Once in a dozen blue moons

Today as I write this, I am tired. The bags under my eyes are heavy, my throat is sore. I am exhausted, to my heart and soul.

Mama is tired, my sisters are tired. But undeniably, the most tired of all is Daddy.

This past week has seemed to fly by, while moving at a snail’s pace. It’s held the longest hours, the scariest. It blurs together, I’m missing chunks. The best way to recall the events is to mark them with numbers. And if you know me, you know this is a bit odd, as I am not a numbers type of gal. But this past week has yielded greater surprises.

12:55 p.m.

was when he left the house. Dad said he was off to the doctor’s office to run a few tests. He was in and out of the doctors often, but especially in the past few years. Want me to come with you? I always ask, doesn’t hurt. But he always says no, and today was no different.

Something made me stay. My bags were packed to head back to home in San Diego. But something told me to wait. Wait here at my parents’ in Santa Clarita. Wait until he got home.

Mama got home from work first. Then a few hours later, I heard the garage which meant Daddy was home too. So I grabbed my bags off the bedroom floor, ready to give quick kisses on the way out to my car.

It was then that Mama ran up to my room to meet me before I could even pick up the last bag. “The doctor called. They saw something, something on his heart. I have to go with him to the emergency room now.”

“I’m coming with you.”

7 out of 10

Daddy’s chest pain level after we checked into the ER. When we stood in line to check in, I could hear him struggling with his breath. But I didn’t hear pain in those breaths, it sounded like he was just winded. This would be the beginning of my understanding of just how strong my father is.

9.8 cm

in size. The aneurysm bulging from his heart at the aorta, the biggest artery in the body. All these medical terms followed. A “dissection,” which means a tear. “Type A, Triple A.” Mom and I Googled while Daddy sat on the table in his gown. We tried our best not to let the worry show through our faces.

70%+

mortality rate of the operation. We were told he needed to be rushed to the OR. ASAP. Surgery needed to happen now. There was no time to waste.

6079 miles

away, our youngest sister Tash was visiting her friend in France. Dad told us before the surgery not to call to tell her, don’t let her fly home “just for this.”

Yeah. Right.

We called her and put her on the first flight to LA the following morning.

I listened to her cry on the other end of the phone, worlds away from where the rest of us were gathered, at home, holding hands tight, praying. And though my heart felt as if it were being twisted and turned at the weight of the uncertainty, I told her: He always pulls through. He always surprises people. He will do it again.

3 lives.

His past doctors have joked that he has had three lives:

1968

He was living and working in South Central Los Angeles. One warm August night, when he and his buddies went out to the annual Watts Summer Festival, the event ended in violence. Not only did it add to the history books as racial tensions soared, but Daddy almost lost his life. He was surrounded, beaten with broken bottles, shot in the leg, and stabbed in the back and the abdomen.

I wish I could find that older black man who picked him up as he struggled to walk, supported the dead weight of his body, half-conscious, blood flowing from his wounds, and walked him to the police demanding he get medical attention immediately.

I wish I could thank him. Daddy still remembers that man. And laying in the back of the ambulance for what felt like lifetimes, as it was blocked from leaving due to the crowds. He remembered it swaying as the riot outside raged.

He finally made it to the hospital, and after a week and several blood transfusions, he survived.

3 colon surgeries.

Daddy first got colon cancer in 2002. I was 13.

He and Mama kept it a secret from me and my two sisters. It was only later that we realized that he underwent 3 major surgeries to aggressively treat his very serious colorectal cancer. I’ll never forget walking into my parents’ bedroom to find my mother (who never, ever cries), bawling into my Daddy’s arms, his shoulder wet from her tears. He just sat there, his face cold and solemn.

“What’s wrong Daddy?”

“Nothing, baby, your mom is just stressed from work.”

After a year along with chemotheraphy and radiation, Daddy went into remission. Life given back a second time.

Make that 4 colon surgeries.

10 years

later – two years ago – it came back. But this time in the upper part of his colon.

This time I was 27.

My mom said she couldn’t do it all alone again, so she told us the news. I was scared. He’s much older, is he as strong? Can he beat it again?

He underwent another major surgery and had one-third of his colon completely removed.

It worked, and he was back in remission. Daddy stayed with us in this life a third time.

On top of the cancer, dad has had a few hold ups in terms of his health in the past five years. He tore his Achilles’ tendon refereeing a high school soccer game (up until two years ago, he was still volunteering as a ref with AYSO and doing several high school games a week). He had to have carpal tunnel surgery and a hip replacement, too.

8 hours.

Fast forward to now. The surgeon estimated that Daddy’s heart surgery would take about 8 hours. When hour 8 rolled around, and we heard nothing, a serious silence came over us.

When mom called to check in, they said they were still in surgery. They said they were having trouble keeping him stable, and asked if they should call a Chaplain.

I tried not to cry, but thinking back, I think I just physically couldn’t. Something had suddenly grown in my throat that made swallowing – breathing – difficult.

10 hours.

We rushed to the hospital and sat in the waiting room in silence.

When the nurse came out in her scrubs from the surgery to give us news, the world felt still and my heart got loud.

“We are closing out the surgery. This is a huge step.”

A collective sigh left our tense, tired bodies and Mama, Michele, and me hugged each other, crying.

When they rolled Daddy out of surgery, it was hard to look without tears welling up.

