So, my father died yesterday. People die everyday and as I have mentioned before, it is not death, but the dying that is difficult. But my dad’s death was planned, and that has got to be a special kind of hell. There are so many ways to die: People die of cancer, heart attacks car accident, embolism, aneurism, freak acts of nature or the best way of dying of all time, while sleeping. But what do you do when you must make a decision about death?
My father was a retired minister. As a matter of fact, I flew from Wisconsin to California to attend his retirement party. To give you a sense of who my father was, his retirement party was a roast. To this day, and I am sure my sister would agree, we did not roast him nearly enough. We all tended on the kind side rather than the roast side, but I guess that is OK. I think people had a hard time roasting a minster. Oh well, people may not have understood that my father was not that kind of minster. In my opinion, he was the best kind. You can be a christian and still be fun and not take things so seriously.
Speaking of Christianity; here is the worse story of yesterday. Someone texted my sister to ask if my father was a christian. Message to all you so-called-christians: The time of death is not the time to try to ‘save’ someone’s soul. When Christ visited Lazarus, who was dead, you know what he did not do? He did not check to see if he was worthy of his time. He did not ask stupid questions. He did not make sure that the family believed everything that he believed. He did not confirm that Lazarus was a good man. When he was finally with the grieving family, do you know what he did? Jesus wept. If you wear a WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?) bracelet or have a bumper sticker saying the same thing, I implore you, I beg you, read the Bible so that you know what Jesus would actually do, because based on your actions, you clearly don’t know. But I digress.
I called my father on Father’s Day, but he didn’t answer. We had been playing phone tag for about two weeks. I was calling for two reasons: One, to ask about the restaurant that he and his wife had newly opened and two, to get him to send golf clubs that he had promised to send me. On Father’s Day, he was flown to a hospital in Palm Springs because of kidney failure. He has been in the hospital since Father’s Day, and as you probably know already, he never left. Unfortunately, this was the beginning of the worse roller coaster ride ever. Kidney failure is bad (50% survival rate), but not the worse, several trips to a dialysis center and you can live without kidneys. However, his lungs became problematic and they had to intubate him, hooking him up to a breathing machine. His lungs did not fail, they were just having problems. Figure out the problem, get him off the machine. The problem was blood clots (pulmonary embolism survival rate 30%). As the nurse said, most people die from the amount of clots seen in his lungs. OK, my dad is clearly tough, place a blood filter to prevent blood clots from reaching the heart and lungs, and get him on blood thinners (anti-coagulants), problem solved. He began to bleed. Quick medical lesson: The clotting function of your blood is very important. If you get a paper cut, the act of clotting stops the bleeding. If your blood does not clot, or if you are on anti-coagulants, you get a paper cut and it may bleed forever. My father has emergency surgery to find the bleeding and stop it. The doctor tells my brother and mom he has a 30% chance of surviving the surgery. He survives the surgery. As stated before, my father was tough. However, he must be taken off the anti-coagulants. It was on that day that I lost hope. You see, the down side to having knowledge is sometimes you get to figure out the ending before others. It can ruin movies, which is why I must check my brain at the door to enjoy most films. In my mind, the blood clots were the key to his survival. If we got rid of the clots, maybe we could get him off that blasted machine and get that tube out of his throat, which he hated. But the doctor did not want to give up (for good or bad). My father also had an infection. The doctor hoped if he could get rid of the infection, things would improve. No problem, antibiotics. They did not work. Oh yeah, I forgot, my father could not maintain his blood pressure. He was on pressors. Pressors (norepinephrine) elevate the blood pressure. Without the pressors, my dad’s blood pressure would plummet. On the morning of July 9, the doctor, the wife, and the son (me) called it. There was nothing more that could be done and we began the process of calling the family to see my father for the last time, because the next day he would be taken off of machines and medications.
