It's been hard in the last week or so, but having friends that care counts for a great deal. Thanks to all of you for your support.
So here we go, part two...
After staying in downtown Rochester and in Minnesota in general for a few days, it started feeling like we lived there. Other than the life-threatening crisis that Dad would go through every morning and the resulting emergency medical procedure that would happen.
Still couldn't get used to that. I don't know if you ever can.....
The Mayo Clinic is HUGE - I had no idea until I went there, and was puzzled when we drove down from Minneapolis across rural Minnesota. What kind of hospital woudl be out in the boonies like this? We get to Rochester and the clinic is three blocks wide, by nearly four blocks long. We spend 10 minutes just driving around it. The buildings are ten to twenty floors, even the parking garages are ten floors or more. It doesn't just make up the skyline in Rochester, it IS the skyline in Rochester. Presidents, Kings, celebrities and people from all over the world come fly to the Mayo Clinic to get treated, especially for cancer. (That's why my Dad went there for his cancer surgery in 1994). The whole city is laid out with numbered streets on a cartesian grid of Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, and Southwest, and the origin point is the Mayo Clinic. It is undoubtedly the center of the Rochester universe.
Tunnels everywhere - Most of downtown Rochester's basements are interconnected through this network of tunnels that go from one building to the next, without having to ever go outside. When we would get up in the morning to go see Dad, we would go to the basement level of the hotel, which would then interconnect with a hallway that ran the length of the street, then connect with another tunnel, and then connect with the Mayo Clinic's hospital network of tunnels. It was almost like all these tunnels were specially constructed because of some sort of annual nuclear winter that happened here where they couldn't go outside without dying. There were even bridges that would interconnect buildings where eight floors would be connected across a bridge that went across the street from one building to another. It was amazing to see. I observed that if a film director ever wanted to make a movie about a post-apocalyptic society that has to live underground to survive, this would be the perfect place to film it. My brother said it was like Moria, but hopefully we wouldn't run into orcs or the Balrog.
Minneso-o-tans - I was taken aback by how friendly people in Minnesota are, even more so than in Kansas. Everybody wants to help, and it kind of took me aback. My brother and I were talking about where to go eat lunch in the elevator at the Mayo Clinic, and everybody in the elevator gave us recommendations and directions on where was good to eat in downtown Rochester. We went to Bed Bath and Beyond to get stuff for Dad, and manager came out and helped us, and said if we needed anything delivered to the hospital she would bring it by when she got off of work. When we would come to a crosswalk where pedestrians were crossing, they would actually run across the intersection so they wouldn't impede the cars. You would so never see this sort of thing happen in California.
Carrie Nation Lives - Just like Kansas, you can't buy beer in a grocery store in Minneso-o-ta, other than the useless 3.2 beer that is a waste of money. You have to go to a dedicated "liquor store", and they all seem to close at 9 PM. I walked into one and bought a case to tide me over, but it reminded me of the painfully resticted liquor stores in Kansas where the square footage of the store (and thus the selection) is limited by law. After driving by their farms and wheat fields, I'm pretty sure that Minnesota, just like Kansas, gets a lot of their income from wheat. Why wouldn't wheat-producing states, like Kansas and Minnesota, be completely for selling and drinking all the beer that you could brew and buy, to help the local economy? One would figure they would be all over beer like Texas is all over oil consumption But why are they so hostile to the existence of beer? The religious nuts who fought for prohibition in the first place. The hatchet of Carrie Nation (the shame of Kansas, besides Fred Phelps and Bob Dole) still lives.
The Time Difference - Minnesota, like Kansas, lives in the 1950's as much as they can, even in 2005. The grocery store, the Wal-Mart, the Bed Bath and Beyond, even the liquor store played doo-wop 50's music on the piped-in muzak systems throughout the store. Having seen this in Kansas, I wasn't all that surprised by it, but I started noticing after four or five stores in a row. This is pretty consistent with my experience of living in and visiting Kansas, is that the populace out there very much wants to live in an Ozzie-and-Harriet 1950's world, where everybody has crew cuts, is white, and the worst thing that anyone can say is "shucky-darn!". While California tends to celebrate the 1960's (Berkeley protests, San Francisco Summer of Love, and LA Watts Riots), the Midwest still clings steadfastly to the 1950's. One of my friends that is also a Midwest escapee told me that he has trouble calling back home to friends and family because of the time difference. "Because here, it's 8 PM, and there, it's 1953".
Dining - Chinese food in Rochester, Minnesota is terrible, don't get it. It's nasty. Get Italian, Greek, steakhouse, or even Dutch first. Attempts at Chinese food in Rochester, Minnesota fail horribly.
Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled program...