As he lay in the ICU, coolers of blood rolling in and out, 2 bags pumping in his body per hour, what seemed like endless blood draining out. His arms, his neck, covered in bandages which covered needles and punctures and incisions. Towers of beeping machines and monitors connected to him by IV tubes.

And for the next day, this indescribable feeling lingered. Somewhere between the heart and the gut. Somewhere between an ache and an irreparable emptiness that threatened to grow deeper. The feeling brought on when your world is hanging on by several plastic strings.

And still, Mama looked at his yellow, swollen face, IV tubes tangled about with a breathing tube fed in his mouth down his throat, “He still looks so handsome.”

I nodded as tears streamed down my face.

Another one.

Another surgery.

The bleeding wasn’t stopping, and they had to go back in and figure out why.

We held Daddy’s hands and said, “See you soon.”

5 hours later,

not only was surgery complete, but they were taking the breathing tube out. I just remember holding Daddy’s hand in mine with one, and the other stroking his forehead, asking him to take deep breaths and remain calm with the other. He was coming out of sedation and was so confused.

1 week later.

Fast forward a week after that rush to the emergency room.

Daddy is still in the ICU, but his progress, and really his survival, is a miracle.

We have had the most amazing care – the two surgeons, the nurses and all the other doctors at Henry Mayo have been absolutely incredible. And often, the ones who were with him when he was at his worst stop by and are astounded at how great he looks and how well he is doing. Many of them were frankly surprised to still find him still in that room, days later.

“The surgeons really pulled him out of the grave,” one nurse said. A cardiologist reading his file two weeks later said, “Wow. You look great. Most people die from this.” His own cardiologist, who I emailed from the hospital to let him know what had happened, was shocked. He was saying that usually people who experience even a portion of what my dad did recall experiencing excruciating pain, a 10 out of 10.

They’re right.

It wasn’t until after that we found out that the mortality rate was actually 90%+ due to the size of the aneurysm, the fact that it was already beginning to rupture, the scale of the operation, and the challenge of the medications my dad was already on disrupting/aggravating the procedure. We can’t believe that that day, Daddy drove to and from his doctor’s appointment and came home, ready to sit down for a bowl of soup as his heart was literally a ticking time bomb.

They saved our Daddy. Lucky number 4.

There is still a long road to recovery. In one of his CT scans post-surgery, they discovered evidence of a stroke. More MRIs, more CT scans. No, several mini strokes.

Thankfully, though he is weak, he has sensation in all his limbs. He is having trouble swallowing and has not eaten at all since before the surgery, but hopefully those muscles will strengthen soon. He says he is craving – dreams of – an ice cold Pacifico.

But most of all, we are so grateful that his mind is completely intact. Though his voice is hoarse from the trauma, he has not stopped talking the second he could. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. He has exceeded all of everyone’s expectations as he always does.

When the doctor asked him questions to test his memory: What’s your home address? Phone number? What month is it?

Then the question came: Who is the current president?

“We don’t have a president.”

Yup. Daddy’s still there.

29 years old.

I get that my dad is older than most of my friends’ dads. But I have only had 29 years with him. And if you know him, you know that’s not nearly enough.

“He’s doing so well for his age.”

“For what he’s been through, he’s doing so well.”

And I get it. You don’t have to tell me twice – believe me, I know. I feel so incredibly grateful that he is even here. Even when he was at his worst, with machines keeping him alive across every single function, I was just happy he was here. Though assisted, still breathing. Each rise and fall of his chest gave me hope, though eyes shut and far away. Still hands to hold, though they were cold and swollen.

But they don’t understand. They don’t understand what he is to us.

Daddy’s stories, his words, are everything. His mind and his heart are so special. And his advice is what I call on more than anyone’s. My Daddy is who I call. My Daddy is the one that believes in me when no one else does, truly. It’s hard to explain the gravity of his one-of-a-kind presence. To lose that would be losing him.

I went digging through old emails and photos, just feeling immensely grateful that we get to keep him longer. We weren’t ready. We probably never will be. But someone decided he wasn’t ready to go just yet.

There aren’t enough words, the right ones don’t exist. There are no numbers wide enough or tall enough or deep enough to measure this love. He is our world, and I will keep telling him every day.

Once.

“Hi Sweetheart,

I Love You! Once in a Dozen Blue Moons I could meet someone like you. I would marry you all over again.

Love, Daddy.”

Three.

“The three of you need to keep the Sisterhood strong – support each other – try to remember Rule One – and support each other when one or more of you have been under attack – or are having a hard time.

Love, Daddy.”

“Hi Babies,

Mom and I really enjoy it when you guys contact us with your messages of thoughtfulness and love.  All three of you have been very good with that since you were small.

I had a lot of fun when I was single – did a lot of interesting things and traveled over much of the world.  But the very special times of my life were after I met your mother and we had babies.  Traveling around with my family on holidays and taking you guys to sports tournaments or games when you were little twerps always ranks as the highest of my joys and memories.

Life is hard work to be successful.  It is important to enjoy the ride so have a lot of fun along the way, take time to smell the flowers and watch the birds.  Remember that Family is one of the most important things.  Do what makes you feel good and you will always have fond memories.

(I can hear Mommy saying – ee-ah, Daddy is really getting old!)

Keep up the good work.

Love,

Daddy”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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