Christine, I hope that if I’m ever in your father’s shoes…

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Today, I had supervision during practicum. I rarely write in the moment, but I’ve found myself reflecting on this quite a bit, long after the conversation concluded.

It was technically supervision, but today, it was just life we talked about. Life in the moment.

“Christine, I hope that if I’m ever in your father’s shoes, one of my kids will be what you’ve been for your father.”

It stopped me. Frankly, I never expected such an honest and vulnerable admission. Yet, it wasn’t something new I have heard.

“It’s not about deserving, you know”

He asked me to explain. I did.

I spoke about how we as people are constantly giving worth and taking it away throughout various situations and with people throughout life – those that cross our paths and those that don’t. It’s almost like we have this innate, annoying tendency to measure who is worthy and who is not. Who deserves what and who does not.

I further explained that my father was never perfect.

“Show me a man that claims he is and I will show you a liar”, he responded.

I told him we recently cracked his safe. I found those power of attorney papers, the living will, and the healthcare proxy forms.

I told him about his living will.

“He wants to come home. No matter what…he wants to come home.”

I wondered aloud in his office. I wondered if it was about reciprocity.

Do we do what we can with where we are and what we know?

Or perhaps it’s all about learning what we value and standing up for those values?

I’ve heard “You’re a blessing to your father”, “You’re father is lucky to have you”…etc.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge, I’ve been a pain in his ass.

He has also been a pain in my ass.

We butted heads while I was growing up. We wanted different things for me. I challenged his beliefs and he challenged mine. He later changed his beliefs and I challenged him on knowing what he stood for. Throughout my 20’s and early 30’s, we have had many thought provoking and emotionally-charged conversations. For a guy that doesn’t like to make himself emotionally vulnerable, I knew what this meant for him.

And I do know, that he’s always tried to meet me where I was and I’ve always tried to meet him where he was.

Can we do that for our children?

Can we do that for our parents?

It’s not always easy. I’ll give anyone that. And I get why.

I too have wondered what if I was in his shoes. Would they advocate for me? Would they fight for me? Would they lose patience with me? Would they take it personal? Would they grieve for what they lost, but carry on with what they have? Would they push me? Would they wonder if they made the right decisions? Would they find gratitude? Would they get what they needed when they needed it?

Or maybe this is about him realizing that he can be imperfect and still be loved and worthy?

I’ll never forget the day the neurosurgeon said to me, “If you’re father is the kind of person that is only happy living a perfect life, now is the time to say goodbye”.

Maybe it’s about me not being ready to say goodbye…

Maybe it’s about grace…

© LifeasChristine, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“Don’t let go Christine.”

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It was a long day at the hospital. I was alone.

It felt like the weight became mine to bear and it felt heavier when I was by myself.

I hated being alone.

He didn’t know who I was. On so many levels, it made me feel more alone.

The nurse came in to change him.

I walked out of the room and down the hall.

I needed to find a place to rest. I needed oxygen – if for only 5 minutes.

I found a little room down the hall with the words “Consult Room” on the door.

I pushed the door open and found no one in there.

Honestly, I was grateful. I wasn’t up to pleasantries. I didn’t want to talk to random strangers. My life had just flipped upside down and inside out. I was holding on by a thread.

The peacefulness of a quiet room ended within a few minutes.

Three people walked in. It was a mother, father, and their adolescent son. One of them asked me if it was okay if they came in and sat. I knew what it meant to find a place when you needed a place, despite my wanting to not share the space.

“Yeah, that’s fine. I’m just waiting here.”

The last thing I wanted to do was make small-talk. Yet, it began…

I probably initiated, though I don’t actually remember.

They asked me who I was visiting. I explained the situation. I probably went into too much detail. I usually do.

I learned that their young daughter had a tumor. The surgery went well. They removed the tumor. They found it because they noticed a large growth that kept growing on the side of her neck. They were beyond grateful it wasn’t cancer. They were taking her home in the morning.

I remember being envious of that… “taking her home in the morning”.

I had been at the hospital long enough that I knew my way around and was often helping people with directions. The ladies in the lobby that checked ID’s, no longer needed to ask who I was there to see; they knew the name and the floor.

They asked me where I was from. I told them about an hour away.

I learned that they were from my neighboring county.

We chatted for about 20 minutes, until they could go in and see their daughter. She had just gotten out of surgery.

I sat there for a few minutes in silence when they left. I thought about the journey I was on. I thought about how quickly life can flip upside down. I wondered how their lives had been changed, if at all. I thought about stories like their’s, albeit different endings. I wish I had asked them if they realized the grace they received.

