Day Two, after the fall:
This is the kind of pain that makes me queasy. I've been slightly sick to my stomach for hours, though I'm paradoxically hungry. Yet, nothing looks appetizing.
I had a bad night. It got better after I took some valium. Valium takes some of my anxiety away. I'm a wuss, not brave, never have been. I've never been care free either. Worse case scenarios typically plague my pessimistic mind.
Right now, I'm wondering if my leg will ever be the same? How am I going to manage getting up and down the steps in this split level house? What if my leg buckles and refuses to support me for the rest of my life? What if I get an infection from the surgery and die?
My dad died of a hospital infection. He did have heart failure, but heart failure was not what killed him. He died from massive infection.
Even as he lay on a bed of ice in the critical care unit, his fever soared to 105. He was on a ventilator. His brother, who was a retired physician, told my sister and me that either the tracheotomy tube or the ventilator was most certainly dirty when they put them in and that was what killed Daddy.
My father, who was so self confident and even arrogant at work and home, was like an obedient, unquestioning lamb in the presence of doctors. Though he was still able to enjoy a glass of wine and follow the stock market in his hospital room, when the doctor came in and told him that his blood gases did not look good, Daddy hid his face in his pillow.
"We might as well take you downstairs now," the doctor said. "Take you downstairs" was the doctor's euphemism for a tracheotomy, ostensibly to help Daddy breathe.
It was Saturday morning.
Mother called to tell Anita and me. Before I left my house, I called Daddy's brothers in Texas and told them it was time to come. Some how, I knew it was the end. Mother and Anita didn't think so. But I knew.
When I got to Oak Ridge, Daddy was in the critical care unit and could only have one visitor at a time. When I went in to see him, he was alert and talking a little. I think I told him that I loved him. I think he said it back. We were never ones to say that easily. The nurse told me my fifteen minutes was up and I left.
In the waiting room, Mother and Anita were talking to my mother's Cumberland Presbyterian minister. I think his name was Roy Sampson, but I can't remember for sure. Mother was a Presbyterian, Daddy a Catholic.
"I'm going to call the priest now, I said." "NO!" Mother and Anita both chorused. "It's not time yet. That will only scare Daddy." But I insisted and mother's minister backed me up.
I called the parish house from the wall phone and got Father Michael. Father Michael was just about to perform a wedding and could not come, But Father John was available. Father John was not a pastor, but rather an accountant, a priest that traveled from parish to parish sorting out the financial records.
Father John arrived and went in to give Daddy absolution and administer the last rites. When he came out, he told us that Daddy had been very agitated at first, but as soon as he had put the tiniest crumb of the host on his tongue, he had immediately settled and seemed at peace.
Within five minutes, the doctor came out and said that Daddy was struggling to breathe and had requested to be put on a ventilator. "NO!," Mother said. "He doesn't want any kind of life support." But again, I interjected, "If he is asking for a ventilator, he wants it."
And so, that was the beginning of the end. Some improperly sterilized implement introduced a lethal pathogen into his already frail body. As he lay sedated, he got very, very sick.
Technically, Daddy's official time of death was not until two days later but I knew he was gone long before. The empty shell which lay on a bed of ice was no more than a relic, a lifeless mannequin implanted with with an electronic pacemaker that continued to jolt his heart muscle, forcing it to beat spasmodically, even after the resident spirit had departed.
Euthanasia is not permitted in this country, it is illegal. But it is practiced. As Daddy's pace maker continued to discharge electrical commands, his heart feebly obeyed. It required several large doses of morphine for his heart to finally flat line.
As his laborious death unfolded, I had a sense of unreality. Daddy's brothers stood at the end of his bed watching. Anita, Mother, and I were by his side. Catherine too. Perhaps David Abraham. I can't remember. I do remember that I cried, but with a sense of obligatory detachment, almost as if I were a spectator. And I knew that Daddy was a spectator too. I could feel his spirit hovering above all of us, watching from the corner of the ceiling.
Both birth and death are perilous, painful labor. The body is a long suffering, hard working, faithful vessel and loyal servant, resilient yet fragile, too often taken for granted and neglectfully used.
I am queasy with pain on Day 2 of leg injury. But perhaps this injury is a gift, an enforced time of reflection, acceptance and making peace with the moment when my heart too shall inevitably flat line.
Be Well and Good Luck,