Gutsy Moves

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Intro: Please note that if there is (or has recently been) a life or death medical crisis within your family / close circle of friends, perhaps, it’d be best not to read any further. As for all others who’ve clicked by, the following account has been culled from my family’s personal History Book; backdated to this very day, 33 years ago…

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My father, having feared the worst, had delayed colon cancer surgery for at least half a decade.

Long sigh…

September 6, 1988 had no sooner arrived than another of his medical issues, congestive heart failure, had worsened; thereby necessitating two ambulance rides, initially, to our local hospital, ultimately, to a much better staffed and equipped, out of town facility.

At that point, whenever his internist had made his rounds, he had tried his very best to coax my dad into making a more gutsy move; the good doctor saying (words to the effect),

“Seeing how your heart situation has been stabilized and you’re already hospitalized, anyway, why not schedule your long overdue operation?”

And so, September 20, 1988 became “The Day”.

However, no sooner had his surgeon begun the procedure, than he had realized the metastasizing tumors had left him little choice but to wave the white flag.

Further complicating matters, my dad had intentionally left blank his pre-surgical paperwork’s advanced directives section, and his resultant, by default, Full Code status meant that were anything to go wrong, his doctors were required to do everything humanly possible to keep their patient alive.

And everything did go wrong! Big Time Wrong! In essence, my father had died on the operating table; with only hospital heroics wresting his lifeless body from the Grim Reaper’s cold clammy clutches.

Within the hour, his surgeon, in no mood to mince his words, informed me that the best, most merciful thing that could’ve possibly happened to my dad, that morning, would’ve been his dying.

Nonetheless, for the next six weeks, my family and I kept on wallowing in our shared, irrational belief that, if given a chance, our family patriarch would overcome his ventilator dependence and rally, sufficiently, to go home.

  • The Good News: My dad, albeit briefly, was able to breathe, anew, on his own.
  • The Bad News: He had emerged from his ordeal in a horrifying state of mind.

His only sounds, which even remotely resembled sentience / human communication were his yawns.

One of his nurses confided that the phalanx of ICU physicians had formulated two possible diagnoses. Either the cancer had metastasized to my dad’s brain or his likely cancerous liver could not even begin to process the dozens of dangerously interacting pharmaceuticals; all of which had rendered him, for lack of a better phrase, stoned out of his mind.

Well, my dad did finally make it back home, but, alas, this was not his Earthly home.

And such an outcome had only been feasible once his exasperated surgeon had prevailed upon us to make one helluva gutsy move. He had encouraged us (my word choice) to see the light; to morph his patient from Full to No Code; to permit my dad to go into the light (as it were).

Truth told, hospital heroics had been the ONE and ONLY reason my father had managed to stay alive; i.e., if being tethered to an ICU bed, wigged out on Rx drugs and ventilator dependent even qualifies as being alive.

What all of this had actually meant was that we, his family, could’ve picked and chosen any day for him to die. And it’s difficult not to consider September 20, 1988, as the day my father had actually died.

My parting wisdom…

What life and death taught me, 33 years ago, today, is no less applicable today.

  • To varying degrees, major surgery is never free of inherent risks.
  • O.R. bound patients must always convey their advanced directives.
  • Full Code is for patients with a good chance for a complete recovery.
  • Full Code for those with poor chances, can lead to a quasi-living Hell!

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Stay Publicly / Properly Masked!
Stay Safe at Home!
Stay Healthy!

-30-

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The Erudite Man’s Yawn

 

My father died on the operating table on this very day, 1988, yet existed for another six weeks.

Sad story short, he had been in denial of Cancer’s warning signs and waited too long. His surgeon had no sooner begun his procedure when he realized his patient was beyond help. Dad had further complicated matters by intentionally leaving blank his pre-op, advanced directives form. So, that categorized him as Full Code. That meant each and every time a medical crisis arose, he expected his doctors and nurses to engage in hospital heroics… at all costs.

We, his family, had also felt duty bound to honor his (by default) directive. Factoring in our false hopes for a miracle and…

Dad was doomed to lead a worthless, ventilator dependent, pharmacological false life. The final chapter of his life could’ve been titled: My In-Limbo Full Code HELL. Even worse, the ventilator tube did not permit him to speak… not even whisper. Hell, he couldn’t have told us “Enough is Enough”  even had he wanted to.

Albeit briefly, my father did muster a rally. The ventilator now removed, we had hoped to talk to him but… the interaction of the regimen of painkiller drugs and/or his cancer metastasizing to his brain had prevented him from forming any intelligible words. About the only sound that sounded even remotely human was his yawn.

The erudite, college educated educator, who could lecture on higher
Math and all of the Sciences had now been reduced to a mere yawn.

