I got out of my Thursday night Men’s Big Book Study meeting in St. Paul and checked my cell phone. 4 missed calls. All from my mother. Mom’s a little OCD, but this was a little out of the ordinary, even for her. Something had to be wrong.
I checked my voicemail. Mom calling. Sounds frazzled. “Call me right away.” Next message is more of the same. The third one I can hear that she’s in a car. “Get to Abbot Northwestern Hospital. It’s your father. Hurry.”
Two months ago my father celebrated his 70th birthday. Something my mother has since told me that he never thought he’d be able to do. He’s had heart problems since he was in his mid fifties. Triple bypass, artery replacements, valve replacement, etc., etc., etc. Thing is, he hasn’t had anything act up in years. In hindsight, we should have been paying closer attention.
Heading west-bound on I-94, driving as fast as safely possible, my mother calls. She’s sobbing, can barely speak, but she manages to convey that Dad had gone under but they’d been able to revive him.
We meet in the emergency room. I arrive shortly before my mother and uncle do. She comes in as fast as she can, looking for anyone with answers. We’re instructed that he’s doing okay and that we can see him shortly.
Calming down, my mother tells me the details of what happened. How they were sitting down to watch Survivor. Dad was tired and sat in his chair, tipped his head back, and momentarily fell asleep – something he’s been known to do now and then. My mother tried to wake him, but he didn’t respond. She went over to him and he was stiff. And not breathing. With no pulse.
She called 911. They instructed her to lay him on the floor. She rubbed his chest and opened his mouth, trying to ensure his airway was opened. He suddenly begun breathing again. Frightened, not knowing what happened, he pushed her away. The paramedics arrived, put him on the stretcher and carted him out.
In the ER, ironically at the same time ER was airing on NBC, the doctor explained to us the results of the tests. The EKG showed that his heart had been somewhat strained. They transferred him up to the Intensive Care Unit.
We arrived up on the second floor ICU five minutes later, standing in my father’s room. He was conscious and alert. Though he still didn’t remember what happened in the living room, he remembered eating dinner and everything leading up to that.
The doctor came in and asked us a few questions. The nurse got him situated, feeding various bottles up into his IV.
We left the room to head down to the family lounge. A monitor began to beep erratically. I didn’t pay any attention to it, because there are beeps coming from any number of machines from any number of rooms – how can you tell where they’re coming from? Unfortunately, this one happened to be my father’s heart monitor – it had stopped again. They pulled out the paddles, positioned them on his chest, and shocked him back to life.
This happened five or six times before I fell asleep. I found out later that it continued to happen – roughly 10 – 12 times throughout the night.
I awoke in the morning and they were transferring him up to surgery to do an angiogram and insert a temporary pacemaker and defribulator, after which he was transferred again upstairs to the Cardiac-ICU.
He’s still there. Rarely awake, recuperating. He hasn’t had any more incidents, but there have been a few spikes in the monitor. Every time I hear one of those beeps go wild I get a little nervous. Tomorrow he is going into surgery to have a permanent pacemaker / defribulator inserted. This is supposed to be the cure-all for him.
I am grateful I have been sober through this. People contacted me when they found out what had happened. They offerred help. They wanted to make sure that I was okay. It was truly wonderful.
I’m grateful I was able to make amends with my parents. Because of that, I felt no shame with my father. I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew that I had made my peace. At one point my father looked up at me, grabbed my hand and told me he was glad I was there. That meant a lot to me. It was as if he was trying to comfort me instead of the other way around. Still providing, still being the parent.
I’m grateful I’ve been able to be there to comfort my mother. To make sure she’s not alone during this.
And most of all, I’m glad I haven’t lost it yet. Sobriety has allowed me to be present.