Late Wednesday and Thursday
Wednesday night my brother and I went out to Micahel's restaurant, a local steak and seafood place that made a pretty decent filet mignon; We were celebrating because Dad was starting to make a noticeable recovery after the two surgeries and was starting to stabilize. Suddenly my phone went off in the middle of dinner, and it was Mom. My brother and I leapt out of our seats and ran around the table a few times in a panic, and then I answered the call. It was just Mom calling to ask if we could relay the news of Dad's latest developments to the relatives later that night. We were so attuned to getting phone calls of disaster and of impending crisis that whenever the phone went off anymore, we went bananas. Ordering another two glasses of Cabernet, I wondered how long it would be before we would all calm down.
Thursday morning we had to move hotel rooms, so I packed up everything that Mom and Dad had brought, including all the stuff in the kitchen and the fridge, and we checked out of the crappy hotel by noon and loaded everything in the cars. We had a room booked at the Marriott Residence Inn next door, and they were a much nicer place than the pit we were staying in. Aside from having a room not populated with bugs and a decaying ceiling, they actually had internet access (yay!), which we hadn't had in four days, a dishwasher, a separate suiteroom from the kitchenette, and it didn't reek of decay, as it had only been built a year before. Moving into the place was a small victory, and was a place that I felt would be a good place for my dad to come back from the hospital to.
I had spent awhile on the phone trying to coordinate the return of the rental car my parents had rented from Minneapolis, and figure out a way to give it back without having to drive the 90+ miles all the way back to Minneapolis to return it and then drive all the way back. Finally I manged to talk to someone at Budget in Rochester itself, who knew what the hell they were talking about, and my brother and I drove the cars back, and dropped off Dad's rental car. The tax rate on cars in Minneso-o-ta is 17.5%. Ouch! We got nailed with that when we we returned our rental car a few days later. But we were in Rochester, 90 miles away from civilization, we couldn't just take a bus. It was exorbitant, but considering how much Dad is going to have to spend on his visit up here, it's probably a round-off error.
We got back to Rochester itself on Thursday evening and visit Dad. He's able to sit up in the hospital bed now, and was looking better. I really wanted Mom to get some sleep and go back to the hotel room and sleep in an actual bed (rather than a chair or the hospital waiting room couch) so my brother and I took over for Mom and watched over Dad for a few hours. Because of his intestinal surgery he coudln't drink any water (only IV fluids) but he wanted to rinse and spit out the water to keep his mouth from parching up, and to keep himself cool. We hold up the pan for him to spit out in, and get him ice to hold in his mouth. He starts turning a little red over the next hour or two, and we're not sure what to make of it. Just then Mom comes back, and says he's feverish, and starts putting cold compresses on his forehead. We let her take over and go to dinner.
So we grab a quick bite and my brother goes back to the hotel room, and I go to check on Mom and Dad. She comes out of the room when I come by, and tells me that Dad's fever is getting out of control, and that means the infection is winning. She wants me to call my brother to get over here right away because we may have to tell Dad our goodbyes very soon. I was doing pretty good until then, but I lost it. The well of concentrated grief that I had been drinking from for several days now was too much, and I cried for the man who told me that men don't cry.
I had braced myself for the possibility earlier, but now I'm shaking as I try to reach my brother, and we can't get cell phone reception for shiite in the hospital. Verizon cell phone service doesn't work very well in Rochester, MN, and now I can't even communicate to him that we need him here, now. He finally gets over there and I tell him to meet up in the waiting room, as Mom comes to talk to us. She says the fever is getting over 102 degrees, and that the infection is winning against the analgesics and the antibiotics that they have him on, so we need to be ready. Do we go in now? Do we wait? What the hell do we do?
So we end up waiting for another hour, an agonizing hour, turning off the damn TV in the waiting room playing some reality show as I try to even think of having to say goodbye without completely breaking down. All I can do is write a quick poem that I can never give him, and try to keep from completely losing it. We worked so damn hard, he worked so damn hard, to make it, and now he was going to go from a fever! What the living hell! I felt sick, and I wanted to throw up, but all I could do was try to keep myself from shaking so much.
So Mom comes back about an hour later and says the doctors have said we'll have to wait and see, and maybe the fever will break, but at least he's sleeping now. Do we need to camp out in the 5th floor waiting room all night? No, she says to go back to the hotel. What about... well, hopefully it won't happen. I stagger back to the hotel room with my brother, delirious from sorrow, wondering what the hell we're all doing here anyway if he's just going to freakin' die. Thursday night did NOT end in a good mood.
Fortunately, I had beer in the hotel room now, and after six or seven, I was able to calm down enough to pass out.
Friday and the weekend, through Oct. 16
I bolt up out of bed when the clocktower in downtown Rochester goes off, as I immediately call Mom and ask what's going on with Dad. Did he make it through the night? Did we sleep through the night and miss something?
