Wednesday, June 30, 2010

I have never had anyone really close to me die, yet I came really close to that this week. My stepdad, who, with my mom, lives in Cathedral City, a somewhat lesser known city near Palm Springs, has been fighting for his life over the past week.

This began somewhat abruptly two weeks ago when doctors discovered he had a small hole in his small intestine. "This is very bad", the doctor stated in that very matter of fact tone that doctors like to use.

Rather than exhaust you with the myriad of medical mayhem that my stepdad has endured over the past two years I will simply say that one surgery led to another which led to one heart attack and then to a second in the span of three days. The surprising discovery being that after these two surgeries and the ones previous no doctor had discovered that their patient was in dire need of a heart bypass until now.

No stranger to hospitals myself, I returned to Cathedral City so my mother would not be alone with what I know can be an overwhelming ordeal for anyone. I was not shocked or horrified when she led me into the ICU to see her husband attached to every possible mode of medical machinery that one could imagine. The scene at his bedside unnerved her and as the Critical Care doctor emphasized how very sick he was, her words seemed to weaken my mom's resolve even more.

So we sat in that room and waited for more information from more doctors, for at this point there were several. We distracted ourselves with strained conversations and feigned interest in the ESPN coverage of the World Cup. And then he arrived, the vascular surgeon, and he spoke of complications and to be honest the only words that any of us could remember were, "He could die." If that wasn't enough to draw the breath from your lungs or stop your heart, he repeated those words again.

As is necessary in life, you must collect yourself and not abandon hope, because if I have learned nothing from life with Andrew and his two kidney transplants, we were being fed a "worst case" scenario. I won't or can't accept those, that's a roller coaster I won't ride again and I encouraged my mother not to get on that ride either.

But in the quiet moments while I stayed with her in the home that she shared with her husband, as I sat in his chair and slept on his side of the bed, the emptiness that replaced his presence became palpable. I let myself feel the reality of what might be lost to her. What that might do to her very reason for being. Who is she, what is her identity if she is not the caregiver, and not the caregiver of someone who is ill but someone who is. For a woman who has never in her life been without someone to care for whether it is her children or her spouse, what would be the impact of being alone.

For myself, my mind would not accept his departure because I had just seen him, not less than a week ago and he laughed at me as jumped and down in his hospital room as we watched the Lakers win game 7 together. He felt fine, he was laughing, he was OK, wasn't he? I thought he was.

Each day spent watching him in his medically induced slumber as the rotating nurses constantly updated us with the ever so slight improvements in his condition each day. And that was enough, to know that each day was better and closer to reaching the goal of the bypass surgery. It felt like a lofty goal as the idea of the surgery and his surviving it was another mountain to climb. And then the phone rang, at 6:30 am. "Please be here at 7:00, the doctor is taking him in to surgery."

We arrive and there are papers to be signed and the once dark quiet room in the ICU is brightly lit and the patient is surrounded by OR nurses, cardiac nurses, an anesthesiologist and two doctors. It's a flurry of movement and chatter and the room is filled with electricity.

And then he was gone. The waiting room was deserted except for the TV that was blaring with a skateboard competition. The volume button was disabled an the remote was nowhere to be found. So we endured as we were instructed to sit by the phone on the wall and wait for updates.

We settled in for the two and half hour wait. After only one hour and a half the phone rang and the OR nurse informed us that the surgery was over and that they were closing the patient. Shorty after we were joined by the surgeon who announced that everything was fine and the surgery went well. Certainly a cause for celebration, but we were too exhausted.

I stayed another day to be sure he had a good night and he did. So now it is just a matter of time before he gets strong again and is back at home driving my mother mad, and she loves it. She is still struggling with being alone since he will not be home for at least another week and without someone at home to take care of she is bored, without purpose. She waits at home for her husband to return so she again, can fulfill her purpose.