Welcome to a series of stories that basically make up my autobiography. It’s not entirely thorough, but I’ll do the best I can with the memories locked away inside my head. Could be therapeutic for me. Could be humorous for you. Either way, enjoy…
Previously on Life Story… I went to the beach with some of the kids I went to high school with. We partied. So hard.
Kids, we need to jump back a few months. I can’t believe I neglected to tell the story of my dad’s heart surgery and subsequent recovery. After all, it happened during my senior year of high school, so it’s something that really should have come before the graduation story. But I don’t want to go back and renumber the chapters. So we’ll do this as a flashback. But, really, aren’t they all?
My memory of Dad’s medical ordeal is fuzzy, at best. Which could explain why I completely left it out of my story before now. So, Mom, April, if I leave something out, maybe you can fill in the gaps. Not that my family regularly reads this blog… but I digress.
It was January of 1998 when the surgery happened. If I recall correctly, it was a quadruple bypass. I mean, if you’re gonna do it, four out of five is pretty significant. But that’s not how it started. He didn’t just go to the hospital one day and ask for the works.
Dad was having trouble breathing. He’d recently been dealing with a cold and came around to the possibility that he could have pneumonia. So he went to the doctor to get his lungs checked out. His doctor ran a number of tests, including an EKG. This led to the discovery that Dad had suffered from a number of very mild heart attacks over the course of the previous year or so.
Color us all shocked. How could the man have not one, but several heart attacks without ever knowing it? Dad’s explanation was that he had a fairly high pain tolerance. To him, a minor heart attack may have felt no more severe than a bout with acid reflux.
So more tests were ordered. One day, Dad was with his doctor undergoing a stress test. They had him on a treadmill, hooked up to some machines that kept track of his vitals. And they saw it coming before it hit. He had a massive heart attack. I guess, if you’re gonna have one, the hospital is the best place to be when it hits, right?
The next few days were a blur for me. Or, looking back, they’re a blur. I’m sure Mom explained to my sister and I just what Dad would be going through and how the surgery would proceed. I know I missed several days of school to be at the hospital during the surgery and the following days when Dad was in the ICU. April, I think, had a hard time being there. I think she avoided being at the hospital as much as she could. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But I was the opposite. I just knew I had to be there.
The only thing I specifically remember from those days of basically living in the waiting room was that my friend, Jessica, came one day to get me out of there for a while. She simply took me to dinner across the street, but I was extremely grateful for the distraction.
After a few days, I returned to school and life, for the most part, got back to normal. Eventually, Dad was released from the ICU and, soon enough, from the hospital all together. I remember some things needing to be rearranged at home so that he could be upstairs (where the only bathroom was) at all times. It just would have been too difficult for him to climb the stairs during those first few weeks while he continued to recover from his surgery.
He was a different man for what seemed like a couple months. He was always a quiet man, but the quiet was different while he recovered. It was almost like a depression had settled in with him. Maybe it had. I mean, his whole life had just been turned upside down. He was no longer able to do the things he wanted to do. He would never be able to return to the job he had done for over 20 years. His life, from his perspective in the moment, would now consist of being taken care of. A difficult thing to accept when you’ve spent so long taking care of others.
I never lived under the delusion that my father was indestructible. I knew he was just as human as the next guy. But I’m sure he had a hard time appearing vulnerable in front of his kids. I felt helpless. I had no idea how to care for him in those days. He was never one to ask for help, even if he needed it. The increase in his quiet demeanor as he recovered certainly didn’t help.
But time heals most, if not all, things. Soon enough, Dad was out of his recliner and able to move slowly up and down the stairs. He was able to fend for himself a bit more. Little by little, he returned to a state of normalcy. His humor returned and he came to realize that, just because life had changed did not mean that life was over. He still had a lot to give and I’m grateful for the years that followed with him.