I returned to see my father.

Around 9 pm, visiting hours were over. He had been sleeping most of the time I was there. I quietly slipped out and took the elevator down to the lobby.

As I stepped out of the elevator, I ran into the three individuals I had chatted with in the consult room. They had left at the same exact time and took another elevator down. We walked into the hall at the same moment.

The father told me to hang in there. The mother came up to me and gave me a hug. She also said, “Don’t let go Christine.”

Sometimes we get what we need in life, not always what we want, but often what we need…

© LifeasChristine, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

You know that place where you are the daughter and making decisions for your father?

 

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My father made it through emergency neurosurgery that technically “saved his life”.  The surgery lasted about 4 ½ hours.

There have been times in my life where time seems to stand still. I can remember distinct words, smells, feelings, etc. This was one of those times.

The doctors placed him in a medically induced coma following the surgery. His body was in shock and storming. If you’ve never experienced a traumatic brain injury, you may be unfamiliar with storming. It’s basically where the brain can no longer regulate systems. Everything is off the charts – heart rate, blood pressure, etc. It’s intense to watch.

I will never forget the day I saw him cry while in the coma. I’m not sure there are words that can describe the pain and helplessness I felt that day.

After a few days, they reduced the sedation. His body wasn’t ready. He slipped into a coma on his own. On the 8th day, he opened his eyes.

I updated his friends and our family.

What I neglected to report was although his eyes opened, they didn’t align. It was in that moment that I again questioned whether I should have signed those papers for emergency surgery and instead said our goodbyes.

That moment scared me almost as much as the moment when I got the call and realized what was happening.

His right eye was looking all the way to the right – though it wasn’t “looking”.

His left eye was staring straight ahead – thought it wasn’t “staring”.

I began to wonder in that moment in the trauma ICU, if my father would remain in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. It was the first time I had wondered that since the accident. To be honest, I hadn’t really considered that when I signed the papers.

I had imagined many things, but a vegetative state wasn’t one of them.

On the 9th day, his pupils aligned, though he still didn’t ‘see’ us.

While all this was occurring, there were other angles.

The first night, my little sister cried herself to sleep in our father’s bed. I knew I could not leave her alone. But also, I wanted to be close to her and close to Dad.

I never went home the first 7 days. I slept in my father’s bed and stayed close by my baby sister’s side.

I later told my father that I owed him a few bottles of wine. I drank all but the Chardonnay in his house. Considering the circumstances, I don’t think he cares.

Weeks after the accident, he made out of the trauma ICU. On Christmas day, we watched him walk with assistance from nurses. He amazed us when he again repeated this the following day.

And then, he regressed. He slid back to a minimally conscious state. It was then that I realized this was bigger than anything I have ever experienced.

Without a doubt, I was not ready to say goodbye to my father on the day that he fell from the 2nd or 3rd step of a step-ladder. I signed those papers with a heavy heart and a head full of questions. But I wasn’t ready to tell him goodbye. I know this.

I also know that loss is hard.

About three weeks after the accident, I returned to my practicum site. I am a 3rd year doctoral student who happened to be almost done with the fall semester when the accident occurred, though my practicum, my clinical internship, was to keep going through the semester break. I couldn’t do it.

My supervisor asked me upon my return if I had ever experienced loss.

“I’ve had my share. In some ways, I am old before my time…”

It would’ve been easier if my father would’ve died that day. That may sound crass to many or it may be misinterpreted by those who simply don’t get it.

It would’ve been awful. It would’ve tore a piece of my heart out. But it would’ve been easier.

However, life happens. We roll with our choices. We roll with what life brings us.

And we do the best with what we have most of the time.

I’m at that place I never expected to be for at least another 20 years. You know that place where you are the daughter and making decisions for your father? Yeah, that place.

I’ve gotten the flak from some. Decisions aren’t understood. Updates aren’t appreciated because they look too “negative”. Assumptions and expectations happen.

And there are others who have given me grace. Those ones I can never repay. But some already know this. For it’s not about money or even repayment. It is simply grace…

 

© LifeasChristine, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you want a turkey?

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Me: “What are you doing tonight?”

Dad: “Sitting by the fireplace.”

Me: “And doing what?”

Dad: “Absolutely nothing. What are you doing tonight?”

Me: “Grabbing wine and relaxing.”

Dad: “So why do you want to know what I’m doing?”

Me: “Are you alone?”

