The phone rang at 6 a.m. a year ago today. Waking me from a deep stupor, my mother said my dad had been taken to the hospital. He’d been having some intestinal problems that, apparently, had worsened.
I got dressed, quickly told Michael what was going on, then raced to the St. Francis ER, where I found my father in a cold sweat writhing in pain. They had been there for several hours already.
Finally, around 8 o’clock, he was prepped for surgery. We met the surgeon, Dr. Andy Rodenberry. A cool coincidence is that his late grandfather, also a surgeon, was a friend of my dad’s. Andy told us in no uncertain terms that the situation was quite dire and that he might not come out. Up till then, I knew it was serious but that hit me like a board. I simply nodded in shock and we went out to wait. The long wait.
Michael had come up by then, and our friend Michael, as well as Doug and Kaye, and Bebe and Alice. My chaplain friend Lora was on call that day, dealing with another crisis, and she stopped by to offer sympathy. I realize these names don’t mean anything to some of you, but I name them because these friends and family surrounded us with love in a very tender time.
Thankfully, several hours later, Daddy came through the surgery. The cause of his great discomfort was a mass that had developed from diverticulitis. In effect, his colon exploded. So Andy removed most of it.
He was taken to CCU, where he was placed on a ventilator. Machines–more than I could imagine and more than I could understand–kept him alive. I do know that many bags of antibiotics were given to him, to keep the infection from killing him.
I vividly remember the nurses and doctors who cared for him in those vulnerable hours and days. Among them: Dr. Carr and Eric. Daddy needed to be on the vent for eight days. At some point, mom and I switched off reading to him. She brought one of his favorite books, “Dewey,” which is about a cat who hung out in a library in Iowa.
His pastor Chuck came up a few times and one time brought James. He works as a sexton at the church and, though he’s black, he and Daddy call each other Cuz. James, like Daddy, is from West Virginia, so they think they’re related. James prayed over Daddy in CCU and let me just say, we staid Episcopalians don’t have anything on this kind of prayer. James begged God to make his Cuz well.
The night of Christmas Day, it snowed. It very seldom snows here, but I remember how pretty it shined off the lights outside his room as I read to him from the book. “Daddy, it’s snowing!” What a gift that was.
By that time, seven days into his ordeal, he’d begun to stir a bit and by the next day he was off the vent. That was another major milestone. Then he went to a regular room for about a week and to a regional hospital across the river for about two weeks.
I have a photo of him standing beside his truck, leaning on a walker, when he came home. That was last January. I wish you could see the smile.
He lost about 35 pounds. Hell of a way to diet.
My mother, meanwhile, had to learn the finer points of changing a colostomy bag. They went to support groups. He endured many accidents. No matter how securely they fixed the tape, it didn’t always work. Then, this past August, nine months after his first surgery, Dr. Rodenberry went in and reconnected everything. It, too, was successful.
I saw Andy and his family out at a restaurant sometime last year and I yelled across the line: There’s the guy who saved my dad’s life! He was embarrassed but without him we might not be here.
Our Christmas dinner will be more joyous this year. Daddy will be at the table, offering his corny jokes and being his old self again, minus his lower intestine.
I hope it snows.