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…
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