Dad: “No. Jennie will be home. Do you wanna come over?”

That was one of the last text conversations I had with my father pre-traumatic brain injury. I have scrolled through our texting conversations about a hundred times since the accident. I have reflected on many years of conversation we have had. He used to joke that I was adopted. He has always been a man of few words. He referred to me as “one that never lets anything fester”.

The week leading up to his accident, I confided in him about possible cancer in the family and an emergency appointment we had to go. He responded with, “Do you want a turkey?”, followed up with “I’m going to help your husband cut some wood”.

The day before the accident, he brought wood over to my house against me telling him not to. He was stubborn and strong-willed. He also wanted to do something, but talking about things isn’t his niche. He ‘does’ instead.

I’ve been through some experiences in my life where the person I once knew is no longer the same – figuratively and literally. It doesn’t make it any easier. You’d think it would, wouldn’t you? As if having experienced the concept of the person that was is no more, would prepare one. Make it easier somehow. Feel as though you know what to expect in some way. And yet, it doesn’t.

What it does is throw me for a loop. Every time. There is a lot of processing. An enormous amount of reflection. A search for meaning. A quest for understanding. And finally, a peace of come what may – I’ll do my best and roll with it.

I’m glad that I never let things fester. I talked to him about my feelings. I talked to him about some of his life choices that I needed to understand. I talked to him about his faith. I questioned him on things. I needed to know what he wanted when he died and I made him give me specifics. I counseled him when he was in dark places. I fussed at him when he acted out of values. I dissected his values – to myself and with him. I had lengthy talks about Christa with him. I asked questions some never asked. I always asked the questions on my heart.

I spoke in depth about my teenage years during the ‘christian school days’. I reflected to him about my parenting and the differences between him and I, as well as to the ‘whys’. I always voiced my concerns, my fears, and my love. Knowing him, he wasn’t always crazy about these conversations, but he always met me where I was.

I wish that I had more time. I suppose in some ways, I had all the important conversations with him. You know the conversations we all wish we had? Yeah I had those. I made a point in having them and he actually got pretty good at doing the same when he needed to. He called me a lot during some difficult times in his life. For a strong, stoic man that rarely made himself vulnerable, he became human throughout the years. He became vulnerable to me. He voiced his fears. He admitted his short-comings. He apologized for mistakes. He made me promise to help him in times of weakness. He became human.

He has told me numerous times throughout life, “You did good Sis”.

The playing field has filled with mines, potholes, and mountains. Not sure if I’ll hear those words from him again, or if he’ll even understand what it means. But I made a promise to him years ago and he once knew that I evaluate my values like few do. I will do what I can.

The other day, I asked him, “Do you know who I am?”

He answered, “You’re Sis”

I’m rolling…

© LifeasChristine, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fight Dad! Fight!

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“How are you Christine?”

“You got about an hour?”

“(insert annoying laugh here) no, I don’t”

“Then you don’t care how I really am and you are asking how I am based on pleasantries. I know you’re a resident and you’re still learning. That’s okay. I too am learning, but in the future, don’t ever ask family members in a trauma ICU how they are if you aren’t really interested in hearing how they are!”

Yeah, I fussed at a Trauma ICU resident doctor. It wasn’t the first time I fussed at him.

He offered me papers to sign. They wanted to give my dad a PICC line. I made him go through the risks thoroughly and asked more questions than he wanted to answer. When he finished explaining the risks, I noticed he checked a box that was not for him to check.

I questioned him on this.

“Why did you check this box for me? Isn’t this my choice?”

“Well… uh.. yeah, but most people just check it and don’t really care.”

“First off, I’m not most people and you have no right to check that box. That box is for me to check and that is my decision, not yours!”

I was livid about that little check mark. I let him know this. I hope in his future career he becomes a little more aware of what is his right and what is not. I get it though, he’s still learning. I too am learning.

I let him keep that box checked, but not until I expressed all of my concerns on the matter. It was about principle.

Principles matter.

This was the same resident who told me that I need to be aware of what’s to come. He told me he wanted to prepare me for the inevitable.

“Your father will most likely have a trach for the rest of his life. He will have a feeding tube for the rest of his life. He will need to move to a skilled nursing facility and require 24-hour care for the rest of his life. His injuries are that severe. You will never have your father back”

I resisted the urge to punch him.

I resisted the urge to drop kick him.

But in that moment, I hated him.

I hated what he said. I hated what he represented. I hated him for his words. I hated all that he had given me up to this point.

