Only it wasn’t.
On Tuesday, November 25th, 2014, my 65 year old father suffered a massive stroke.
Whew. Ok, there I said it. The end.
Personal traumatic events are funny. Not like in the “haha” way but in the…almost ironic way, I guess. I started this blog for an obvious reason: I pen my emotions. It’s how I release emotions, good and bad. It’s my therapy. Only, with this subject, I just can’t seem to find any fluidity. I’m totally stunted with not only writing about my dad’s stroke but when I speak about it, it’s like I’m talking about a stranger that went through this, meaning him, my mom and me- all strangers. Coping mechanisms, I haz ’em.
If you know me, you know that my parents are my best friends. I am an only child and I have always been overly enmeshed with my parents. As in, they even came up to visit me in college and went to the bars with my friends and me. (Hey, Florida State had Tennessee Street and Floyd’s and Creed, and football. Who wouldn’t want to do that with their kid?)
He was everyone’s dad as I was growing up. He was the, “Man, I wish your dad could adopt me” dad, the one that makes me always beam with pride. He was infallible, immortal, ageless.
Confidant, business advisor, handyman, computer repairman, star babysitter, “Bop-bop”, travel companion, unbiased, engineer, advocate. I can’t even come up with enough adjectives to describe my dad. He was not someone who would suffer a stroke and fall into ill-health.
Only, he was.
I never wake up early on my own. Never. 6am should not even be a time to be awake in my world. My natural clock says 7am is good, but on this average Tuesday, 5:55am is when I jolted awake. It’s as if someone shook me. I sat straight up in bed, almost breathless. I laid back down, looked at the ceiling briefly and decide to grab for my phone that was on the floor. I saw a missed call from my mom. “Oh God. Please let that have been an accidental call from my dad when he took my mom’s phone off charge this morning. It’s happened before. Nothing is wrong, nothing is wrong, nothing is wrong.”, talking to myself.
I chickened out on calling her back, I texted her.
“Did you mean to call me?”
It’s like everything stopped in that exact moment when the phone rang. My world stopped completely. I literally could not get my legs to stand or my feet to move or my brain to function as I listened to my hysterical mother telling me something about my dad on the floor, moaning and…”did she say stroke? Did she just say she thought he was dying? Is my mom crying? It’s still dark out, it’s quiet in the house. I must be having a nightmare.”
When people say “my head was spinning”, that is indeed a real thing. My head was spinning. I asked to speak to the paramedics, asked them to take him to Sarasota Memorial. “Ma’am, we don’t have that much time. He won’t survive if we take him that far”.
“What? That far? That’s 30 minutes away. What.is.happening? What’s a stroke again?”. I literally lost all thought process. I was totally stricken with fear. I thought, “maybe if I just stay here and go back to sleep, this won’t be real. Maybe I don’t have to deal with this…because I just can’t”. My motivational thought was then, “What would my dad do if this were me?”.
After I instructed my mom on what was going to happen next (“You stay there, Auntie Dorothy will pick you up, I will meet the ambulance at the hospital”), called my aunt, I suddenly realized…this was real.
I began to hyperventilate. But I couldn’t lose control. “The facts. What are the facts right now?”
-My dad was being taken by an ambulance to Venice Hospital because he had a stroke.
-Lily is asleep in the next room.
-I need to get to the hospital.
-I need to drive there but how will I get my legs to work?
-I need an anti-anxiety pill.
-I probably can’t leave Lily alone.
I called Lily’s father who lives 15 minutes away and he arrives in 6 minutes flat. I somehow manage to get in my car and make it go.
I pull out on the main road right behind the ambulance that was carrying my father. Emergency lights screaming, speed of about 60 miles per hour. My leg was shaking so violently that I couldn’t feel the gas pedal. I honestly could not process what was happening, but I was there.
I go in through the emergency room. I told the triage nurse I thought I was going to pass out. I will never forget her words: “No, you’re not. You’re going to be here for your dad. Sit. Have a sip of water and tell me your dad’s date of birth”.
“Ok, I can do this.”
The time in the ER was not really anything I can piece together. There was a lot of rushing around, a scene like Grey’s Anatomy, no joke. There were a lot of nurses. And a neurologist that showed up that was the furthest thing from Dr. McDreamy.
My mom and aunt showed up at some point. My dad didn’t know how to say his name properly. He knew the year. He had no movement on his left side. He didn’t really know me or acknowledge me. They told me they had to take him for a “procedure” to help stop the stroke damage. TPA, stents, whatever. Only, no, not whatever. I have to pay attention. My dad was always the one here though, paying attention. Where’s my dad?
Everything from here on out was medical. Ups and downs. He won’t live, but he will. He won’t walk, but he will. 24 hour waiting periods to see if he will survive. Sign this “Do Not Resuscitate”. ICU. Left sided weakness. Can’t swallow. Retrain everything. Oh yeah, his heart isn’t working well either. Oh, AND, his left carotid is also blocked and we have to stent that side, too. More 24 hour waiting periods.
And within those 8 days in ICU, my dad, as I know him, showed up, fighting like a mother fucker. He lived. He walked. He swallowed. He talked. He got angry. He was bribing me to sneak him out of there. He complained about the food. He made some jokes, especially when I stepped on his catheter.
Two and a half weeks in intense rehab and he was home two days before Christmas. Home, a different man, yet the same.
So, I sit here seven months later, two days before Father’s Day, trying to process this. I still can’t completely.
People see pictures of him, or maybe even see him, and say “He’s doing so great! He looks so great!”, and he is and he does, but this is his new life filled with doctor’s appointments, medications, and frustrations for him. Roles have reversed and now he must listen to my mom and me rather than the other way around. He must follow doctor’s orders. Although he’s gained some of his independence back (he even drives, against my better judgement), he must give into being taken care of.
His brain is injured, he knows this, but he does not understand his limitations. It’s the fighter in him.
He recognizes that everyone treats him differently and he doesn’t understand why. Through all of this, he truly doesn’t understand what he’s gone through and what his differences are. I’m glad he doesn’t. I don’t want him to see those differences because at the end of the day, he’s still my dad. He’s still here. He’s still trying. He’s still persevering through all of these shitty health problems that have resulted from ignoring preventative medicine for 65 years. He is still here. And although he’s not exactly who he was before November 25, 2014, he wants to be. He is still here.
What I do want him to know is how inspiring he is, how amazing he is, how resilient he is, how brave he is. I have sat down many times to write him a letter to tell him this but I have never been so sure that my words weren’t making enough sense or holding enough weight. How do you possibly capture 38.5 years of appreciation, admiration, and love for someone in a simple letter? It’s impossible to put that in words.
This is where I would say that actions speak louder than words, but, not in this case. My dad and I have never been the overly affectionate type. Hugging and kissing- not our thing. “I love you”s- not very often. Actions. Always actions, communication and gestures with us. But again, how do you show someone enough gratitude when they’ve been your rock, your stability, your go-to person for your whole life?
Im not sure but I hope I’m making him proud by trying.