Twist

I was so worried about the possible return of my dad’s melanoma (biopsy result: negative) that I never saw it coming: the routine, outpatient cataract surgery.

It’s never good when your sister calls, and the first thing she says is, “Dad is still alive.” Because if that’s the metric by which you’re measuring good news, then the news is gonna suck.

My dad is a cardiac patient–never had a heart attack, but his brother has had two. My dad takes a blood thinner, blood pressure medication, and a statin for cholesterol. I learned recently that he walks around with nitroglycerin pills. A doctor I went on a first-date with described my dad’s complex of pathologies as a “ticking time bomb.”

The bomb didn’t go off, but it did start hissing and steaming right on the operating table. My dad’s BP spiked partway through the procedure, and a blood vessel burst in the back of his eye, forcing the eyeball forward and causing a bunch of delicate tissues to shift and collapse. The surgeon did something, and then he did something else, and then he had to snip some teeny ligament and stitch his eyelid closed. I can’t quite recall all the details. They packed the eye with gauze and put a big clear plastic bandage over it, like a window, so you can see the swelling and bruising peeking out behind the gauze. As I rushed to the hospital (I was on second shift, supposed to spend the night with my parents and drive them to the routine followup appointment tomorrow), I texted my sister to see if she’d seen him and find out how he looked.

“Like hell,” was her answer. She was not exaggerating.

They admitted him, and he slept most of the day. While he was sleeping, my sister mentioned that she thought no one had actually told him his prognosis. She had been there since 6:30 AM, so she left after about 13 hours, and I did the late shift with my mom. She had a million questions, and every time we told her, it was emotionally wrenching because the Alzheimer’s wiped her memory clean every goddam time.

And then my dad finally woke up, and I fed him grapes and jello, and he started asking questions too.

Today I had to tell my father that he is very likely blind in one eye and may never drive a car again. I only had to tell him once. I must have told my mom 20 times.

This is my new baseline for a shitty day, I think.

J* told me once that hospitals are full of families who never thought they would be there when they woke up that morning. Today that family was us. I am grateful my dad is cognitively ok, that he did not have a heart attack or stroke, and that he still has one good eye. That is not the standard by which I originally planned to measure this day, but I suppose it’s good enough going forward.

Plot twist indeed.

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