He read the reports. He saw the injuries. He knew the odds. He was rehearsed in the literature.

But what he lacked was faith.

He was a typical medical resident in training with a head full of stats.

For the record, I hate stats. Always have and always will.

Mainly because the outliers are ignored or dropped.

I have a thing for outliers. There is hope in the outliers; though I suppose to be fair, it depends on the situation and what it is we are looking for.

Regardless, I hate stats and I have issues with those who place faith in stats alone.

Stats don’t tell the whole story.

Science and stats go hand in hand in many ways.

My dad was placed in a medically induced coma for a few days.

I was there every day. At every visiting hour. I had no idea what to talk about. He couldn’t talk back. I was scared out of my mind.

You know what I did?

I repeated myself most of the time.

“Ed plowed the driveway.”

“Ed said you owe him a dinner at Sporty’s because you stood him up”

“Remember that time I wanted to drive the lawnmower and I ran over the softball breaking a window?”

“Remember that time you drove to Virginia when I was in a bind?”

When I ran out of words, I read. I also told him if he didn’t like the book, he would need to wake up and tell me so…but until then, I was gonna keep reading.

I read the The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews. I skipped over any words of death.

I also told him that he better wake up or I was gonna play country music.

He hates country music.

“Jen’s here Dad”

“Tim’s here Dad”

“We love you. You got to hang on. You got to fight.”

It was in the Trauma ICU that I saw his tears.

The nurse said it was a body reflex.

I called bullshit.

I dried his tears.

Dad, I know it hurts. I know you’re scared. But it’s not over. It’s gonna suck, but you gotta fight. It’s not your time. Fight…. We got you and we will be here for you.

Fight Dad! Fight!

© LifeasChristine, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

I’m only human…

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I signed the papers with a heavy heart and a head full of questions.

Will he make it?

Will he be in a coma?

Will I have to make a decision to pull the plug?

Will he ever be close to the same?

Will he be mad at me for signing the papers?

Will he have quality of life?

I remembered the night Dad woke me in the middle of the night. He never even said hello. He said, “Promise me something”. He asked me to promise him to never put him in a nursing home. He told me to take him into the woods with a gun. He told me he wants to be cremated. He told me to give his ashes to his best friend. He said Ed would know where to spread his ashes.

Come to find out, Ed isn’t really sure.

Since the morning my father fell off a ladder and sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI), that phone call from a few years ago has materialized in my head. I go over our words. I think about our beliefs. I consider our values. I get angry at the irony.

The emergency neurosurgery lasted about 4 ½ hours. I sat in the trauma ICU family waiting room holding my breath. I barely spoke to anyone.

I wanted to run. I wanted to run like hell. I wanted to run away from that hospital as far as I could. I wanted to run away from the day. I wanted to run away from the tragedy. I wanted to run more than anything.

I didn’t run. I knew I couldn’t yet.

We were allowed in to see him in the trauma ICU once he made it out of surgery. He was in a medically induced coma. He was on a ventilator. There were tubes coming out of his head draining blood. The left side of his skull was removed. I later learned they placed it under the skin in his stomach. This is a common procedure to keep the bone viable for later placement. His vitals were out of control. Constant flashing of a heart-rate beating too fast, blood pressure that fluctuated dangerously close to death… the list goes on. The beeping never stopped on that machine.

I wanted to throw that machine out into the hallway. I wanted to smash it. I wanted to scream at it.

STOP BEEPING!

STOP FLASHING!

God, I hated that machine.

One nurse told me to ignore the machine. I laughed at her.

I knew what those numbers meant.

I walked out of that ICU room one day when his systolic blood pressure hit 225. I looked at my little sister and said, “I’ve got to go”. I ran.

I ran to my car out in the parking lot.

I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know if I can do this.

But truthfully, life didn’t care if I knew how to do it or not. It didn’t care if I wanted it. It was here and it was happening. I was in the middle of the biggest shit storm of my life. Yeah, that’s real. I’ve been through some challenges in my life previously, but nothing like this.

Can I be strong for my little sister? Our mom died 10 years ago. She needs me to be strong for her. She needs me to be strong for Dad.

Can I be strong for my brother? He lives out of state. There’s only so much he can do. He needs me to be strong for Dad.

Can I be strong for Dad? He needs me now. He needs me to fight for him. He needs me to believe in him. He needs me to push him.

He wants me to be strong.

I’m not even a fan of the word ‘strong’. “Oh, you’re so strong” – what the hell does that even mean?

