About 14 years ago, maybe longer, my father started noticing an odd feeling in his chest when he'd walk fast, a sensation he likened to breathing in cold air. After numerous trips to doctors for 2nd and 3rd opinions, he learned that the major arteries on his heart were severely clogged. He tried procedures to clear them, two balloon angioplasties and one with a laser, with no success. He literally got burned by the laser procedure. A doctor told him he'd need to crack his chest and have a bypass operation, and the only other option he had was to sit in a chair and wait to die. The doctor, with poor bedside manner, was trying a scare tactic that failed. He gave my dad two years to live at most without the surgery. My dad gave death the finger, radically changed his diet, and began having alternative chelation treatments to flush out his bloodstream and wear down that plaque.

During this initial time, my dad gave up playing music, at least on the street. He'd come down to my fire department and Italian gigs to watch me play and see all his friends, but he only practiced his horn at home or with one or two sitting concert bands. As his lifestyle changes took effect, and his stress decreased after retirement, he began to feel both stronger and bored. After a one or two year hiatus, he returned to street music. He passed that doctor's two-year deadline, and thus far has survived another twelve.

Now, he's not quite back where he was back then, but he is having a rough year. Reader's will recall my month or two of frightened and concerned tales of his stay first in a hospital, then in a nursing home as a minor bump on his shoulder turned somehow into an infected wound. The least of his problems, an annoyance that doctors would occasionally drain and thought little of, was the one that nearly did him in. But with strong antibiotics administered directly to his bloodstream for a month, he was soon ready to come home. A surgeon confirmed that his rotator cuff was gone and he'd never raise his arm over his head again, but didn't advice replacement surgery for a man pushing 80. With therapy, he's regained almost all arm mobility below the level of his shoulders.

His last few attempts to play parades have been problematic, as both his chest grew tight and his knees locked up. He felt like he couldn't walk, and then the sensation would pass after he rested a while. While this vexes him, it seems obvious to me that once he exerts himself to a certain point it puts a strain on his system, and the reason it goes away is because he rests and his heart rate comes back down to a manageable level. So parades are out of the question as are all day feasts, but he did manage a small strolling job in which we walked around a few festival booths for about an hour.

I played a fairly long parade on Saturday evening, with my dad along for the ride. It's like déjà vu, seeing him in civilian clothes on the sidelines listening to the band play. Everyone is glad to see him and asks how he's doing. He walked along on the sidewalk for a while, and as with the last few jobs he felt fine, only the slightest hint of his pain. Walking is something his doctors have encouraged, but clearly walking, carrying a big metal instrument, and blowing into it require more exertion.

The parade was only supposed to be two miles, but felt longer and took almost an hour to complete. We crossed over a major parkway, turned a few blocks later, and crossed the same parkway at a different overpass. As we passed the reviewing stand and turned to allow the fire department we were playing for through, I was glad my dad had only walked a short distance with us before returning to see the other bands and then wait at my car, which he'd brought spare keys for. There wasn't room for everyone on the fire truck, and the only other vehicle from our department was a pickup truck. Some of the younger guys joked that we were going to do work for a landscaper as we hopped on and tried to find something solid to hang on to. Riding under the trees in the open air and past a huge lake was a pretty cool experience, and no one fell off the truck. Back at the beginning, my dad was a welcome sight. The woman running the band asked if my dad was pretty much retired, and I told her he was definitely out for the next two or three jobs, but I couldn't say beyond that. My dad's not someone who gives up, not completely and even then not for long. He'll have to ease back into it, but in my experience he's never stayed on the sidelines for long.


Blogger Rey said...

Man, I'm thinking the dude should think about retiring from those marches. I know it could drive him nuts but, man.

6/15/2009 10:32 AM  

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