It appears we picked a good month to take off. Not long after we make the decision, I get a call from my sister, who is, once again, at the ER. This time, however, it’s not my mom that’s sick, but my dad. He was having some trouble breathing, so she took him to the hospital to get checked out.
The ER docs aren’t exactly sure what’s wrong with him. The preliminary diagnosis is a massive heart attack, but there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus on that. A little later things go from worse to bad when they tell us they don’t think it was a heart attack after all, but severe pneumonia instead. This provides some obvious relief but adds to our growing frustration with the apparent inability of hospitals to correctly diagnose symptoms. In something like three months now, I have had both parents diagnosed and then rediagnosed. I’m not sure it would be better to hear “we really don’t know what the hell is wrong,” but sometimes it truly would feel preferable. At least it would be honest.
And, of course, the doctors change their minds again. Late the next day, dad’s airway collapses and they are forced to put him on a ventilator. Now there are specialists involved and they’re saying heart failure, but at this point I don’t know what to believe. All I know – all I can really think about – is the fact that a machine is breathing for my dad.
For some reason, I can’t figure out how to feel about this. Not that I don’t know what I’m feeling – but I can’t quite figure out how to feel it. It’s like I’m feeling through a thick syrup; I can recognize the fear, pain, frustration and concern seeping from my heart, but I can’t actually find the strength to reach through the muck and feel them. As if I only have a certain amount of resources to support those emotions and with everything that has been going on with my mom and our pregnancy attempts, I have no juice left.
And so once again, from 3000 miles away, Lyena and I wait for the call with each day’s news. It’s like déjà vu all over again – waiting to hear if my parent is getting better… or worse. Except this time we’re not getting the rollercoaster of constantly changing diagnoses – it’s just a fairly steady stream of “nothing new.” Dad’s condition never really declines, which is encouraging, but he doesn’t seem to really be recovering either. And every day he doesn’t, his chances of ever doing so diminish. It’s eleven days later when we finally get a call that his condition is changed. Thankfully it’s for the better – he is able to breathe on his own and they’ve pulled out the respirator tube.
And I find myself able to breathe a bit easier as well. He’s not out of the woods yet. After 11 days immobile and on a respirator, his body is totally out of whack. My sister says he seems generally coherent, but has bouts of pretty serious confusion. For example, he seems pretty convinced that he traveled to California, or possibly Asia, while he was out of it. The docs say this is somewhat normal (the confusion, not the California/Asia scenario), but since they can’t fully explain why it’s happening (and given their general inability to know what’s been going on with him), we’re all a little skeptical.
After another week in the hospital under observation, he’s cleared to go to the nursing/rehab center for continued care. The day before he’s released, I fly back to Maryland to help with the move and in whatever other ways way I can. Lyena and I are scheduled to travel to Alaska for three weeks soon, so it’s also a good opportunity for me to assess the situation and my willingness to be so far away.
When I first see him, still in the hospital, I walk in and he looks up and greats me with a “There he is!” At first I think everything’s fine, until I slowly realize he thinks I’m one of the nurses (to his credit, he wasn’t wearing his glasses and is almost blind without them). He eventually figures out who I am, though, and seems generally coherent, if a little dazed and confused.
We get dad moved into the nursing home and for the next few days, I hang out – helping my mom and my sister (who is quickly becoming Superwoman in my mind) in whatever small way I can. I chauffeur, I cater, I sit around and keep company. Mom seems to be a bit worse than the last time I saw her, but is still able to get up and around… and she is worried about dad. Though it appears he’s out of the deepest part of the woods, he’s not beyond worry.
My emotional syrup begins to thin enough that I’m able to feel the cornucopia of emotions that have been lurking within. On the top of it all rests a membrane of relief, but underneath I can make out the fear, regret, loss, sorrow, doubt, anger and concern that are rising to the surface. I give them as much attention as I can, lest they sit there and stew, but my resources aren’t what they used to be.
Oh, and remember that whole baby thing? Vacation’s over.
Up Next… All In The Timing