Our hoped and prayed for miracle never came. My father’s indecision, eventually, became my mother’s decision and, within mere hours of her freeing her husband from his Full Code Prison, he took his final breath.

My message…

Don’t ever let this happen to any of your loved ones. Don’t ever let this happen to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Honoring Thy / My Father

 

As of this posting day, it’s been 30 long years since my father and I last conversed… since I had wished him good luck just prior to his gurney ride into the “theatre”, where his surgeon would soon discover his efforts were too little / too late. Indeed, the colon cancer, which he had already suspected, had gone on a metastatic rampage.

Dad, having been in fearful denial of the seriousness of his health problems, had left the pre-surgery Advanced Directives page blank. This meant, by default, his doctor was obligated to save his patient’s life at all costs… even when the chances for recovery were hopelessly grim. And, indeed, it had been the good doctor’s operating room heroics, ALONE, which had prevented Dad from dying right there on the table.

Further complicating matters were my father’s lifelong obesity and addiction to cigarettes, cigars and pipe… all of which had rendered him ventilator dependent.

Although I had not eye-witnessed that harrowing, life or death, O.R. scene, personally, I have little doubt every dramatized TV hospital show I had ever viewed would’ve paled in comparison.

And so, by default, my Dad’s fate was now left up his wife. Of course, since my Dad had been “programmed” in an era where misogynist society had ignorantly regarded wives subservient… he had always been the decision maker in their marriage. Ergo, my Mom had been ill-prepared to make any decisions at all. As for life or death decisions? Forget it!

More significantly, the love in her heart would not permit her to see the futility of her fighting for her husband’s life. Admittedly, the love in my heart would not allow me to see the light / let Dad go into the light, either.

True, his doctor did frequently talk to me… restate his plea for compassion… point out how inhumane these hospital heroics actually were. Admittedly, I did experience fleeting moments where I could view this dispassionately… concur that… to quote the good Doc’s increasingly exasperated words… “We should stop beating on a dead horse!” On some level, I did understand how the inability and unwillingness to “pull the plug” was only causing my father pointless, endless suffering… and more pragmatically… how our indecisiveness was tying up medical personnel, supplies and equipment that patients, who did have a far better chance for survival, so desperately needed.

For the next six weeks, only ICU heroics continued to keep my Dad alive. Amazingly, he did rally… oh, so briefly got off that ventilator, which finally allowed him to speak. However… his utterances had been reduced to mere, unintelligible yammering… the only things sounding even remotely human being his yawns and snoring. A hell of a fate for a learned man who had earned multiple college degrees and had spoken so eloquently.

I suppose you could say, in a sense, my Dad’s actual place and time of death had been on that operating room table, on this very day, Tuesday, September 20, 1988… approximately 9 a.m.

Returning to the here and now… and at the risk of sounding too preachy… the moral to this story is that we must always do our very best to take care of ourselves… concede that, in spite of our best efforts, our bodies will, inevitably, fail us. Ergo, we must accept our mortality. To that end, it’s imperative that we always clearly communicate our realistic, advanced directives to the medical professionals we encounter in our lives.

What better way to show our love for our families than sparing them the needless angst of deciding our fates for us.

 

 

Was it Divine Intervention? (Part 2)

In Part 1, I mentioned how my brush with death on an icy freeway overpass had been a stop and think about “IT” moment in my life… that I’ve experienced “IT” a few other times… that each time “IT” had hit me… I did get that jaw dropping, “Oh Wow”, feeling of awe.

I also claimed that “IT” has further strengthened my already rock solid faith in God… that “IT” had happened because He still had more important work for me to do on Earth. And last but not least, I made a promise to tell you all about “IT”. Now,  being a man who’s true to his word, welcome to Part 2!

To be sure here… “IT” is a rather inelegant way of talking about “IT”… that “IT” being none other than Divine Intervention. Hmm… maybe I should abbreviate “IT”? Sure… why not… let’s use the acronym, “DI”.

The DI I’ll be blogging about on this day took place just as the final paragraphs of my Dad’s bio were getting written. But… let’s first flip back a few pages… just to get you, my readers, on the same page with me.

Dad’s Life Story ~ By the time the dog days of summer, 1988, had arrived, the consequences from a lifetime’s worth of poor lifestyle choices had begun to dog him. Tobacco and a diet loaded with sodium and saturated fats had resulted in obesity, hypertension, heart trouble, diabetes and cancer.

Dad’s internist had advised him to do something before it was too late… but my father waited and waited… until it was too late. His need for an ambulance trip to the hospital certainly underscored his “too late” status.

It was after modern medical miracles had stabilized Dad’s heart issues when his doctor finally convinced him to surgically address his other problems, too.

I had visited Dad 12 hours prior to his operation. Although we both skirted the issue… opting, instead, for some pleasant small talk… we could both see the fear in each others eyes. We shared the unspoken dread that, come morning, things would not be going well. Dad’s parting words that night, “Keep the home fires burning.” I assured him I would.

