Just a few days before Christmas, I was with my wife and kids attending my daughter’s early morning basketball game. It’s one of those deals where kids dribble around in circles, staring at the ground the entire time, occasionally chucking the basketball in the direction of the hoop, rarely getting close, and walking away with a final score in single digits.
The family was just getting out of the vehicle when my phone rang, and the name that came up on my phone was that of my stepmom, Jennifer.
My dad has been remarried for 20 years now, and while I have a great relationship with her, my stepmom has called me maybe twice in those twenty years, and I think both times were for our address so that she could send Birthday cards to the grandchildren.
But we haven’t moved recently, and processing that fact pretty quickly, my heart fell to somewhere down near my groin.
“Hi, Jennifer,” I said in a shaky voice, somehow knowing this was bad news…
“Hi, Davey,” Jennifer replied, “Your Dad is in the hospital.”
Side Note: In Western Washington, I am known as Dave. I moved to Western Washington when I was 20ish, and thus everyone in the area I live now, has always known me by my adult name, Dave. On the Eastern Side of the Cascades however, almost the entire valley refers to me by my childhood name, Davey. I really don’t bat an eye hearing either anymore, but I’ve had friends travel with me to my hometown and really get quite a kick out of hearing a 6’5″, 210lb man referred to as “Davey.”
My father had just been through two knee replacements in the last 3 months, and was given a clean bill of health prior to the operations. The Doctor had said, “Normally I wouldn’t do this on a person of your age who is a smoker, but your test results are so good, I have no reason not to.”
However upon returning home from the second knee surgery, my father began to complain of shortness of breath, and couldn’t get over a feeling of being ill. He told me a couple of times on the phone that he thought he had picked up something from the hospital. On top of this, my father (a chronic sleepwalker) had fallen while sleep walking and badly hurt his shoulder and neck.
At the hospital, they began doing x-rays and tests. They found large masses in his lungs, but when they attempted to do am MRI, he was in such pain from his neck that they couldn’t get good results.
Things began to go down hill rapidly, with my father complaining of lack of air, so the decision was made on New Year’s Eve to load him up in an ambulance and drive him 3 hours to Virginia Mason, one of the world’s leading hospitals here in Seattle.
My wife and I planned to meet the ambulance at the hospital that night, but my Stepmom called and said, “You guys should just come in the morning to avoid the New Year’s traffic at the Space Needle. They’ve got him on air and gave him some blood, and he’s joking with the nurses and Doctors. He seems WAY better.”
“Good,” we thought. Now we can start figuring out what the hell is going on with his lungs. My sister drove from near Eugene, OR, that night and we made the plan to head in the following morning.
We arrived at the hospital early the next morning, and the look of shock on my Stepmom’s face told me things had taken a turn for the worse.
“He had a heart attack this morning,” she said, “They just put a breathing tube in, and they are working on him now.”
I glanced over her shoulder, and there was my tough-as-nails father laying in a bed with a respirator down his throat, wires stuck to his body, at least 8 IVs, and a number of other contraptions buzzing, clicking, whirring and beeping.
“They said it will be a minute,” she told us, “He’s responding, and conscious, but the tube will help him breath while they figure out how severe the heart attack was. They think it was relatively minor.”
After a few moments, a Doctor came out and said, “Your Dad is stable, and we are just running some tests on him.” He urged us to go with my Stepmom to get her some coffee wile they took care of him, and come back up to the 9th floor Intensive Care Unit in a few minutes.
We made the long walk down the hall, past ICU rooms of people in very bad shape like my Dad was, then around a corner and down the massive hallway lined with even more rooms that lead to the elevators.
We were 20 feet from the elevators, when a man dressed in a blue jumpsuit with a bright red backpack darted out of a room in front of us, causing us all to jump, and sprinted down the hallway in the opposite direction. Then we saw a Doctor and two nurses give chase and head in the same direction.
The loud speaker blared, “Code blue, room 921. Code blue, ICU, room 921.”
It was my Dad’s room.
The others were so consumed by the moment at hand that they didn’t hear that it was my Dad’s room.
“That’s Dad’s room,” I said, “We need to go.”
In just the 90 seconds it took us to get back, there were already at least a dozen people in my Dad’s room, and more standing in the hallway. They worked on him for some time, and managed to get him stabilized yet again.
I’m going to spare you additional details and just say that my Dad fought for another 3 days, and we were able to communicate with him, tell him that we loved him, see him smile at my bad jokes, and most importantly — say goodbye.
It turns out, my Dad was even stronger than I realized. He had cancer throughout his body, he had suffered a stroke, he had a broken vertebrae in his neck, and up until a few days before this, he was f*cking walking around! Throw in the heart attack, and it was as though he had bellied up to the universe’s shittiest salad bar and loaded his plate up with one of each item.
Posts like this one seem to always end with something like, “So hug your loved ones, because you never know when that hug might be your last.” I won’t say something like that, because I understand that you kind of have to live it to appreciate it, and if you’ve already lived it, then you are probably already squeezing the ever-living-sh*t out of your loved ones you have left as often as you can.
I know I am.
Instead I’ll end this post by sharing with you a post I wrote my friends and family about my Dad, just a few days after he passed:
“He has toes. He has actual toes.”
That was my thought as my Dad rested in his hospital bed, and I sat staring at his feet. I know it’s an odd thought to have when your Dad is lying in a Critical Care Unit, but you have to understand that I rarely (if ever) saw him without his cowboy boots on. Hell… I’m pretty sure he even bathed in those suckers!
Like his hats, those boots were very much a part of his superhero costume to me, and for the vast majority of my life that’s what I believed him to be: He was a bonafide, died in the wool, larger than life, real-f*cking-deal superhero.
True Story: At one point in my cocky teenage years, I challenged my Dad to a race. He was wearing those damn boots, and I knew he’d be an easy win. He accepted the challenge without batting an eye, and then preceded to outrun me from our shop to the steps of our front porch by a good 10 yards. (I think he was even taking it easy on me.)
Yesterday I told someone who didn’t know my Dad to imagine equal parts Superman, Burt Reynolds, and Don Rickles. He was strong, caring, brave, cool, rebellious, funny, and insanely sarcastic at times.
The man was also far beyond tough. He was dealing with more than he ever let on, and I’m amazed by his courage and strength.
This past summer, my band got to play for my Dad and his wife, Jennifer, one last time at their bar. I’m so grateful that we got to, because it gave me a chance to see my Dad when he was at his happiest — watching others dance, drink and laugh.
The outpouring of love and support is very much appreciated, and as I read the other posts about him (and believe me… I’m reading them all), there are MANY people I don’t know or at very least names I don’t recognize. The number of responses shows me just how many lives my Dad touched, and that I have a lot to live up to as his son.
I don’t need to know you personally to know that he loved each and every one of you, because he loved every person he came in contact with, no matter how brief or lengthy the encounter may have been.
My Dad finally took those cowboy boots off, and when he did I was yet again reminded of what an amazing superhero he was.
I love you, Dad. Time to rest.