I describe this to you because everything my father had was fixable. Each ailment had a solution. This was not cancer. So the question was for a long time, at least in my mind, “How long are we going to do this?” What is the acceptable amount of time to throw medicine and machines at a medical problem? It was horrible. Then, finally, when the decision was made, we had to plan his death. How do you plan someone’s death? How do you plan your father’s death? Your husband’s death? For right or wrong, I made it my responsibility to make sure that my father’s death was going to go as planned. Nice and easy.
It’s weird to wake up on the day you know your dad’s going to die. It would probably be worse if you were aware of your own death date, which I am sure has happened, but I woke up with the burden of responsibility of someone else’s death and unbeknownst to me, it made me extremely angry. If you interacted with me, you would not have known how angry I was, and I did not know that I was angry. But I soon left no doubt that I was angry.
To enter the ICU, you need a badge. It’s a paper badge that sticks to your shirt. You need a new one everyday. You gave the security guard at the main lobby of the hospital your badge from the previous day and they printed you a new one. I forgot mine, so I handed the security guard my driver’s license so he could print me a new one. Also at the front desk was a hospital volunteer, a candy striper. She was 75 years old if she was a day. She proceeded to tell me how the correct procedure is to hand in your previous badge in order to get your new one. I proceeded to tear her a new one and in no uncertain terms informed her that today was my father’s death day. Now, my sister was with me. My sister is a loud, in-your-face black woman. She calls herself the truth whisperer. Her blog is The Truth Whisperer. She silently gave me my space. I was angry. Next, we visited my father. In order to enter the actual ICU either a security guard or a candy striper must use their key card to open the doors. So, there is a desk at the entrance of the ICU. My sister and I were with my father briefly. We just wanted to sit with him a while. As we walked out, one of the volunteers said in an attempt at humor, “Just a short visit huh? You weren’t in there very long.” My sister, The Truth Whisperer, walked by silently to our private family room (reserved for such occasions). I, on the other hand, proceeded to rip into the group of volunteers at the desk. I informed them that today was my father’s death day and they needed to be more appropriate with visitors to the IC freakin’ U. Did I mention I was angry? I will say this though, all the volunteers were quiet for the rest of the day.
All the family had arrived and it was time. I addressed the crowd of family and friends. I explained how the process would take place. We prayed. We walked into the room. We sang a hymn and then I got the nurse. I won’t go into the details of this part, but this is when I got angry and stayed angry for a while. It involved the nurse leaving out a drug that I thought was necessary. It was a drug that I should have made sure was there in the first place. After heated discussions with several nurses, culminating in a phone call to my father’s doctor, the desired drug was finally administered. People stayed with my dad, and I chose to leave, because I did not want to watch my father die and I was surprised so many people did. I also left because I was angry. I was angry at the situation, angry at the nurses, but mostly angry at myself because I failed in making sure that things went exactly as planned on my father’s death day (By the way, I realize this is the worse expression ever, and I can’t stop using it). It was like I was an obsessive wedding planner worrying about every little detail and freaking out when any little thing went wrong. I went outside in the 118 degree weather to ‘cool’ off. I have no idea why people live in Palm Springs during the summer. I finally went back to my father’s room to make sure that everyone was doing their job and that he was comfortable. Literally, while talking to the nurses and making sure all was as it should be, he died. I think I breathed for the first time.
Everyone handles death differently. It’s hard, especially when it is someone you love. I apparently get angry and tell everyone that it is Death Day. No matter how you deal with it, it is important to understand that death is part of life. Try to focus on the person’s life rather than their death. My brothers and I are going golfing on Saturday. I am certain that my father would have wanted that. I am also certain that he would want me to play with his full set of clubs. I can’t imagine that my readers have enjoyed these last few blogs, but I hope reading them has made you think about the importance of your own loved ones. Hug your family. Say “I love you” to your family and friends. We are all here for a relatively short time, so cherish it. Those issues and squabbles you are holding on to simply are not worth it. And if you feel the need to judge or evangelize during times of death, just remember one thing: What Would Jesus Do? Jesus wept and so do I. Thank you for reading.
My father, Ronald Woods, died Tuesday, July 10, 2012 at 5:00 pm. He was 76. I’m just sayin’ …