It is now summer of 2010. I have been divorced from my first husband for 4 years, and married to my second husband for 3 years. I have another child, a daughter. I am a Registered Nurse, working in labor and delivery. On this day, in August I am working and I am in the OR with a patient getting a C-Section. The phone in the OR rings. The OR phone never, and I mean NEVER rings. The nurse anesthetist answers. She says Tara….the call is for you. I had a WTF moment. Who in THE HELL was calling me, and WHY. I will kick my children’s asses if they called me on this line. This has to be a mistake. The CRNA says, it’s your mother. My heart sunk. Why on earth is my mother calling me, at work, on the main line. This was not good. I asked the CRNA to put please put her on hold. I had the charge nurse come into the room, and I left that OR. I ran to the nurses station, and retrieved my mother’s blinking hold light. Breathless, I said to her, “hello.” She said, and I will never forget, “Tony is apparently in a hospital in Houston in critical condition.” I was like Tony who…..but then instinct kicks in….oh, my dad. My mother informed me that my aunt, his sister, somehow knew he was in the hospital and put it out in Facebook land, for “prayers” for her brother on life-support. Yep, you read that correctly. I found out my dad was on life support…….from Facebook, relayed by my mother, when I was in an operating room at work. Cool. This is fantastic……said no one ever, I am fairly certain.
My mother then says to me, words that I will never forget as long as I live. Words that opened my eyes to what an amazing person my mother is. She said, you have to find him. You have to go to him. What??? My mother, the one person who stood by my side, the person who was my mother and my father; the person who gave me away at my first wedding is telling me to go and be with him? I already had so much to process, and this just topped it. I had no clue where in Houston he was, and I was in a dire financial situation at that time, I could not afford to go. She did not care. She booked me on the next flight out to Houston, and told me to find him. She said, “no one, deserves to be alone, or die alone. Not even him.”
There I sat in the middle of the nurses station, hanging up the phone. Stunned. Shocked. Numb. I went over to a computer that was not used regularly, after I explained to my Charge Nurse what was going on. She asked if I needed to leave. I told her no. I would finish out my shift. I went over to that computer, and I literally googled his last known address. It was in Baytown, Texas. I printed off a map of all the hospitals in that area. There were so many. I then took my EKG calipers (they are like the calipers that you use with a compass in geometry), and literally drew a three mile radius around his last known location. I narrowed it down to two hospitals. If he left in an ambulance from home, he had to be in one of them I rationalized. The first hospital I called, I asked to be connected to their ICU. I spoke to a male nurse, and fumbled around to try to explain why I was calling. I know all about patient confidentiality, HIPPA, and all that. I said, I was trying to find my father and all I know is that he is on life support in a ICU, in Houston. I gave his name, and said I am his daughter. If that man could have come through the phone and hugged me, I am convinced he would have. “WE have been trying to find you!” The voice said on the other end of the line said in an excited, but slow southern drawl. Apparently my father had me listed as a contact in emergency in his wallet. The phone number he had was so old that it was no longer in service. I told the excited nurse on the line that I would arrive in the morning. He gave me an update on my father so that I knew what to expect.
I arrived in Houston the next morning and took a cab to the Hospital. I arrive in the unit, checking in with the nursing staff to get the most recent updates on his condition. He had severe pneumonia, and COPD. I walked in his room. There he lay, alone. Monitors hooked to him, ventilator breathing for him. I hardly recognized him. He was so big. He had gained so much weight. I looked at the weight for the day, and he was over 400 pounds. He still smoked multiple packs of cigarettes each day, and he ate incessantly. His body just could not handle the abuse any longer. I sat at his bedside all day. I held his hand, and uncovered his feet. I hate my feet covered, and he seemed restless. The nurse caring for him said that it was the first time he seemed “calm” since he arrived. I said well, uncover his damn feet, in a joking way. I asked if I could shave him. He was so scraggly looking in the face. I combed his hair, and shaved his stubble away. I knew they were going to wake him up out of sedation the next morning. I did not want him looking completely beat to hell when he woke up.
I went to my hotel that night exhausted, and arrived back early the next morning. They were going to begin the extubation process. The pulmonary doctor felt he could come off of the ventilator. When I arrived at the hospital they were slowly turning his sedation down. He was sleeping. I walked into the room and held his hand. He opened his eyes. I will never forget, as long as I live, the look in his eyes. It was the look of surprise, gratitude, and shame all at once. His bright blue eyes welled up with tears, and he closed his eyes tight. He re-opened and again, I saw shame.
I quickly diverted my conversation and told him to cut it out. I said quickly everything is fine, and he just needs to get better. I informed him that he looked like crap, and he can thank me later for uncovering his feet, for shaving him and sparing his mustache. He loved his mustache. He and that mustache had a thing I am convinced. The breathing tube was removed, and he rested. He wanted so badly to speak. It is difficult to find your voice when a hard piece of plastic has been shoved down your throat for days. He told me that I did not have to come. I said to be quiet, and I did need to be there. I told him that my mother took care of everything for me to be there. Again, I saw the same look of shame in his eyes, which then turned to sadness. I spent several days, a week I believe with him there. We graduated from the ICU to the step down unit. He was the absolute biggest pain in the ass patient if there ever was one. He was such a pain to the nursing staff that I finally had enough, and flat out looked at him and said…..do you even know what I do for a living? I am a damn nurse. Do you want people treating ME the way you are treating the staff now? He finally chilled out a bit. I realized while spending time with him, where I get my stubborn streak. Dear god, was that man ever stubborn. I remember falling asleep in the chair in his hospital room, for maybe 10 minutes. I wake up to him cussing……I look around and I could not find him. He fell on the floor trying to go to the bathroom alone. I get it. I have done the same thing.
I went back to St. Louis when he was stable enough to go home. He was not allowed to go back to work, and he would have to apply for disability. His lungs were too far gone. He was diabetic, had COPD, and a myriad of other health conditions. He was literally the poster child for “let’s see what all you can do to your body, and see how long you live.” I found out during that time that he was a 10 year patient of the Houston Methadone Clinic, because of a drug addiction. He had a neighbor, Ms. Faye, that looked in on him. She was the most kind and sweet woman ever. Ms. Faye loved my dad, and I am forever grateful to her, wherever she may be now, for her help with him.
I followed up with my father weekly to make sure he was doing what he was supposed to be doing. My grandmother, his mother was dying from lung cancer at this time. I knew in my heart, that as soon as she was gone he would give up.
During Halloween of 2010, my dad made the drive from Houston to St. Louis to see my grandmother. I do not know how he made it. He was not well, but he did it. I allowed him to meet my children, his four grandchildren for the very first time. My daughter was three, and he called her “spark-plug.” My grandmother passed about six weeks later. My dad made it back for the funeral. I felt in my heart that my father would not last much longer. I knew that he would give up.