came (seriously, what are the chances?) and she and the ICU nurse shocked Dad back into a good rhythm.  They continued with CPR until the ambulance arrived because he still wasn't breathing on his own.  He had to be shocked multiple times and eventually he even began breathing sporadically on his own.  He tried to tell them about his medicine, but he was unable to talk.  He continued to go into bad rhythm in the ambulance, so they had to shock him in there too.  

When Army and I went to see my dad, my mom, Sis, and aunt were already back there. Linus stayed with mom's friends (she knows them well). Linus, naturally, entertained the CICU waiting room.  My mom lied! My dad looked AWFUL. He had tubes coming from everywhere.  His ventilator tube still had the attachment they use in the ER while they are trying to keep the mouth open, so it was shoved in there and made him have a grimace on his face.  He was completely unresponsive.  

When the doctor saw new people in the room, he came in immediately to explain, yet again, what was going on. I asked Army a question, and the doctor gently explained the answer to me. When he found out Army is a physician, he gave him the rundown in words that are way above my head. Army asked a few above-my-head questions to which the doc answered above-my-head answers. Then doc turned to me and saw the completely lost look on my face and brought it all back down to my level. That meant the world to me.  Within seconds of him leaving, Dad began choking on secretions in his vent.  They called a RT, but apparently Dad couldn't wait for her to arrive.  The ICU nurse went into action, tubes went flying, a doc came running, and my sister and I broke down.  Army walked us out of Dad's room, while Mom stayed behind.  As soon as he got us to the waiting room with my aunt and mom's friends, he ran back to be with my mom.  It was awful. Absolutely awful.  

Despite the fact that it was now about 2 in the morning, Dad's nurse insisted my sister and I come back to his room again so that we could see that he was now ok.  I'll forever be grateful to her for that. 

Mom's friends went home, and Mom decided to stay the night in the CICU waiting room.  Because of Army, I knew the statistics: most people who code do it again and do not make it.  I wanted to stay too, but Mom wanted me to take Linus to a hotel. Army, Linus and I headed out. Mom, Sis, and my aunt stayed.  

The next morning when the doc rounded, he told my  mom how happy and surprised he was that Dad made it through the night.  That stung like I never imagined. I was happy to know my father was still with us, but hearing how close he came was awful.   We were also given the news that if he didn't wake up within 24 hours (he was in a coma), that he likely wouldn't.  

We all looked for glimpses of hope, yet Dad did not wake up.  We'd think he moved a finger, just for a nurse to tell us we imagined it.  Hour by hour went by, and our fear grew.

Saturday night (over 24 hours since the incident) my sister went back to the hotel with us. She had a connecting room.  She called me, and we had the dreaded conversation: what if we have to have the really dreaded conversation--do we remove him from life support?  They had prepared us that we may have to discuss it since he didn't wake up.  Army kept insisting that we give him 72 hours. If he still didn't wake up, he'd want a brain function test run, then run again 72 hours after that.  

Sunday morning (Mother's Day), they let us know that 24 hours had well passed.  Mom insisted Dad has always done things in his own time, and that 24 hours didn't count for him. Army insisted we give 72.  During the past day and a half, I'd made calls to other family members to keep them up to date. Many of them are physicians too, and they agreed with Army: 72 hours was a must.  Somehow I was appointed the family spokesperson, a job nobody wants, so I had to speak to zillions of people.  

Late Sunday afternoon, we decided to go for 72 hours and screw the 24 hour idea.  My sis had been out of town the two weeks prior, so mom sent her home to her kids, and my aunt home to her ailing husband.  Army called work and let them know to cancel his appointments...he wouldn't be there.  

Later Sunday afternoon, a priest was called in to say a blessing over my father. I begged everyone to tell my dad that this was NOT Last Rites, but nobody did (I was at the hotel with Linus, so I couldn't tell him myself).  They all thought I was nuts--Dad was in a coma, it didn't matter what they told him.  I, however, had been watching his vent like a hawk, and had seen that he was beginning to breathe over his vent and on his own some.  I also noticed that his respiration number changed very obviously when we were in the room talking.  I KNEW he could hear us.  Anyway, nobody told him it was NOT Last Rites.  The priest got started, and within a few minutes, Dad kicked his leg hard. It was as if he was saying I'M NOT DYING!  Army got the nurse, and she got the doctor. He did that dreaded sternum rub (for those of you who haven't seen it, it's awful---they rub their knuckles into your chest as hard as they can). Nothing. Not a budge. They called it coincidence that he moved. We knew otherwise.  Then Army pointed out the respiration number and that the respirator was doing 100% of his breathing. They said he was slipping further. Army said he had worn himself out trying to kick.  

