Uuuugh…I don’t want to write this post. But I can’t muster up any sort of enthusiasm to talk about travel right now, either. The best way to deal with difficult situations is to get them out of your head and onto paper. So, here goes.
The last month has been hell. If you care to know more, keep reading. If not, I’ll be back with additional tales of travel and adventure shortly.
My Dad’s starting his fourth week in the hospital. His mechanical heart valve was growing something – an infection, a blood clot – THEY STILL DON’T KNOW – but something was there that shouldn’t be. Chunks of this mystery “vegetation” (ick) were breaking off and making their way into his brain causing him to have mini strokes.
He doesn’t remember having any strokes over the past year, but the doctors can see evidence of them.
I was home visiting my family in Milwaukee when he had one that was large enough to catch our attention.
I called him on the phone Saturday night to make plans for breakfast the following day. He sounded fine. The next morning, I called to let him know I was on my way and suddenly, everything was wrong. His speech was slurred, his voice sounded muffled and he was very confused. It sounded like he had a stroke.
I asked if he was okay and he said, “No. Something is not right.”
He never says that sort of thing. My Dad is one of the most stoic men I’ve ever met. He’s steady, he’s reliable and he’s always fine, even after everything he’s been through over the past decade.
I called 911 and my brother. We rushed to his house and found him sitting on the sofa talking to the paramedics. One side of his face drooped slightly. He looked disoriented, but was able to agree to go to the hospital. He walked to the ambulance under his own power.
Statistically speaking, my Dad should not be alive right now. He has survived two very serious, very fatal medical issues. First, some mystery bacteria that formed in either his mouth or his sinuses caused a brain abscess. One of his friends acted upon a hunch and drove an hour to our family’s lake cottage to find him collapsed on the floor, alone. She thought he had died. He was airlifted to the nearest hospital and returned home a few weeks later.
Four years ago, he was running up the stairs from his basement when he felt a strange chest pain and was short of breath. He called my Aunt Mary and asked her what to do. She told him to call 911. His heart valve failed and it ruptured his aorta. This kills 80% of people instantly. He called in his own ambulance.
Living with an artificial heart valve has been difficult. Blood thinners have caused a near constant state of dizziness and zapped his energy. Some days are great and he sounds vibrant – just like the Dad I’ve always known. Some days, he sounds tired and a little confused – like the Dad I’ve come to accept over the past four years.
I often find myself worrying about him. It’s been hard to watch him go from a healthy, active, energetic individual to one who tires easily. I worry about how often he repeats himself and wonder if it will get worse over time. I worry that he’s not happy and will never get back on a sailboat again.
However, the night of his stroke, (before it occurred), I made the conscious decision to stop worrying about him for the first time in a decade. I don’t know what prompted the thought, but something told me to let it go.
Over the past four weeks (and the past 10 years), my siblings and I have done a lot of bonding around his hospital bed. We’re falling in line with a routine we’re unfortunately familiar with. Brian and Mike visit him every day. Kelly comes in from Madison weekly. I cry at work from afar.
But we are all hoping this surgery will be a temporary set-back for Dad. He was able to get a tissue valve put in and can finally get off of Warfarin. The surgeons at Froedert were kind enough to replace some of the veins leading from his heart to his brain with new ones from his legs to improve blood flow. And if he does need another valve replacement surgery in his lifetime, they can go through his leg, rather than cracking open his chest.
Dad planned to retire from his job with the County in January, so he still has access to good health insurance (thank God). Employees at the County have been kind and entirely more helpful than I would have expected them to be. (Shout-out to my man, Bruce!)
We have every reason to believe Dad will be back on his Hobie Cat this summer, lines in one hand, the rudder in the other, a Miller Lite strapped to the trampoline, showing the neighbors how it’s [not properly] done.