Saturday, September 20, 2014
In the blink of an eye
Three years ago today I received a call in the morning from the hospital. I needed to make some decisions for my dad since he was unresponsive and the doctors were concluding there was nothing left medically to do. "I'll leave now and be there in three hours."
Steve was able to stay home with Olivia (then 5) and Quinn and Turner (3 at the time.) I kissed them goodbye, choked back a tear, hugged Steve and climbed into the red Corolla that my Dad had driven and would now belong to us.
It's a scary thing, getting into a car alone, heading up the road for a 2 1/2 hour car ride knowing on the other side you will face doctors and tell them what you think they should do to make your dad the most comfortable for him to pass away.
I got to his room, where he had been for about 10 days; some of which had also been spent in the ICU. He pulled out of that one about three days before this September 20th trip. In those 10 days I desperately wanted to spend every moment with him. He was alone. No family, no friends to visit him. Just me- 2 1/2 hours down the road. We invited him, no, begged him to move to Dayton to be near us after my mom died and I began my chemotherapy for Stage III Ovarian cancer. But he was born and raised in Toledo, OH and that is where he would die.
He was sleeping. His arms puffy, his breath shallow. I kissed him on the cheek and let him know I was there. I told him a kid story or two. After about 30 minutes he opened his eyes. They twinkled a touch and let me know he knew I was there. For real. My mind was not just making it up. I held his hand and he gave a faint squeeze.
Earlier in the week while he was still able to speak yet unable to move his puffy, fluid filled arms, he told me, "I'm not going home this time, Babe." If you've never heard someone say those words or something similar, let me tell you... I hope you never have to hear them. It seemed like a lie to say, "Sure you will, Dad." Because it was obvious. Even if he rallied, he would have to go to a rehab center or something more permanent. Heart breaking doesn't even describe those words.
Soon after he closed his eyes again, a female doctor came in to talk with me about "my dad's wishes for end of life care." (I'm pretty sure she was visibly shaken by my own bald head. I had finished chemo treatments a short 2 1/2 months before this day in September and barely had a covering of peach fuzz.) I must have been an amazingly pathetic sight.
My dad's wishes for end of life care? We had never talked about these things. You think we would have. After my mom's death. My illness. His illness and nearly 2 weeks in the hospital. But no, he would not talk about these things. So, it had to be my best guess.
I suppose he would want to be comfortable. No machines. No heroic efforts. He would want me. I would stay with him, until the end.
So they moved him to a different floor. A floor people go to die. I carried a bag with his belongings. Pants. A belt. His goofy big brown shoes. His black wallet that I had undoubtedly gotten him years past for his birthday, Father's Day or some other gift giving holiday. It seemed to be about as old as he was.
They "settled" him into the room. There was no telling how long we would be there. The kind nurse showed me how to pull out the chair into a bed. She showed me a shower down the hall. They would bring me dinner, if I felt like eating. It had been hours since I had, but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to eat. It was about 2:00 in the afternoon. I called Steve and told him what was happening. I texted my best friends to ask for prayer. Strength and courage is what I would need the most of.
It's super scary being in a room with your dad like that. It's just the two of you. It's for the last time. I wanted to make sure I told him all I had to tell him. I held his hand. Combed his hair. Told him stories. I reminisced. I thanked him for every single thing I could remember to thank him for. I reminded him again of how much Jesus loved him and all about what Jesus had done for him on the cross. I told him before, but it felt really good to tell him again. Even if it was just to remind myself.
At 4:00 pm, I called my Aunt who was on her way to Ohio to be with us. She was a day or so away. I was telling her the details of the day. I turned to look out the window and cry for a moment with her. I turned back around and realized I no longer heard my dad struggling for breath. It was just the hum of the machine. I ran over to him. He must have just left. I hugged him, held his hand and kissed him for the final time on the cheek. I went to get the nurse. She confirmed what I already knew.
At 4:10, she made it official.
At 4:20, one of my best friends, Sarah, walked through the door. Steve had called her and she offered to drive down from Ann Arbor, MI to be with me. They agreed, I should not be alone. She sat with me for several hours and hugged me, cried with me and prayed with me until I was ready to get back in my Dad's Corolla and drive back to Dayton. The whole family would return with me the next day to take care of business.
September 20, 2011- 3 years ago- is a day that is burnt into my memory. It is special and horrifying at the same time. God got me through. He gets me through each day. There is hope in this story. There is love and beauty in this story. It is my story that I don't ever want to forget yet desperately wish I could all at the same time. A sad chapter that I would re-write if I could but insist on writing down so I don't forget. Jerry Printki, you are not forgotten. A blink of an eye.