Hitting the pavement

Since dad’s passing, I haven’t run much. I’ve forced myself to take my dance-fitness classes twice a week, so I have done something. I just haven’t been training for the two half-marathons I’m signed up to run in a few months. (I’m doing the Disney Coast to Coast challenge — more on that another day.)

So, this weekend, I decided to get my behind outside in this unusually mild DC weather and run. I went out yesterday for a simple interval run/walk to get my groove back.

Funny thing about grieving. After you’ve felt numb for weeks, your body craves feeling — any feeling. And that craving led me to abandon my intervals and just RUN. Hard.

That was a terrible idea.

After a fast-for-me sub-9:00 pace for the first mile, I felt truly ill. I thought I was going to vomit and ruin my favorite running shorts, all at once. I turned for home and stopped by a creek to breathe the cleaner air and spit. A lot. I made it home intact and stain free, although I don’t know how I managed to run the last .5 mile or so. I guess being numb has advantages.

Today, I went out again for a simple 2-mile run. After the first mile, my body started to alert me to its discomfort again, but this time I didn’t push it. I didn’t walk either — I just eased back to a slower, 11:00 pace and breathed through it. 

I wish I could say I had some epiphany about the relationship between the pain in my soul and the pain in my body, but I didn’t. I’m settling for feeling something (other than nausea) for now.

Too hard to write

I’ve tried to write this entry a dozen times in the last 17 days. I’ve tried to be witty, honest, reflective. I’ve tried to unload the weight of my grief, I’ve tried to toss it completely from my chest and pretend. But none of it changes the facts.

Two hours after my last post, I got the call from my mom. Dad had two heart attacks. The doctors revived him from the first, but they couldn’t bring him back from the second. He passed away at 1:35 a.m. July 9, 2013.

If you’ve never lost a parent, let me tell you — nothing can prepare you for the pain. My dad is the center of my world. I can only imagine the pain my mom is in, losing the only love of her life, her husband of 40 years.

I’ve never gone this long in my adult life without talking to my dad. Even when I was in college, I’d call home and make sure we talked at least every week or two. But 17 days? Unheard of. A part of me keeps waiting for him to call to make sure I’M alive.

Of course, my family and I are leaning on each other and our friends to get us through our pain. Dad was a well-loved, open book of a man, and at the celebration of his life (we refused to have a “funeral” — he didn’t want us “blubbering over” his body) we saw just how much of an impact he had in every facet of it. People he’d worked with for years, my childhood friends, his church friends, even the pastors shared deeply personal, hilarious stories about my dad. He added so much to so many lives that it felt selfish to cry over my loss.

After the ceremony, our surrogate Native family blessed us in our traditional way. More than half the congregation stayed to watch and support us as we honored the side of our dad most people didn’t know — his Iroquois heritage. We are so blessed to have our family to help us maintain dad’s traditions.

Each family member received prayer ties to burn for 7 days, to ask the Creator to send his helpers to guide my father on the path to meet Him. We honored him in our rites, and each prayer made it a little easier to accept the truth that dad is on the path to the Creator, and his energy is still all around us.

This blog is about the health journeys of our family, and I intend to keep it going. Part of losing someone we love is remembering to live, continuing to take care of ourselves and learning from those who have gone before us. While I am grieving my father, I have a renewed focus to stay the happy, healthy woman he got to see me be again before he left this earth. I have a mother whose arthritis and other conditions need attention, a brother who is on his own journey to health.

My brother’s eulogy — which I wish someone had caught on video, darnit — focused on my dad’s pursuit of not only answers, but the right questions. He said conversations held the key to dad’s life and legacy, and through us he is immortal. So dad, these conversations, these connections are for you. I know you’re listening — I haven’t felt you leave yet — so may you live forever in these written conversations.

Matters of the heart

I just got a call from my mom. Yes, at midnight on the east coast. You can imagine how my hello sounded as it tried to escape around my heart in my throat.

She had just gotten a call from dad’s lead physician, an unflappable man named Dr. Lin. For Dr. Lin to be calling from dad’s room at 11:45 p.m. something had to be drastically wrong.

Well, dad’s heart has slowed so much the good doctor needed to move him to ICU for constant monitoring.  This after my dad’s scary heart news not 12 hours earlier.

See, I stopped by for a few hours today to visit with dad before I had to go home. I had spent the last few days dogsitting and cleaning at my parents’ house, so I hadn’t seen dad.

The moment I walked through the door to his room, I could tell something was wrong. Mom and dad both looked stricken — not hard for the woman who had spent the last two nights sleeping on a hard couch that moonlights as a foam mattress, but pretty impressive for the guy who has been through four surgeries in the last month.

They debated briefly about who should tell me, but they got it out. Dad was in Afib. That’s atrial fibrillation for all you non-House fans. I turned to my dad, smiled and congratulated him for still sitting in his hospital bed. He chuckled and said “seriously.”

Just after that, I think the news hit dad. He looked at me wide-eyed as I stood by his bed. I asked him whether he was panicking a little bit, and he nodded. We did some breathing exercises to help calm him, but in the end he needed some medicine to do the trick.

So now, it’s midnight. Dad’s heartbeat has gone from rapid to barely there in half a day. He’s not the only one panicking. I know he is a fighter, and I know he’s tired. I just pray he can dig down into that giant heart of his and find the drive to keep fighting.

Pastor’s here, dad. Wake up!

Dad was knocked out today. All day. He got up to get into the chair and knocked back out. He had us rock his chair back and forth and knocked back out. He asked for more pain killers and knocked back out.

