Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Today's Moment of Dad: "Dad's trip to Cancer World"

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Today's Moment of Dad entry is entitled "Dad's Trip to Cancer World".

If you hit play on the MP3 player posted above, I've selected the live version of Joe Jackson's "Cancer". It is a rather macabre selection, but sometimes gallows humor is what gets you through the day. I think Dad would have agreed with me if he'd gotten a chance to read the lyrics.

Dad was no stranger to infirmity. He saw his father work his way through heart problems. One of his nephews succumbed to cystic fibrosis. My sister's asthma, my mother's miscarriages, my bipolar disorder, and many other things in addition to the usual aches and pains - he dealt with it the best he could. We never felt we lacked for support...he wasn't squeamish about illness.

He had his own problems too...Graves' Disease, back problems, plus the usual cold/flu stuff.

In late November/early December of 1998, Ed H. and I were snug in our beds, snoozing away with our cat Scotchie draped over both of us. At 4 AM on a Saturday morning, Mom called. We lived in a security building, so she had to call us through the speaker phone outside and then we let her in.

Mom looked rumpled and weary. She said that Dad went into the emergency room with breathing problems, and the county hospital did x-rays and saw a collapsed lung. They rushed him to Mercy Hospital in Iowa City (where I lived), which was more equipped to deal with this kind of thing. Could she take a nap on our couch?

We said, "Oh, wow...yes, of course you can nap here."

Mom crashed and Ed and I went to bed with greater worries than the first time we entered slumber.

The next day, Ed and I went to see Dad, and even though he was in bed with the hospital gown and everything, he was talkative and happy to see us. The doctors couldn't really run any tests until Monday, but Dad's GP came in to talk to him about what to expect. (BTW, I also had a stress fracture, and had to wear a monster Frankenstein-type cast for about 6 - 8 weeks. Attractive, no?)

I was in training at GEICO back then, and was in the classroom for the second round of it. After work on Monday, I went to the hospital to see Dad. Ed went on ahead of me because we were both anxious for updates.

I arrived at the hospital, and my aunt Martha was there too in addition to Ed. Your favorite bipolar redhead said to herself, "Oh, this can't be good."

And it wasn't.

Right away, Ed came up to me and said, "Your dad's been diagnosed with lung cancer. The doctor isn't sure how long your dad has."

I was...stunned? Oh yeah...that's the right word.

Martha hugged me...I asked if Ruthi already knew and they said yes. I think she had to get home to the kids...I don't remember how everything played out. I remember hugging Mom. I remember calling Ed's mom and telling her the news, and she was sad right along with us. (Ed H., if you're reading this, let me know if there are any details I missed.)

The tears didn't come full force until the next day, in the middle of training. Then they flowed like Niagara. My trainer was so helpful...she and I went to a service supervisor and got permission to leave for the day, so long as I was back tomorrow.

I got to the hospital, and this time Ruthi was there with her three kids. As I've mentioned, those three kids loved John-Grandpa, and John-Grandpa loved them right back. At one point, the nurses came in and found the three C's (as we called them) in bed with Dad, watching TV. It was touching...I don't know if there were pictures taken of that, but if there were, I am going to find a copy come hell or high water. This is my quest...ANYWAY...

Dad started chemo right away (while in the hospital), and got home in time for Christmas. They were renting a house in town on a temporary basis while their home in the country was being rebuilt (it was blown down by a windstorm in the summer of 1998). There is a picture of all of us grouped around Dad, and even though he looked tired, he also looked happy.

Chemo kept on going for Dad through the winter of 1999, and he lost his hair, his appetite, and occasionally, his lunch. (Sad, but true, folks.) The first time I saw him after Christmas was in February of '99. Ed and I were fighting colds, and didn't want Dad to get sick. However, one day, Dad needed us for help because he was unsteady on his feet and Mom was on the mail route and couldn't come home.

When Ed and I stepped into the "town house" to see Dad, it was a shocker. He was thinner (and he didn't have much weight to lose), and he had no hair. He was pale. He looked so small. Even though my dad wasn't a tall guy, he always looked pretty healthy. Not that day...he was still in his pajamas, and looked so weary.

I kept my chin up and did my best, but I did have to leave the room for a few minutes to regroup. I was very thankful that Ed understood the shock I was going through, and he held me for a minute while I cried. Then we went in, fixed Dad some soup, and helped him around the house. I also remember folding laundry for Mom so she wouldn't have to mess with hit when she got home.

Dad only went through one round of chemo, and got checked out by the doctors on a regular basis. He and Mom moved back in to their house in the country, and life continued. He complained about being bald...he even asked Ed H. how he could stand to shave his head? "My head gets cold!" was Dad's complaint.

Many things changed, though. Dad wasn't as impervious as he seemed to be when we were kids, but he kept a good attitude. He didn't hide the fact that he had cancer from people, but he didn't play the sympathy card either. He did the best he could. He was more susceptible to respiratory stuff than the average bear, and when things got too bad, he had his lung drained.

In the summer of 2005, things got bad. He went in for routine surgery to have a drainage tube put in his thoracic cavity. They sent him home earlier than I would have thought they should, but what did I know? I wasn't there. Then things spiraled...staph infection, pneumonia, complications with his heart, etc. I asked Mom if I should come home, and she said "no" because she didn't want Dad to worry. He was in the University Hospital for quite sometime, and he was finally transferred down to Washington County Hospital in August.

After three weeks at the Washington hospital, Dad came home in late August. He had an oxygen tank and he tired easily, but I remember calling him most every day just to say hi and talk to him about stuff and nonsense.

The last time I talked to my father was October 21st, 2005 (a Saturday, I believe...I don't remember the date but I remember the day). He was giving me a description of Mom's Halloween costume...she was dressed up as a bedside table and called herself a "one-night stand". Classic stuff. Doug and I had moved into our new place, and Dad was looking forward to coming to DC for our wedding. We laughed and talked, and we said "I love you" to each other.

By that Tuesday, he went into the hospital for what would be the last time. Mom and Dad knew that things were declining, and were preparing for hospice care. I had just started my job, and was very apprehensive about asking for time off so soon but knew I would need it. Luckily, when I mentioned it, my bosses were most supportive. I had planned to go home on Veterans Day weekend.

However, things moved a little bit more quickly than anticipated. By Thursday, Dad was heavily sedated and made comfortable so nature could take its course. It's what he and Mom wanted, and my sister and I never fought their decision. People came and went to say their last goodbyes. A group of kids that were friends with "the three C's" came to the hospital to say goodbye as well, some with their Halloween costumes on. Family members came as quickly as they could.

Dad passed at 4:45 AM on Friday, October 28, 2005. I missed the initial phone call because we didn't have a cordless phone or a phone in our bedroom, but Ruth left a message to call the hospital right away, so I did. I got Mom that time, and she told me when it happened.

My regret that I couldn't get home in time to see him is something that I will not repeat with my mother, and something that will haunt me to the end of my own life.

I hope Dad knew how much I loved him, even though I couldn't get there to say goodbye. I hope he knows right now.