Eleven years ago my mom and dad were hanging onto life by threads.
Eleven years ago tonight, to the date AND day, I had what would be the last conversation with my dad. He’d suffered a heart attack earlier in the week, was rushed to CCU and had been placed on a respirator. Mom, meanwhile, was back in the nursing home room they both shared while we made plans to fly them back to New Jersey; plans that were postponed when a blizzard blew in and blanketed the northeast. So, rather than being back with family in New Jersey, we were stuck in sunny, humid, Ocala and dad was now in CCU being kept alive on a respirator … Something he never wanted if his life was in the balance.
Mom was very frail so we were advised to tell her that dad was in the hospital simply to have some additional tests. As usual, she DEMANDED that I stay at her bedside until visiting hours ended so my brother sat vigil in CCU. Being “daddy’s girl,” my heart and soul wanted to be at his bedside. Repeat after me: Consequences. Since we kept the gravity of the situation under wraps, mom had no idea and just wanted what she wanted, as usual. So I wasn’t “allowed” to leave, couldn’t say anything and couldn’t get mom upset. So at around 9pm each night my brother and I traded places at the bedsides.
The nursing home was a very busy place and couldn’t leave dad’s bed empty so a new patient was admitted into the room with mom. She was a very large African American woman who was suffering with complications from diabetes, was always in pain and had a very loud family. Although there was a different vibe in the room, I was glad to see a patient being cared for by family. That was a very unusual occurrence. Most people were alone which was especially heartbreaking around the holidays.
Mom and dad couldn’t move very well and were confined to bed. So when he was in the room with her, I’d positioned the beds so that they could look into the mirror on the dresser to see and talk to each other rather than turn their heads all the time. On Friday night, February 21st, mom looked into the mirror and tapped me on the arm. This was the conversation:
Mom: “I don’t like the way he looks.”
Me: “Who, mom?”
Mom: “Daddy.” She pointed at the mirror. “I don’t like the way he looks. He looks ….. so …… DARK.”
At that moment my eyes almost popped out of my head. I covered my mouth and laughed so hard I could’ve peed my pants. I leaned in closer and, still laughing, whispered, “That’s not daddy, mom. he’s in the hospital, remember? That’s a black woman. Your new room mate until daddy gets back.”
She opened her eyes in recognition and brought her hands up to her mouth making that “oops” gesture and expression. We both laughed. And then it was time for the changing of the guards. I kissed her goodnight, repositioned the dresser to avoid any future mistaken identity issues, and headed over to sit with dad.
I hated that he was on a respirator but when I tried to set up a DNR, as I KNEW he wanted, several doctors actually chastised me and shamed me for those actions. How could I dare to prevent him from getting the things that they needed to provide in order to assist his healing? I knew better. We’d had long conversations. He never wanted to be on life support and I had power of attorney to make their medical decisions … a horrible position to be in but it sure does grow you up. And yet, I was shamed enough by the doctors and resting in my own sense of hope, to leave the respirator in place. I’d apologized each night before leaving his bedside and, on Thursday night, had whispered in his ear, “I know you don’t want this and I’m so sorry. I just don’t know what to do. Please help me out, dad.”
Imagine my surprise the next day when my brother called from CCU to tell me that dad was awake and off the respirator. Had he heard my request? Could he be getting better as the doctors hoped? I couldn’t wait to visit and, as I’d imagined, it lifted my heart to see him smiling and sitting up watching Steve McQueen in “The Sand Pebbles” on his CCU TV. It was such a gift to be able to talk to him and watch TV with him the way we used to. I stayed as long as I could and knew he needed to get some rest.
When the movie ended I told him that mom was really concerned about him and then shared the story of what happened earlier.
He laughed, and with that twinkle in his eyes said, “That’s our Loopy!”
“Loopy” … his pet name for her in recent years. That just tickled me. We both laughed out loud. “Loopy” for sure.
It was late and we all needed to rest so I said goodnight, kissed him and said I’d see him tomorrow.
I had no idea that, in less than 24 hours, I’d be making the biggest decision of my life …. and he’d be gone.