One of my most vivid childhood memories happened when I was probably five years old.
I wouldn’t let my dad leave my bedside. It was late, my sisters were fast asleep, but I was far from it. Rather I was crying hysterically – I specifically recall it being difficult to catch my breath between sobs – because Barney (yes, the purple dinosaur) lied to me.
At the end of my Barney Live! in New York City VHS, which was on heavy rotation in the household at the time, Barney insisted it was not goodbye. That if I closed my eyes at night, I could see him if I wanted (and yes, I realize now that is creepy af). Well there I was, shutting my eyes, and that big-headed, lyin’-ass dino was nowhere to be found. I wouldn’t let my dad leave until he appeared. As you can imagine, Daddy stayed up, all night, talking me through an improvised dino visualization meditation until I finally relaxed and dozed off.
“It is a blessing to be able to take care of your parents like this,” Mama’s been saying these past few weeks, referring to how my sisters and I have really come together to be here for our dad. “When you feel like they’ve done so much for you and you want to just give back to them any way you can. I wish I got the chance.”
Here I am, 2 a.m. at the hospital, the recliner chair at the corner of Daddy’s room has been my bed for the better part of the last couple weeks.
As mentioned, my sisters and I have been taking turns playing sleepover here.
But he’s getting better and better.
During the nights, he still calls a nurse in every hour to few hours to reposition his body in the “fly trap” bed. He needs help bending that weak left leg affected by one of the strokes. While he has made impressive progress (he stood up yesterday with physical therapy!), his body is weak overall from being in bed for three weeks. So he needs help turning. Turning to his sides hurts him, puts pressure on his newly repaired heart and foot-long incision down his chest.
His vocal cords are regaining some strength after being traumatized by the breathing tube fed down his throat for three days while he was in and out of surgery. The nurses are able to understand him better now without me and my sisters there to translate. Which is reassuring. He’s still sharp as hell, so I hate the idea of him wanting to articulate his pain or ask a question about his medications and fail to get his point across as a result of his hoarse, low voice.
With this progress, we decided he would be okay without us at night. So for the first time a few nights ago, we all went home at bed time.
Since this whole thing began three weeks, between all the anesthesia for surgeries, being sedated, being on the heaviest pain killers out there, being consistently on some kind of pain meds for the majority of the time, and most importantly, understanding how grave his situation was – just how close he was to reaching the very end of that tunnel – Dad has had horrible, vivid nightmares.
When he describes them to us in detail we wish we could pull those horrific visuals and nightmares from that reel and replace them with happier thoughts. Yet still we hear him mumbling, battling, struggling in his sleep.
It’s the first time our Daddy – our protector, our Superman – has shown this much fear. He said the hardest part of it all is that he knows he’s weak, and he feels like he can’t even defend himself. The fear, the worry, the anxiety… it tears us apart what he’s experiencing.
So with sisterhood consensus (both had to be back at work): I’m back.
This time equipped with a portable speaker and curated playlist.
Cat Stevens, The Impressions, The Beatles, James Taylor, The Temptations, Fleetwood Mac, Simon and Garfunkel, The Drifters, Bob Marley. A playlist we made of songs that remind us of Daddy, that are our favorites because of him.
“How did you know these were all of my favorite songs?”
It got him sleeping really well for a record two hours straight (YES), but since our nurse got sent home at this random hour, they came in to wake him for the switch + the new nurse to take vitals and change out his feeding, which is happening through the nose currently. We are hoping he can continue to strengthen his swallowing muscles as well as those vocal cords, as he hasn’t actually eaten food by mouth in almost a month.
They just came in again, but this time on Dad’s request. And when Dad wakes up, I wake up.
But that’s okay. Daddy always thanks us. We all hold hands (since he’s not quite ready for his notorious group hugs), and he says, I love my babies. Thanks to my babies for taking such good care of me. I just say, thanks for fighting. Thanks for staying with us.
While the nurses turn him on his other side, clean him, maintain, prep, etc… Sweet Baby James plays in the background, and I’m basking in this dull yellow of hospital room light as my friend Pablo reminds me of the precious, the fleeting, the infinite:
Amo todas las cosas,
y entre todos los fuegos
sólo el amor no gasta,
por eso voy de vida en vida,
de guitarra en guitarra,
y no le tengo miedo
a la luz ni a la sombra,
y porque casi soy de tierra pura
tengo cucharas para el infinito.
There’s honestly no where else I’d rather be.