After a fairly tumultuous holiday season, I was finally back in a groove, training and working hard, and finding time to amuse myself without getting in too much trouble or lost on a mountain somewhere. Things were rolling along and I was planning my spring season, conjuring up visions of adventures that would lead to fun challenges and memories, with (hopefully) only a few impossible-to-prevent-if-you-are-me falls/navigational errors. My mojo had returned and I was ready for 2013.
Then the phone call came. My father had suffered a heart attack on the golf course and was in the hospital. Time stopped. All adventures were forgotten. Plans began to form as to what the prognosis was; what needed to be done; when should airline tickets be booked. For 10 days we waited while the doctors performed an angiogram, angioplasty, and then made the ultimate decision that a quintuple bypass was his only option.
The good news: He was in remarkably good health (except for the clogged arteries). The bad news: He was 8 weeks away from his 80th birthday – not exactly the ideal age for sawing someone in half.
But there really wasn’t ever a question about what choice to make. You see, my father is the ultimate lover of life. All last year, you could just as easily find him on his roof fixing a leak as on the golf course, or driving 12 hours to come visit us on Los Angeles. Everything to him is a possibility, and with enough fortitude, achievable. So, open heart surgery was going to be no different.
We heard all the stories: he’s old, so it’s going to be extra tough; it will take him forever to recover, if he ever does; this will be the worst experience of his life. We expected, and prepared for, the worst. We hired full-time care, even though we would be with him the whole time, just in case. We researched everything, talked to every specialist we knew, and communicated endlessly about the possible nightmare this was going to be.
Then he came out of surgery and asked for a Hershey bar. And the nurse gave it to him. We couldn’t decide if this was a good omen, or bad. We worried.
He was released from the hospital more than a week early, but we still worried. Surely, he would “crash” and we wouldn’t know what to do.
He stopped taking his pain meds immediately upon getting home, and instead would only take 2 Tylenol. Per Day! We really worried. Maybe he was giving up. But he didn’t seem to be. He seemed to be treating his heart surgery like every other challenge in his life – he would give it his all, he wouldn’t complain, he wasn’t a victim, and the outcome would be what it was.
Then there were some setbacks – fluid in his lungs, hoarseness, weird reactions to one of the meds. We thought: they let him out too early. He’s not as strong as we thought. But then they adjusted his meds and he was back on track within 24 hours. He took the ups with the downs, readjusted, and kept moving forward. It was simply amazing to watch.
And very enlightening. My father is now almost 3 weeks post-surgery, driving, going to church, having lunch with his friends, playing cards and contemplating when he can get back on the golf course. He’s not even taking ONE Tylenol a day anymore and he never complains, even though I know it has to hurt.
Right before I left to come back to Los Angeles, we spoke about the potential for depression, or worse, heart failure, in bypass surgery patients, and he responded as he does about pretty much everything.
“I know it’s possible. But I can’t sit here and worry about it. I just have to keep doing the things I enjoy. If I sit here on the couch because I’m afraid, I will definitely end up depressed or dead. You have to keep moving.”
You have to keep moving. That’s what my dad, my hero, taught me growing up. And that’s what he taught me again at 45.