Monday, October 1, 2007

The Day my Dad Died

This should have posted yesterday, but internet issues got in the way

One third of the focus of this blog is suppposed to be "death". When I sat down and composed the first post and set the settings (including adding the picture that is at the bottom of the first page), I thought that I would use this blog to post reflections of my dad (so as to keep his memory fresh and deal with sadness about his death that seemed to come and go like phases of the moon). I also thought how "neat" it would be to focus on the passing of one person a day - picking an obituary almost at random, and trying to learn more about that person. Because, while it is cliche, I am a strong believer that the dead have a lot to teach us.

Obviously this focus is only on one third (and some days less than that), and obviously, I have only scratched the surface of the things my dad and I did, or that he taught me (but again, this ain't no Big Russ blog). But before I continue with that stated focus of the blog, the time has come to write down, for my own sanity, and also for posterity, what happened on September 21, 2006.

As I have mentioned before, my dad had lung cancer. He was diagnosed in July, 2006, after going to the hospital with what appeared to be a relatively mild heart attack. The diagnosis seemed, to a certain extent, to be a bit of dumb luck (as many disgnoses of lung cancer are), as without the heart attack, it never would have been caught. Unfortunately, it came too late (as many diagnoses of lung cancer do) to be of any real use to my dad. He was diagnosed as terminal almost from the beginning. The beginning was the end.

I know he groped toward acceptance of his situation over time, and with the help of a good friend, Father James Massey (even as he eschewed his cynically held belief or trust in god). It never seemed real to any of us, though, even as we were researching non-small cell cancer studies and experimental drugs.

He was in and out of the hospital in August and early September, contracting pneumonia along the way. He decided not to proceed with chemo (radiation and surgery were not options). He was given a few months to live.

I decided in early September to go visit him, even though he told me it wasn't necessary, don't worry about it (he originally did not even want to tell close family members he was sick. I think he was embarassed). I bought my ticket on American Eagle.

I flew out on a bright, warm September Friday morning on an American Eagle puddle-jumper. (As an aside, I find it interesting that the suspense movie trope is not a bright and sunny morning (You just KNOW something back is about to happen) rather than a "dark and stormy night" (now mostly a cliche to be mocked in movies like Scary Movie 3).)

I landed mid-morning, picked up my rental car, and headed for Burt, NY. I called ahead and learned that dad was getting out of the hopsital after stopping off and visiting his doctor, so I stopped by my brother and sister-in-law's house and saw my nieces. It was the first time I had seen their house. It's cute - small, on a corner lot at an intersection, but a nice yard and lots of space in the basement.

I drove home to an empty house and waited for mom and dad. There was some medical detritus sprinkled about, but for the most part, the place was in good shape.

After what seemed like hours, mom and dad got home. Dad looked terrible. He had to be helped from the car and had what looked like a somewhat scared (or at least surprised) look on his face. I now know what the word "Ashen" means. He was gray and his hair had gone gray as well. He had trouble walking, and as we led him up the steps, he had to stop to breath. It seemed like he couldn't catch his breath and had to cough into a cup, but my mom said that he would be better once he was able to sit down.

We sat on the porch for a bit before my mom said she had to go get some medicine that the doctor prescribed for dad. Now if you don't know the geography and demographics of Niagara County, you don't understand that you can't just run down to Duane Reade or CVS. A trip to the pharmacist can take 25 minutes each way. Mom said that he still had the pneumonia and needed some sort of fog machine to help clear his lungs. We got dad inside and she left. This was the first even that I think could have changed the outcome - if she stayed and I left.

So dad and I sat on the couch. Actually, he was in his chair (a somewhat beat up glider) and I was on the couch, watching him struggle. He was clearly not well. Selfishly, I was annoyed that I had come all this way and that we were not going to have time to talk and hang out (baseball was still on tv, although the Sox were out of it). Obviously I was a jerk for even thinking that, but as George Benson sang, hnidsight is 20/20.

