Bye Past

4:30 AM. I can't remember the last time my day began at 4:30 AM, if ever. There have been a few occasions on which my day ended around that time(or later), but it's one of the earliest times I've ever woken up. Most days I'm lucky to overcome gravity before 7:15.

Nevertheless, an MCF-shaped zombie shambled forth through the motions of his morning routine, three hours earlier than normal, and was soon loading a pair of senior citizens into a car in the dead of night. Through rain slick roads I ferried my parents to the hospital, where my 80-year-old father would undergo heart surgery. “I can't believe this is actually happening,” sighed the old man as I dropped them off at the front door.

After parking the car, I went inside and found my folks already signed in at the surgical waiting area. I was surprised by how many people were there for various operations at so early an hour. My dad was called in without us, to be given a gown and prepared for surgery. We were able to join him shortly thereafter, to help him answer the nurse's various questions. My dad has trouble hearing under normal circumstances, and in this instance construction noises such as drilling echoed through the walls as a new wing of the hospital was being built. The surgeon stopped by next, to inform us of his plans to perform only a single bypass, which surprised us. One artery was the most critical, while his aortic valve didn't seem stenotic enough to warrant surgery. Yes, there was some calcification which other tests had shown, but the blood flow was still within an acceptable range. I translated for the retired mechanic with a car analogy as I always do, pointing out how we looked at all of my brakes last week, but he only had me replace the front ones because those were the most critical and the rear ones still had a few good miles left in them.

The anesthesiologist was the next visitor to explain what was going to happen, and as the reality sank in I could see fear in my dad's eyes. There was no turning back. I noted people who appeared older and weaker than he was, awaiting similar procedures. As the orderly loaded him in to a gurney, my dad voiced some last-minute concerns. “What if I bleed a lot? Is there going to be a lot of blood?” I told him to let the doctors worry about that, that all he needed to do was lie there and relax. We walked with him as far as they let us, and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze before they took him through double metal doors into the operating area beyond.

Back in the waiting area, my mom knitted a sweater while I buried myself in The Physics of Super Heroes. By 8 AM, more and more people gathered to await the fate of their loved ones. A woman from the blood bank walked around, asking if anyone would like to pass the time by donating blood. Another hospital worker asked if everyone waiting a patient had gotten their beepers, to be notified when the surgeon was finished and ready to talk to them. We had not, so I went up to the desk to correct that oversight. I thought we only needed one if we were going to leave and go to the cafeteria or something. With a 3-5 hour surgery taking place, I suppose it wasn't a bad idea to have the freedom to walk around or go get some breakfast. The device I was given reminded me of the sort of thing some restaurants use, although my joke about getting a table near the bar didn't seem to be appreciated.

Time stretched, and at some point the idea of food and a change of scenery appealed to me. My mom worried that they might call us as soon as we left, but it was only 10:30 and I figured we had plenty of time. We missed the hot breakfast, but there was still cereal and bagels. In classic MCF timing, the second I got our food and stepped away from the cash register, the device in my pocket started buzzing angrily. In a panic, I quickly ditched my tray and fumbled to carry a cup of coffee, a bagel, a box of milk, and a cereal container, rushing ahead of my mom. The elevator seemed to take forever, and I regretted not using the stairs. I rushed up to the desk where I could see the lady on the phone summoning me, but as I set my stuff down on the counter she scolded me. “You can't bring ANY food in here! You can eat out in the hall by the elevators!” I raced back out to the hall, where my mom was still catching up to me. As I threw everything down on the nearest bench, the woman on the phone must have (finally) realized who I was, and why I'd come racing in. “I'm beeping you,” she said as she hung up the phone and came out in the hall, still having a tone too nasty for my tastes. She told us we could find the doctor in another waiting area by a section called CTU. It was kind of cool to think my dad might be working with Jack Bauer, but in this case the acronym referred to a Cardiothoracic Unit.

The surgeon emerged from the second waiting area as we arrived. “How'd it go?” I asked breathlessly, as he calmly said it went fine, with a prideful air that suggested my question was silly since there was no other way it could have gone. As he anticipated, he only bypassed one artery, and was able to harvest a healthy one from the chest rather than cut my dad's leg as well. It would be a few minutes before we could see the old man, and a few hours before he would be awake. He still had a breathing tube and was being kept under heavy, merciful sedation those first few hours. I remembered my intestinal surgery back in 2000, how waking up was the worst part and I kept closing my eyes and forcing myself back to sleep for the first 14 hours.

