"How did you make that so real?"

Saturday was not a great day for my father. I'd felt relief on Friday night when he was finally awake after his bypass surgery, with his breathing tube out and his only complaint a sore shoulder. He was understandably tired, but he was lucid. On Saturday we found him in a different section called the “step-down unit”, where patients transition from the Cardiothoracic Unit to a regular room. There, 3-6 patients are closely monitored by nurses at all times. There, my father was not himself.

“I'm dead...” he moaned, as my mom held his right hand and brushed his forehead. “Why are all you people here? Why won't you let me die in peace?” The nurse told us that he'd just been brought in, and that he was doing great. I was skeptical. “Never again...never going through this again...didn't help at all....didn't do any good....” he moaned. Again we looked to the nurse, and she explained that he was probably having a bad reaction to some pain medication and just needed to sleep it off. We noted that all his vital signs were good, indeed the best numbers he's had in years. His at-rest heart rate, normally kept around 50 by medication, was now a healthy 71 like my own. His blood pressure was great too.

“It didn't do anything....it didn't help....I'm finished...” he closed his eyes, and seconds later seemed to be sleeping peacefully, his mouth partly open as he snored. My mom continued to hold his hand while talking to her oldest brother, my Uncle Ciro, who was a good sport for keeping us company after dealing with similar environments before my Aunt Irene passed away a few years ago. We talked about crazy dreams, and the recurring dream my dad has of someone in our driveway that he chases away. It's not uncommon to hear the old man yell, “GET OUTTA HERE!!!” in the middle of the night before he rolls over and continues sleeping, oblivious to the fact that he's woken everyone else up.

My uncle said he often dreams of not being able to find his car in a bad neighborhood. He recalled a time years back when he and his other brother-in-law, Aunt Irene’s sister's husband, were mugged in their car. Uncle Ciro was yelling at the guys to leave, while Uncle Bob, who had a gun drawn on him, shouted, “Shut up Ciro!” In the end, they gave up their wallets, and when they returned to the ladies, my Aunt Antoinette innocently joked, “What took you guys so long? Did you get held up or something?”

My dad continued to sleep, shifting every now and then. Sometimes it looked like he'd open one eye. On one occasion he raised his left hand to the bandage on his chest, or to his forehead. If it looked like he was going to scratch the surgery site, I'd take his hand. He'd squeeze mine, and settle back down. We'd notice his feet kicking sometimes, and postulated that he was probably running in whatever dream he was having.

After an hour or so, my uncle had to leave. My dad woke up, and seemed to recognize us. He shook my uncle's hand, and as my mom walked my uncle to the elevator, I sat by my dad's side. “Boy, I was having some hallucinations there!” he exclaimed. He seemed normal, though he did complain of some dizziness. I updated him on various things I'd taken care of around the house, including calling some of our friends in various bands to update them on his condition. “How did you make that so real?” he suddenly asked, free of context. I asked what he meant, and he kind of just looked confused and didn't answer. I thought about my Uncle Jerry and his dementia, and feared the worst.

When my mom got back, there was no mention of his odd question. He still seemed a little confused, and when we left to go to church he asked us to bring back a veggie burger from Burger King(which the nurse subsequently advised us to not do). After going to mass and grabbing a bite to eat, we returned to the hospital. My dad seemed more like himself, and told us about some of the hallucinations he'd had. He could see the wing he was in, but it was located in the basement. I was there, but I was also “Scott”, and I was the doctor in charge of things. In each of the surrounding beds, he saw one of my mom's friends, and several of his sisters. My mom was in the distance, and would only wave and keep puttering around whenever he called out to her. He was sure he was dying, and didn't understand why all these people from his life were haunting him, holding him back from this light he wanted to go into. He was surprised when I mentioned his “Why won't you let me die in peace?” line, which he didn't know he had said aloud. It astonished him every time I'd quote something he thought he had imagined.

