8 years ago, on March 8th, I received a phone call from my sister pretty late at night. My Dad had passed out and was taken to the hospital by ambulance. He had not woken up. I knew that my Dad had been feeling flu-like symptoms earlier in the day, so I didn't worry too much. Dad probably just got weak and fainted.
As the hours went on through the night and I struggled to catch some naps in between phone calls and tears, the scenerio grew worse and worse. Daddy still had not woken up. It had been hours. I finally spoke to my Mom around 4 am and told her I would be leaving in the morning to come down. Unlike my Mom, she agreed. I expected her to say that we should wait and see what happens and that it probably is not a big deal, but she just quietly said "okay". I knew I needed to be there.
The local hospital came to the conclusion that my Dad had an annurism. He was to be heliported to a hospital in Philadelphia where they could help him. A drain was placed in his head to drain the fluid.
I arrived home to NJ sometime in the early afternoon and my in-laws were waiting for me so they could deliver me to the hospital. I got out of the car and am not even sure I said goodbye to my mother and father-in-law. My Mom and sister were outside and I just clung to them. It was bad. He was alive, though. I had fear all the way home that I was going to get a call telling me that he did not make it. That call, thankfully never came.
We walked into the hospital and I went in to see my Dad. There are no words to describe how it felt to see him in that condition. My Dad was in a coma and had tubes everywhere. Part of his hair was shaved from putting the drain in. I sobbed at his bedside.
I then left the room and my brother-in-law hugged me while I cried and cried. Over the next few days, we would stand vigile by my Dad's side. We would hold his hand, we would cry, we would wait... Every day was the same for a few days. We would meet other families in the waiting rooms and some of their family members survived and some did not. It was a heavy place to be day after day.
On the Wednesday following my Dad's fall, we finally were told exactly what had happened. My Dad had a staff infection in his heart and his valve was literally just blown and there was infection everywhere. The infection was shooting out from the heart valve and he had bruises on his toes and fingertips as a result of the infection clots traveling through his body. At some point on March the 8th, infection traveled up to his head and he fell to the hard wood floor in my parents' house. He fell hard. Due to the fall, he had bleeding on both sides of his head and that made surgery to repair his heart a risky thing. The neurosurgeon and the cardiac surgeon would have to wait and see when the perfect time was to operate. At any time, though, Dad could pass away from the problems going on in his heart. The doctor looked my sister and Mom and I straight in the eyes and told us that he was a far ways away from being who he was before. They gave us some percentage for his survival (but we were later told the real percentage was 5% that he would survive, let alone thrive) and that was the end of our conversation. We were devestated. Crushed. I could hardly talk or think clearly.
I immediately went to my cell phone and called Alan. He and the kids would be traveling down to NJ to support me and to say goodbye to their Pop Pop possibly. We wanted them to have the choice.
My kids came and my Dad held on. We had precious time together in the waiting room. I spent lots of time with my Mom and stayed in NJ for a couple of weeks before heading back home to my family. For the next five weeks, I prayed that God would hold my Dad's heart literally in His hands. I prayed that He would keep it beating even when it seemed like it should have stopped. I prayed that the Spirit would minister to him even if he could not hear us.
My Dad eventually had his open heart surgery and now sports a pig valve, but rarely oinks:-) Following the five weeks in the ICU prior to surgery, my Dad had to head over to a rehab. He was still in a coma-like state. He did not appear to be "there". He could not walk by himself, he could not shave, feed himself, or do anything to take care of himself anymore. He could not read anymore. He did have his speech, but often did not know who most people were. He always knew my Mom:-)
In the brain injury unit of the rehab, my Dad was locked (with a padlock) into a wheelchair to keep him from trying to get up without assistance. He was kept in a pack and play bed. It was like a literal pack and play for babies, but it fit over the hospital bed and was enclosed on all sides. It could only be unzipped from the outside. He also wore mittens on his hands so he would not try to yank out his trach tube. He had already pulled out his central line and eventually pulled out the trach, too. I hated leaving my Dad there. It was like he was a baby.
Little by little, he came back to us. The more he came back, the more frustrated he became being confined in this way. At the 13 week point, my Mom was horrified at how horribly my Dad was talking to the nurses and doctors. He had enough! Alan and I and our kids had come for a visit and could see Mom was very distressed. Alan said we should just bring him home and that either Alan or I would stay to help care for my Dad. I called my sister and told her to dress all in black because we were "busting Dad out of there!".
One of the memories that will always stick in my mind is when we went to pick Dad up from the rehab to take him home. Alan and I were both there and Alan had driven our suburban. My Dad had been sedated because he was so agitated, but was also still very weak when walking. I watched as Alan literally picked my Dad up and placed him into the truck. The picture just struck me.
The doctors told us that what Dad was one year following the accident would be what he was forever. God has continued to heal my Dad's brain in amazing ways. I have been able to enjoy spending one day a week with my Dad for 7 years that we lived in NJ. My Dad has started doing woodworking again. He does not figure things out the way he used to and his work is not what it was, but it keeps getting better and he figures out more things as time goes on. My Dad has the stamina and strength of an ox:-) He has worked on landscaping my sister's house and mine for the last five years.
It has been so precious to rebuild my relationship with my Dad as he came back to be "the Dad" again. I love that he now takes me out to lunch and always has to pay. Just like before. I have been able to watch his relationship with my kids be restored, too, as my Dad became more and more of his old self and was able to focus on other people again. Thank you God. I know it was all You. May you have the praise.