Our worst fears had been confirmed in the OR… Dad’s cancer had become a raging, rampaging, homicidal, suicidal beast. Since he had intentionally left his “advanced directives” form blank, i.e., had not told what his wishes were in the event something went wrong, by default his status was “full code”… which meant he wanted doctors to do everything medically possible to keep him alive.

And something DID go wrong… everything went wrong!

The surgical team had to resort to heroics just to keep him from dying on the operating table… even though his chances for recovery were near absolute zero.

For six, long, agonizing weeks Dad laid in a quasi-living, Hellish limbo, while his doctor made repeated attempts to convince Mom, this was all to no avail. As the doctor’s frustration mounted, he even said, point blank, “This is like beating on a dead horse!” But, she just didn’t have the heart to… to put this crudely… “pull the plug”.

On November 1, 1988, Mom and I had one more confab with Dad’s doctor, where she had asked him… no… from the tone in her voice I could hear it more as her desperate plea… “Is there any chance you can save my husband’s life?” He simply nodded no.

Well, at that moment… Mom had seen the light… and as a result of her changing her husband over to “no code”, Dad had finally been liberated from his torture chamber ICU. At long last he would get the opportunity to “see the light”… albeit in a different sense…

Whether Dad would live or die was now up to God to decide.

Mom and I passed through the hospital exits in silence. Our slow walk to the parking lot was amidst a misty rain. Just as I was unlocking and holding the car door open for her, Mom turned to me to ask, “Did I just do the right thing?” At that moment the sun broke through the storm clouds and a rainbow appeared!”

To answer her, all I had to do is point upward and say, “Would you look at that!”

Well, as we all know, rainbows usually signify the end to our storms. To be sure… Dad’s post-op experience had been the medical equivalent of an F-10 tempest. But did this rainbow mean he’d be making a miraculous recovery or…

On the drive home, Mom and I had both been stunned into silence by the sudden appearance of that rainbow. As I drove, I recalled one of her favorite stories, one she had told me many times… one that I had never grown tired of hearing…

In her home state of Minnesota, there had been torrential rains for the entire week leading up to her Wedding Day in 1948. Then just as she and Dad had said, “I do” the clouds broke, and sunbeams lit up the entire church.

As we pulled up into the driveway, we both agreed we were physically and emotionally exhausted. Our number one priority was to get some much-needed sleep. We also made our plans to return to the hospital, early the very next morning… but…

Just as we were heading out the door… the phone rang. It being only 6:30 a.m… we knew this could only mean bad news. The disembodied voice informed us that it was too late… Dad had died… died alone.

I’m including the Mike + The Mechanics video “Living Years” even though the story told by lyricists Mike Rutherford and B.A. Robertson is not a “perfect fit” to all elements of my own story. The lyrics, which resonate with me the most are as follows…

I wasn’t there that morning… when my father passed away,

Didn’t get to tell him… All the things I had to say.

To be sure… nobody should ever die alone… and, for not being there… I do feel I had let my father down. The very last thing he had ever said to me turned out to be, “Keep the home fires burning!” And I would not let him down in that regard… that I had solemnly vowed.

So… while I regain my composure… let’s adjourn for about five minutes to give a listen to “Living Years”. Scroll down to meet me at song’s end… for my parting thoughts…

While we were listening… a thought did come to mind… and I’ll bet some of you also thought along these same lines…

Don’t postpone that long overdue visit and/or phone chat with your parents… do that soon… before it’s too late.

Now… to wrap up my story…

I realize that a doubting Thomas or secularist would dispute my claim that the rainbow, which Mom and I had seen, had any significance at all… let alone it being Divine Intervention. Such naysayers would merely chalk it all up to “total coincidence”.

OK, it’s true… God had not actually cured my Dad of all his ills. On that technicality… I’ll cede the skeptics a bit of ground. But it’s in the realm of the intangible where He worked His miracle. He had slightly eased both Mom’s and my own anguish over the decision to go “no code” re my Dad.

Consider that rainbow, too… the perfect timing of it all… had Mom and I delayed exiting the Hospital by even one minute, we would’ve entirely missed seeing that short-lived meteorological event. Think about the similarity of how the sun had come out at just the right time on her Wedding Day. “Till death do us part” is part of those vows… and this 40 year later similar weather pattern appeared to be ushering in that impending, “till death do us part” moment for this husband / wife couple.

All of this transcends happenstance, which does bring us back full circle to Divine Intervention.

For sure I know it further strengthened my Mom’s rock solid faith in God…

For sure I know it further strengthened my my own rock solid faith in God…

The Good Lord willing… I shall share with you one last experience I’ve had with Divine Intervention… in the days ahead… stay tuned…