We were able to first visit him at 11:30 AM, which allowed us enough time to sit in the new waiting area and finish our breakfast. When we saw him, he was pale and covered in blankets, with all sorts of tubes and drains coming out from underneath, and a bank of monitors overhead. His vital signs all looked good, and were it not for the breathing tube hanging out the side of his mouth, he might have just been napping. I don't do well around a lot of tubes; I have this fear that I'm going to step on or trip over something and make a bad situation worse. After squirming in the tiny room for a few minutes, I convinced my mom to come home for a few hours, until the next half hour visiting window at 2:30.

The next time we saw my dad, the nurse had him sitting up, still unconscious. She was bringing him out of it slightly, and he seemed to have a groggy awareness of things, trying to raise his hand. She understood, and explained that he couldn't speak with the tube, and needed to relax. She had him wiggle his toes, raise his head, and move each hand, all of which he was able to do flawlessly. The brain in there was still working. I'm not sure if he was aware of us or not, or if he'll remember that part of the day. She put him back under soon after, as he scowled and shook his head upon hearing the news that the tubes had to stay in a bit longer.

Afternoon turned in to evening, as other colorful characters lounged in the small waiting area, including a quintet of middle-aged Wal-Mart loving sisters with an ironic appreciation of the People of Walmart website. “They have some real freaks on there!” They were actually very nice people, and their mother was dealing with some complications from her own heart surgery, undergoing a second operation to address some failures in other parts of the body after an adverse reaction to medications. We took a dinner break, and when we returned they'd gotten good news that the doctor had accomplished more than he expected with the second surgery, and she was in recovery.

When next we popped in on my dad, a new nurse had started her shift, and told us to leave until after she was done extubating. The next half hour out in the hall was the longest of the day, and as I paced, I began to feel the effects of operating on four hours of sleep for so long. When we got back in to see my dad, he was sitting up and conscious, breathing on his own with an oxygen mask. The nurse was massaging his left shoulder, which seemed to be his biggest complaint. “I don't have any pain,” he explained, talking about his angina, “my back just really hurts!” He wanted to turn on his side to get comfortable, still not registering how limited his motion was with the various IV and drainage tubes still attached. The nurse stressed that his most important concern was normalizing his breathing. At this point he noted the clock on the wall. “It's 8 o'clock at night already?!”

My dad is a tough man with a high threshold for pain. Growing up, I'd lose track of how many times he'd bash a thumb bloody or cut some other part of his hands while working on a car, and keep going as though nothing had happened. I don't know how he did it; at the very least I need a minute to shake the injured area and spew expletives whenever I get hurt while working on a car. He paid the price for his injuries, now sporting swollen, arthritic Ben Grimm-mitts. The nurse described him as being “strong as an ox” though, so the fact that his worst concern after freaking heart surgery was a stiff neck or a sore shoulder, that's saying a lot. I think once he realized he'd been in the same position for well over 12 hours, he understood. The nurse has her work cut out for her, as do we all. Even in a weakened state, he was still feisty, stubborn, and impatient, in short, the guy we know and love. Over the weekend, they expect to have him sitting in a chair and eating, and will be encouraging him to get up and walk around as soon as possible. The worst hurdle has been left in the past now, and as we bid farewell to this bypass surgery, now we look forward to healing. After all this, he needs to follow doctor's orders to the letter, but I know once he starts feeling even a little stronger he's going to lift things beyond his weight range. It's too bad they can't give my mom something to sedate him, some dial she can turn anytime he's about to exert himself. In any case, we're all exhausted, and all very, very grateful to God, the wonderful hospital staff, and all our family and friends, without whom none of this--his survival or our sanity--would be possible.


Blogger Lyndon said...

Hope he has a speedy recovery!! So he can get back to the things he likes doing :)

4/10/2010 1:12 AM  
Blogger b13 said...

So glad to hear the old man is doing well. Get some sleep ;)

4/10/2010 1:57 AM  
Anonymous FawnDoo said...

That is great news! Glad the procedure went well and I hope the recovery period is as short as possible. Make sure you and your mum get enough rest too: you're no good to your dad if you're both too knackered to see straight.

4/10/2010 8:35 AM  
Blogger Lorna said...

what they all said, but in an older voice.

4/10/2010 3:48 PM  

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