“It was so real,” he said, “Like a movie. And you were directing it. And I got mad and kept kicking you, but you wouldn't stop.” So apparently, when his feet were moving, he was thinking about kicking me, proof that I'm annoying in any reality. As he recalled more of his day, he remembered the staff giving him some pills before they transported him, but not what they were. The old man isn' t used to pain medication, and I'm pretty sure he's never had a drink in his life. He thinks he might have tried a beer once, when he was a teenager, and didn't care for the taste. The nurse on duty at this point told us that anesthesia sometimes lingers in the system for a bit, and can cause strange senses of unreality and sometimes interact with some pain medications. She also told us that for a while he thought he was in Burger King after we'd left. In any case, they were done with the strong pain meds.

“Oh, and I found a nice girl for [MCF]y!” he told my mom, and I wondered if he wasn't still on drugs since he never plays matchmaker. Usually I get a joking warning like, “You see what I go through? Don't ever get married!” I'm not sure if this really happened or not, but he said he talked me up to some single blonde nurse who was 33 years old, told her his son just got a promotion and was now a Senior Art Director. “She had a few extra pounds, but not too heavy,” he told me. I've yet to ascertain whether or not this girl actually exists, but it felt good to hear my father talk about my career with pride, even if he was probably saying it to a janitor or a chair.

By Sunday, the staff knew which medications not to give my dad, as word of his hallucinations spread. An old man in a neighboring bed, who looked near death on Saturday, was up and talking on the phone, and actually got a regular room before my dad did. I overheard that he was in his early 90s, and he told the nurse that his aortic(pronounced “a-rotic”) valve had been replaced. It's a miracle what modern medicine can accomplish. We were worried about my dad at 80, but people older than him go through surgery just fine. Other than his carpal tunnel suddenly becoming more acute in his swollen, unbendable hands, he had no real pain complaints. He has a pillow to hold against his chest when he coughs and does breathing exercises, and he's encouraged to walk. So eager to get out of there, he walked down the hall almost too fast for me to keep up, while I reminded him to pace himself. On Monday, they moved him to a normal room and removed more tubes, just leaving one IV line and a wire connected to a portable pacemaker. He might be home as early as Tuesday, though if they keep him one more day it won't be a bad thing. I'm not sure my mom will be able to watch him at all times, to make sure he doesn't do any heavy lifting in the next four to six weeks. I'm not all-powerful in this reality like my hallucinogenic counterpart, so hopefully he simply takes my advice about listening to his own body and resting when he gets tired. He's healing now, which takes time and energy, and that's going to tire him out until the process is complete. I know he wants to get better and stay better. On Saturday night he made me take the cheese off a turkey sandwich I bought him. “That's what put me here in the first place!” He nearly bit my fingers off as I fed him bite-sized pieces, so his appetite is great. And he's already talking about seeing another doctor to have his hands worked on again. “I'm going to take care of that on Wednesday!” he declared, while I recommended he deal with one thing at a time. I think he should heal from, you know, the heart surgery before he goes under another knife. But I do love hearing his impatience and strength of will; that's how I know this is real, that my dad's not going anywhere yet. Hopefully, I’ll have plenty more years to do things that make him want to kick me.


Anonymous FawnDoo said...

A few years ago my maternal grandfather (it was always "nana" and "papa" for my mum's side, and "gran" and "grandpa" for my dad's) had an aneurysm burst and needed a section of an artery replaced. He got the surgery and pulled through, but the drugs they had to keep him on afterward really knocked him for six. According to him he had been stabbed, and the surgeon was the police officer investigating. God knows what he made of the nurses, but he had this entire story worked out in his head. Or maybe old men all across the world just like to take the opportunity to wind people up. Hell, if you had just had someone rummage about in your chest, wouldn't you take your amusement where you could find it? :-D

4/14/2010 7:28 PM  
Blogger Rey said...

Man the kicking thing cracked me up.

4/14/2010 11:02 PM  

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