I’m leaving Friday afternoon for Florida, I’m going to spend Father’s Day with my dad. Hopefully, he’ll be out of the VA Medical Center and in a rehab facility in Vero by the time I get there.
I’ll be online. I’m taking my camera, so maybe I’ll post some photos of my journey, if I find anything interesting.”
I wrote that on June 10, 2010, nearly a year ago. I drove down to Florida for what I thought would be a week’s visit, enough time to transfer my dad from the veterans’ administration hospital in West Palm Beach to a rehab center in Vero Beach, in anticipation of him having his hiop replacement put back in.
He’d been in the VA hospital since the previous September, when he was sent there for treatment for MRSA. He developed the infection right after his hip replacement, which necessitated the removal of the appliance until the infection was cleared.
But, in the meantime, he was OD’d on his blood thinning medication, which meant a stay in the hospital portion; he was then diagnosed with Stage IV bone cancer. The cancer started in his prostate — which his doctor missed, by the way — and had spread into his bones.
But his doctor at the VA said the cancer probably wouldn’t be the reason he died because it moved very slowly. They put him on hormone therapy, and thing seemed to be going well.
He was supposed to have his surgery that March, but his pre-op testing got screwed up, so it had to be postponed til May. Then he injured his arm — gave himslef a nice gash — so he had to wait till that healed.
And that’s where I came in. By this time last year, the wound had just about healed, and I was getting everything lined up to get him out of there, just like I promised I would. “I’m coming down in a week, dad,” I’d say during our nightly talks on my way home from work. “I can’t wait,” he’d say.
I was there about three days when I got a call in my room at the Fisher House at about 1 a.m. The nurse said my dad was in a lot of pain, and he was calling for me. So I walked over there to find him throwing up in his garbage pail. They didn’t know what was wrong, so they were sending him for tests.
Later that day, the Thursday before Father’s day, he was in a room in the hospital portion. They determined that he had a blockage in his colon, and said some enemas may clear the problem up. He was still in pain, but feeling better.
So that was Thursday. When I got there Friday morning, I was greeted by a surgeon and some nurses, all of whom seemed happy to see me. I thought great, we have good news. Couldn’t have been more wrong.
The surgeon told me that part of my dad’s colon flipped over on itself, and he needed surgery. He said they were hesitant to do it because he was dehydrated and undernourished. That was the first I heard of that. But, he said, if they didn’t he would die.
So we signed the forms to do it. This surgeon, who apparently was a good surgeon but an absolute asshole as a human being, said my dad would probably make it through the surgery, but wouldn’t make it through the recovery. “I give him 30 days,” he said.
Well, he did make it through the surgery, and it seemed as though he was going to do OK with the recovery, too. But within a few days, things started going downhill. It was frightening, but normal for him. I kept telling the doctors that this is what he does, and I expected them to do everything they needed to do.
Then he started to rally, and everyone was surprised and happy. And then the decline.
He had to be ventilated. He needed drugs to maintain his blood pressure. He needed drugs to stabilize his heart rate.
And then the rally again. This was about a month after I got there. I had to go home. He was lucid, I told him I had to go back home. He understood. Everything was cool.
And then more decline. And more. The doctor told me his kidneys were failing, but they could do dialysis.
And then they called me one afternoon. He coded. They brought him back, but he was going to code again. What did I want them to do?
“Everything,” I said.
This was July 21. Later that evening, I called to see how he was doing. “They’re working on him now,” the nurse said. “What do you mean they’re working on him?” I asked. “I’ll have the doctor call you,” she said.
The doc called a little while later. “Please don’t make us do that again,” he said. The fluids they were giving him to sustain his blood pressure were leaching through his pores. His brain function was “primitive,” enough to keep him breathing, but that was it.
“He’s not coming out of this.” the doctor said.
So I made a decision I’d frankly never thought I would have to make. I told the doctor that if he coded again, to let him go. I didn’t want him to suffer needlessly.
I asked that the call be switched to his phone, and the nurse put the receiver by his ear.
I told my dad, for the last time, that I loved him. and that my wife loved him. And I said that we wanted him to stay with is, but of he felt that he needed to be with mom, then that was Ok.
A few seconds later, the nurse picked up the phone and asked me if I had finished. “Pretty much,” I said.
“He just stopped breathing on his own,” she said.
When the phone rang at about 1 a.m. on July 22, I knew who it was.
“I’m very sorry to inform you that your father has passed away,” the doctor said. I thanked him for everything that he and the other doctors and nurses did for my dad, and I told him that I knew they’d done everything they could. He gave me some more information, and that was that.
We had full military honors for my dad at his funeral, including an honor guard, rifle salute and a bugler blowing “Taps.” It was quite stirring. Afterword, I went over to the honor guard and thanked them, and told them my dad would have been proud. One of them extended him closed fist to me, then he dropped the three cartridge shells from his rifle into my palm.
My dad’s birthday was September 17; ironically, that was the day, the year before, when he was transferred to the VA hospital. That first birthday, my wife and I were in my dad’s hometown, Rochester, NY, with my cousins and his last remaining sister. We had pizza and toasted my dad, and it felt right.
I really miss my dad, just like I really miss my mom. But I take some comfort in knowing that they’re together again, watching over us. And that’s a pretty good feeling.