And those people who…without batting an eye testifying  their own strength, “I am strong”…. Please, they drive me nuts.

I’ve appeased others and gave them those words when they needed the reassurance that I too was “strong”, but truthfully I am scared. I will keep going. I will do what needs to be done. I’ll probably make some mistakes along the way. I’ll probably break down. Hell, I already have.

I’m not strong. I’m not weak.

I’m only human.

I’m just me.. Christine…

© LifeasChristine, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

My dad does not fall off ladders…

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I was finishing up my essays on my final exam. It was physiological psychology. I wasn’t a fan first time around, but considering I got a C+, which is failing in graduate school, I had to dig deep second go-round.

My cell phone kept ringing in my purse beside me. I thought it was one of my kids.

The phone vibrated over and over and over again.

I got annoyed. They all knew I was taking a final.

It was getting hard to concentrate. I rushed through the ending of my last essay.

I handed my exam to my professor and walked out the door.

There were two fellow students standing outside the classroom who had finished up prior to me. I stopped and chatted with them. We discussed answers we were uncertain about. Were we right? Were we wrong? Did we give the right information? Would we pass?

As we were chatting, a woman came up to the door looking at the room number. She held a pink slip of paper in her hand. She looked frantic.

“You can’t go in there. They are taking a final”

“I know, but I have to. I need to get a hold of a student. It’s an emergency”

“Who’s the student?”

“Christine…”

“That’s me”

“You need to call your husband right away. …there’s been an accident!”

I never even said thank you.

I turned around and ran down the hall. I pulled out my cell phone while I was running.

“Listen to me. You need to get to the hospital. It’s your dad. He had a bad accident. It’s very serious”

I ran.

I ran to my car.

I drove around the parking lot and parked at the building of the graduate department. I ran and banged on the door. It was locked. No one answered.

I ran back to my car. I made phone calls, but I don’t remember all that I called.

I turned off my car and sat there. It hit me. Shock. Disbelief. Numb. I went into autopilot.

I couldn’t think. I couldn’t process this.

Are you kidding me? You’ve got to be kidding me! My dad does not fall off ladders. This can’t be real. My dad is stoic. My dad is strong. My dad is self-sufficient. My dad does not fall off ladders.

 

He was only on the 2nd or 3rd step they told me later. He landed head first on a tile floor that he installed the week before or so. He never yelled out. He never put his hands up.

None of this made sense.

I continued to sit in my car, frozen and numb. Are you kidding me? You’ve got to be kidding me.

I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t think.

Finally, I put my head down on the steering wheel. I lost it.

I’m not sure how long I lost it for. I know it wasn’t long. I knew I didn’t have long. I had to pull it together. I had to drive to the hospital.

Oh my God – the hospital. I need to talk to the hospital.

I called my husband back.

“I need to talk to his nurse or doctor right away”

He was sent to a rural community hospital that was not equipped for traumatic brain injury. I needed to speak to them immediately.

He got someone on the phone.

“Why haven’t you mercy flighted him yet?”

“We can’t. The weather is too bad.”

“You’re sending him to Rochester right?”

“No, we can’t because we received reports of icy road conditions. We have to send him the other direction.”

“That is 10 minutes longer! How are you going to keep him alive on the way there??”

“We are sending a respiratory therapist in the ambulance with him. We will do everything we can Christine.”

I never even said goodbye. I never even thanked her.

I hung up the phone scared and pissed off.

I started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. It was time. I had to go.

I drove slowly to the hospital. I knew he hadn’t left yet. This also pissed me off. What was taking them so long?

I waited in the ER waiting room forever. At least, it felt like forever. I watched every ambulance that arrived. Finally, I saw him.

He was wheeled in on a gurney. A woman was running alongside him, pumping oxygen with a hand-held device.

I ran to the emergency room staff.

“My dad is here. I need to see him”

“You have to wait. He needs to be assessed.”

I waited about a half an hour. It felt like 7 hours.

My husband and little sister arrived.

I ran to her. We lost it together.

This was too much. It was too much for him. It was too much for her. It was too much for me.

It was too much for all of us.

They called us back to a center nursing station. The neurosurgeon brought up his CT scans. The blood was everywhere, pooling in his brain. There were hematomas. There were fractures. There was a significant midline shift.

He turned around and looked at me.

“If your father is the type of person that is only going to be happy living a perfect life, now is the time to say goodbye to him…. Otherwise, I need to operate and I need to do it now or he will die….”

© LifeasChristine, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.