He had to move from the chair, to the couch, to the couch in the living room, to sitting up, to lying down, all in an effort to get more comfortable and assist in his breathing. I gave him water, tried to get him to cough into his cup. He couldn't eat anything. He asked me where mom was. I said she would be on her way. He seemed a little out of it.

I called mom and told her that he was asking for her, and she said she would be there as soon as she could. She needed to get the medicine.

Dad was gasping a bit, struggling, telling me a couple of times that he couldn't breathe. This was mistake #2, not calling 911 right then. I thought he would be o.k. once mom got home, that she would give him the medicine, hook him up to the fog machine and he would be o.k. I told him that and he said that she had better hurry.

I read a bit from an survey on American dialects, while I sat with dad. We watched a replay of the previous night's Jays game. I callled mom again and told her to hurry. She did. When she got home, I was more worried. Dad was on the living room couch.

She unpacked this breathing machine which was supposed to open up dad's lungs. At this point, I don't recall the medical reason for the machine, other than it was supposed to help. I think it produced a fog that helped fight against the pneumonia. In any event, it wasn't really working and dad started to silp away. Mom said "I'm worried about you Mike", as she felt for his blod pressure. She raced upstairs and grabbed the BP machine as I stood there and tried to get my dad to breathe. She strapped it on him and tried to get a BP, but couldn't.

His eyes started to flutter as she grabbed the phone and called 911. He was still with us, but barely. By the time the paramedics came, I'm not sure he was still really conscious. They moved him to the floor as the room filled with the volounteers and professionals. It did not seem real. They tried to get a response from him, but I think the most they got was perhaps a hoarse whisper. He had stopped breathing. They did CPR. They gave him a shot of adrenaline. They eventually moved him to a backboard and into the ambulance. I was suddenly on the phone, dialing my brother and sister, as my mom accompanied my dad in the ambulance. I raced to the hospital too after a quick call to Daphne. My voice caught in my throat as I did.

I got to the hospital and raced into the emergency room. They were doing serious compressions on him as my mom stood there silently. Two docs and a bunch of nurses and paramedics. His belly was grotesquely distended, shaking violently with each downward compression. They brought out the paddles which was when I realized that he may die. Until then, I had been shouting encouragement, hoping he could hear me, knowing he would pull out of it and worst case - he would be in the hospital again. In reality, he was probably gone before he reached the hospital (the paramedics were not precise with the timeline). They called it a little after 3 pm.

Melissa (Justin's wife) was in the parking lot when I walked outside. I just shook my head back and forth. In a total state of disbelief. She started crying. I went back in and tried to console my mom. I just couldn't believe it. I had just landed a few hours earlier. I called Jessica. Justin was already on his way. He absolutely lost it when he saw dad. I talked to Daphne and talked to a partner at work. We all stood around dad for two hours before starting to move on.

The single worst day of my life. And many immediately after that were in the top 10. I try to remember him and try to move forward, but those two are mutually incompatible. As long as I remember him, I will feel sorrow, but I wil be able to remember him. I guess the cost of being able to remember and cherish someone is the pain that took that person away from you. The further away from his death, the less that cost is, but it is, and always will be, there.


02145 said...

I lost my dad, too, 7 years ago. It was sudden. Here is a post I did a couple of years ago for him (a couple of blogs ago):

02145 said...

Forgot to add that I thought your post was very moving. Brought back a lot of memories. I am very sorry for your loss.

Jay said...

Thank you. Sorry for yours as well. My dad was also a Jeopardy addict. When he would know an answer and none of the contestants would, he'd clap his hands together and say "smoked 'em". Every time I watch jeopardy and the same thing happens (not as often as it did for him), I say the same thing. Silly traditions are the ones meant to be carried on.

02145 said...

That's hilarious. My dad would get up, jump around and repeat, "I am so smart! I am so smart!" Sometimes, he'd just wave his hands around and nod to the "audience" around him.