They sat us down and said that patients simply do not "just wake up" like that, that they do it very slowly.  Mom said leave it to my dad---he'd 'just wake up' like that.  The doctor said he certainly hoped so and asked if he could add Dad to their prayer chain at his church.  Of course!

Mom and I though he opened his eyes just a tiny bit, but we were told he didn't really.  Nothing significant happened that night.  Army spent the night at the hospital that Sunday night while my Mom came back to the hotel for some rest.  Naturally she couldn't sleep, so she was back at the hospital before dawn.  Then I got a phone call: Lan, HE'S AWAKE! Come quick!

I raced over there.  He sure enough was awake.  He was fighting the vent, so they removed it with the warning that he'd likely have to have it placed again.  He didn't.  Once the vent was removed, he began reading everything on the tv.  We were amazed. So was the doctor.  My sister rushed back.  They asked us to leave while they assessed him, which they said would take 1-2 hours, so we grabbed a bite to eat. When we returned, Dad was eating a popsicle, though he was begging for banana pudding instead.  They said he had to have the popsicle, and that he couldn't have anything milk based for at least another day.  Within an hour he was eating that banana pudding. :)

It took a few more days to get him moved to a bigger hospital in a larger city.  During those days it became rather obvious that this would be a long road. He did not know who any of us were, what he did, where he was...nothing.  

He had to have surgery at the big hospital, then a few weeks later was moved to a rehab facility. He was in the rehab facility for a month or so.  While there, he began to learn our names once again.  He did, however, have tremendous memory issues.  There was no way he could be left alone. His license was taken away (no complaints--he obviously couldn't drive!), his freedom was taken away.  

Once he left the rehab facility, he went home, but he still required 24/7 care.  It was very difficult to see my strong father in such a state, but we were so thankful he was alive.  

After several months, we began to see little sparkles in his eyes, symbols that he was regaining his jovial personality.  We collectively breathed a sigh of relief.  Fear was replaced with hope. Although the dad I had grown up with may never return, I at least had a little bit of him.  I could hug him. Linus could sit in his lap.  A wife had a husband, two girls had a Daddy, and three girls had a grandfather who we all almost lost.  

Exactly one year later we celebrate a re-birthday with him.  I'm so proud of his accomplishments. Through tons of hard work, he's regained his independence, his life.  Last week, he even got his license back.  He taught a bunch of family and friends to never give up.  That's a lesson that will take us so very far!  Actually, we've learned that lesson twice--my uncle, the one who was terminal, is still with us.  And he's not listed as terminal anymore!

I love you Dad!  Thanks for sticking around! :)


Leia said...

Happy Re-Birthday to your dad! I knew the ending, but I was still on the edge of my seat reading that. Thank you for sharing such a heavy-hearted memory with us. :)

Alice said...

Wow. What a fantastic story. I know how you feel. My Pop broke his hip last year - and b/c of his age (83) and health (poor) they told us to make funeral arrangements, he'd never survive the surgery and rehab. And yet - he is with us still.

Katie said...

Wow Lanny, that's amazing.

What an awesome inspiration.

Monkling said...

Funny reading this today after finding out my dad needs a pacemaker (which actually is good news). Yeah, it's nice having those old guys stick around awhile.

Daisy Duke said...

Eddie & I commented last night at dinner that this post was incredibly moving. And might have brough tears to both of our eyes. And then I tried to re-tell your post to the rest of the dinner table and I failed miserably...however, Happy Re-Birthday!

kim-d said...

You know, Lanny, I'm a little "late to the party" for a reason. I read this post four times before I was able to even respond, because I got all choked up each time I read it. The way you wrote it, I could about imagine you saying this, and I could practically--I swear there were times when I could, no practically about it--feel the emotion and tension and gravity of the situation. I am so sorry that you had to go through this, I am so sorry that your whole family had to go through this. But I am so incredibly glad, happy, grateful and thanking God that your Dad is such a tough fighter! Big hug to you, sweetie--and an even bigger hug for your incredible Dad!

Debbie in NC said...

Hi Lanny, thanks for visiting my blog! I got this far and my eyes are getting heavy! Thank God your Dad is okay...I went through that with my Mom almost 5 years ago. Unfortunately, she passed away and I stil miss her terribly!

I'll come back soon!