For the first time, I understood.
Instead of thinking “Daddy, please don’t die. Don’t leave me,” I just wanted him not to suffer. The selfishness of a daughter evaporated.
The doctors had Dad sitting perfectly upright, a mask covering his entire face and forcing air into his lungs. He was sedated, given morphine for pain. When I spoke to him and stroked his hand, Dad opened his eyes and tried to reassure me.
“Rest, Dad. You need to rest. Don’t worry about me.”
And then I went out into the hospital corridor, nearly biting through my bottom lip as I tried to stifle my sobs.
It was Tuesday (6/9) and I had just arrived home from work. After changing out of my work clothes and washing off my makeup, I called Dad’s hospital room to check in.
But instead of Dad, another man answered. I wondered if Dad had been moved to another room.
The man said “this is Dr. Alvarez” and I instantly knew all was not well.
I had just spoken to Dad five hours prior. Mom was there, having made the two-hour drive from our hometown again. Dad was fine, but irritable. He had been in the hospital for six days already and with no talk of imminent release, his complaints were mounting: the uncomfortable bed; the nurses who, while wonderful, woke him up frequently to take his vital signs; the food; the hospital TV and its annoying remote; his lack of privacy.
“I know, Dad, but it’s where you need to be right now,” I said, trying to help. “Let the doctors get more fluid out of your chest. You’ll feel like new soon.”
We exchanged I-love-yous and hung up. I went on with my work day.
The doctor let me know he was there with his team, stabilizing my father. My mother, having started the drive north from Philadelphia, was unaware of the situation. I hung up with the doctor, paused for a cry and called Mom telling her to turn around and return to Philly.
Shaken, she started crying and for once, I joined in. We usually manage to trade-off in our breakdowns.
I threw clothes in a bag and hastily booked both a hotel room and a one-way train ticket to Philly. Within two hours, I was at the hospital.
By the time I arrived, Dad’s condition was described as stable, but looking at him, I was anything but reassured. His lungs had flooded with fluid in response to a new drug he was given earlier in the day. His heart couldn’t keep up and Dad effectively started drowning.
Eventually the nurses shooed us out, telling us we all needed rest – Dad most of all.
And it helped. When my mom’s cell phone rang the next morning at 7:30, we were scared. But it was Dad calling us, not a doctor or nurse with bad news. He was on the mend.
“New normal” feels like a cliché, but if there’s a better way to describe the way my parents are living, I haven’t found it yet.
Dad was released from the hospital after eleven days. He was thrilled to be home, but I was concerned. He was so weak. Nothing like my normally-robust Dad. Of course, nothing has been truly normal in recent years.
I still find myself thinking “next time Dad is here, I’ll get him to hang this on my wall” or “when I see Dad, I’ll ask him to fix this broken necklace clasp.” How I wish I could go back to having my own personal MacGyver! My dad could do anything.
Those days are gone, sadly. I don’t ask him to help me with things I know he cannot do. I strive to avoid reminding him of all he has lost.
Selfishly I’m back to wanting him to live forever–or at least another twenty years. I’m not ready to let him go. But when the time comes, and it’s undeniably coming, I hope I can handle it like the loving, mature daughter my wonderful father deserves.
On Saturday, six days after he was released from the hospital, Mom drove him back to Philadelphia as he struggled to breathe. There’s excess fluid in his body again plus indications that he is suffering from some sort of infection.
Life is becoming infinitely harder.
Click here to learn about his condition, pulmonary hypertension
If you smoke (like my dad did until I was 4 years old), here are resources to help you quit. Please consider doing so now.
To learn more about why my parents have needed to drive two hours for high-quality specialized healthcare, read this.