Then Pastor Sarah and Husband Greg showed up. And Greg just wasn’t having this knocked back out stuff. He woke dad up with a shout, and Sarah said a prayer. (As pastors go, Sarah is pretty rockstar.)

Then they chatted with dad, had a good laugh and left. That’s when the fun started.

After a day of sleep, dad threw his legs off the bed and said he wanted out. Not out of bed, out of the hospital. As he sat up, we called the nurse to help wrangle him. She came in, saw his back and realized his entire bed was covered in blood. Where the doctor had removed the drain from the surgery site, dad was bleeding and oozing.

It was an hour-long ordeal of changing bandages, bedsheets, blankets and clothing for dad. He wasn’t thrilled about the pain involved, but he was a soldier. I heard his words from my childhood coming from my mouth, me 4 years old with a skinned knee, him rinsing the wound with alcohol: “It’s only temporary, honey.”

From my mouth to God’s ear, please let it be.

He squeezed my hand and we got through it. Mom held him up, helping him feel safe. After much rolling and shifting, he settled in, then drank a milkshake that he reported was “actually pretty tasty, even though it’s from THIS place.”

After all that work, he is knocking back out. And truth told, I’m not far behind him.

Country fireworks show

Dad continued to recover today. He sat up on the bed and in the chair, which doesn’t sound like much but is a giant mobility leap forward. He also ate more than 3 whole bites of food and can have all the water he wants. He asked Azman the Wonder Nurse to keep the water jug within eyesight, just for comfort that it’s real.

Dad’s biggest concern today was whether he could see the fireworks from his hospital-room window. We didn’t know the answer, but I’ll tell you something — he missed quite the backyard display at home.

My parents live in what I call “east country,” not quite deep country, but you can see hay bales from their backyard. It’s the type of place where you can sit on the deck at night, listen to frogs and crickets make their noises and see all sorts of stars. Not just planes you hope are stars.

In neighborhoods like this, east-country people take any celebrations that combine imbibing and lighting things on fire very seriously. Thus the Great Backyard Illegal Fireworks Competition of 2013 was born.

First, remember it’s dark in east country in ways it never gets dark in the city. So, from my parents’ deck, I first thought I was watching a neighborhood-wide flashlight-tag game. Then, I noticed the flashlights and illegal fireworks worked in tandem. I wish I could show you the procedure — intoxicated man with lighter in one hand, flashlight in the other running toward incendiary device; lighting of device, sometimes with cursing, often with “HERE IT GOES!” type admonishment; then flashlight bobbing back toward house doubletime. Then BOOM! WOOOOOO! Rinse and repeat.

I know my dad would have simultaneously enjoyed the dueling displays from two neighbors whose dining rooms we can see into (we’re THAT close) and wanted to lecture the intoxicated gentlemen (he’d call them gentlemen) about the time at which they made such noise and how illegal such things are.

As for me, I stood outside and enjoyed the show. At least until one of the guys started belting GOOOOOD BLESSSSS UH-MERRRRRICAAAAH and setting off screamers sideways. Toward the deck I was on. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll have a word with that gentleman. But tonight, for dad, I enjoyed the show.

Scraping the mold?

Yesterday, dad had another MRI on his back. Then, the doctors scheduled him for surgery immediately.

See, there was an infection growing right next to the bundle of nerves at the base of dad’s spine. No bueno, to say the least.

The doctors weren’t shocked to find something growing again — dad’s white blood cell count had started to climb again that morning. But when they got into dad’s back at about 1:30 p.m. yesterday, they did find a shocker: He had another big growth of bacteria on the muscles next to his spine.

So, the surgeons got out whatever they use to scrape icky stuff from fragile, important areas and took out the bacteria. The stuff near those nerves was buried deep, so they had a lot of careful work to do.

My mental image of this is much like that of my grandmother noticing there’s a touch of mold on the end of a loaf of bread and using a case knife to remove all evidence while preserving the bread. I’m sure it’s nothing like that, but hey — when doctors treat you like you’re 6 and can’t handle the big words the grown-ups use, that’s the sort of childhood image they conjure.

Anyway, dad came out of surgery well. I came down to visit for the holiday weekend, so I got to see him last night. He looks much less like a wax doll and more like himself. He’s growling a lot — not grumbling, but truly growling — when he’s in pain, which is much of the time. The doctors have a wound vac in his back now, so he’s laying on bits of plastic sticking out of his back. I imagine we’d all find that growl-worthy.

Last night, before his pain got so bad all he could say was “help” or “move the bed up… no, down down down that is AWFUL,” dad made it clear again he is fed up with being in the hospital. When the nurse asked how he was, he shrugged and said “where am I spending the night? How do you THINK I am?”. He definitely wants to go home.

Hopefully, this time, the doctors got all the mold off the bread. I’ll happily make dad French toast when he gets home.

I wanna go home!

For the first time in a month, dad has had a singular focus. He wants out.

First he called mom over, all conspiratorially, to lean in close at his bed. Then he asked her to do something for him. “Get. Me. Out. Of. Here.”

Then, he used the call button. Now, something you should know about dad — he hates using the call button. It represents needing help, and we all know the last thing dad wants to admit is that he needs help. Anyway, the nurse took a long time to get there. When he finally did, dad said, “Sam, I just want to know one thing. When can I go HOME?!” Dad even asked if he could go home with Sam. And Sam agreed.

I think it’s a good thing dad finally wants to get out of the hospital. Another nurse, Azman, is encouraging this behavior and helping dad see reason. If anyone deserves a cut of what is bound to be an enormous bill at this hospital, it’s Azman. He’s even keel, honest, open and has a way with patients like dad.

And, most of all, he’s helping dad focus on what it’s going to take to get him home.