No, the fever broke last night at about 2 AM, and he's sleeping now. I try to calm back down. The rollercoaster of he's-gonna-die-he's-not-gonna-die is just killing me. We get some breakfast and get cleaned up and showered, as I passed out last night without a decent shower or even brushing my teeth from the distraught evening that I had.
Friday morning I had to take care of the financials. My Dad had been stressing from the hospital bed about all the bills that had to be paid, especially the credit bills. I didn't think I'd ever end up having to do this, but I had to spend a good chunk of Friday on the phone figuring out how to pay his bills (in San Diego) with the money that they gave me, from Minnesota. It was aggravating, but I managed to get through all of them. I have enough trouble keeping on top of all my bills, much the less my parents', but I got it done by the afternoon, and I was drained.
But drained or not, we had to take over for Mom so she could sleep, so we sat with Dad and talked to him, and tried to cover for Mom as best we could. Even when he's well, my Dad can be a pretty demanding guy, but in a hospital, he needs constant care. He still had an NG tube up his nose going down to his stomach, and still couldn't swallow any water, only keep ice in his mouth to keep it cool and then spit it out. We did our best to stay out of the way of the nurses that came in every 15 minutes or so to check on him, but it was crowded with four people in that small hospital room.
Mom comes back and takes over after a few hours' nap, and we go get stuff for Dad. She calls later that night and says, come back to the hospital, now. Oh shit! What the hell happened now? Apparently Dad tore his fistula and fluid is leaking out from his intestines into his abdominal cavity. But he's not in a condition where they can operate to sew it up, and operating at this point may very well make it worse. Mom just about breaks down there, and we get the doctors in to talk to us and tell us what the hell's happening. Lots more medical terms fly by that I don't understand, but it looks like they're just going to have to let it heal up and manage the leakage. The entire idea of having to sop up all the intestinal fluid inside the abdominal cavity on a regular basis just gives the willies.
She calms back down and we go see Dad. He tries to explain the situation to me in halting sentences, and I try to tell him, it's okay, Dad, we know. We'll get through this. I grab his hold hand and squeeze it, and thousands of memories fly through my mind in rapid-fire succession, at a dizzying pace. He squeezes back, as hard as he can. I try to keep from becoming a blubbering idiot, while my Dad, ever the commander and head coach I never will be, tells me what he needs. Time to do more shopping runs. Anything and everything we can find, locally, to make him feel more comfortable. A down pillow, as the ones in the hospital are uncomfortable for him. A stool for Mom to put up her feet on when she's sleeping in the recliner next to Dad's hospital bed every night. A reading light. Litlte things that don't sound all that big in normal life that become huge now. Oh, and I need to spec out a laptop for Dad so he can use a computer to take care of things online from the hospital room. Again, I drive out with the rental car and shop with a vengeance, as if it was his last request.
One of the big problems with the hospital setup is that there's no wireless Internet at all, so we couldn't do any of the online banking or any of the other things necessary to take care of things, even with a laptop. The hotel had wireless internet, but we had to do the three-block run back to the hotel to do anything, and Dad wanted to be able to do things from the hospital bed. So I went out looking for cellular providers on Saturday that could provide wireless data internet in Rochester, Minnesota, since none of our wireless internet phones worked out there. I ended up at Midwest Wireless, the largest wireless provider up in those parts, and got rates, details and a quote with the whole data-only wireless package with a CardBus card. I brought the information back to Dad, who said to go ahead and get it for him, and there I was, back at the store 10 minutes before they closed, slamming down $450 to get the wireless setup. They didn't have it in stock, but they'd have it Wednesday, they said. Since I was flying back the next day, we had to do this now. All kinds of things had an additional sense of urgency now.
On the way back, I came across "John Hardy's Bar-B-Q", which, at least if the menu is accurate, was started by a foundry worker in New York City that moved to Minnesota in the 60's and started his own barebque joint, although he died in the late 80's. The place looked authentic enough, since it looked like a dive, so I eagerly orderded three dishes, one for me, one for my brother, and one for later. I was disappointed with the results, the barbeque was too ketchup-and-vinegar-laden and it didn't seem like they spent a lot of time slow-smoking it. I was really underwhelmed by the brisket, a true test of any barbeque joint, that it had no complexity. It was like they had quick-roasted some brisket and sliced it up, but you couldn't get any wood smoke flavor, or any aftertaste. I ate about half of it and threw the rest of it in the fridge at the hotel room kitchenette as I went over to bring the spoils of my shopping run to Dad.
He seemed betteer now, and had done about five laps around the nurses station in his walk that they had him do. They also had a breathing device that they had him blow into to measure lung capacity, and he was doing better. I hoped that this meant he was going to be strong enough to make a full recovery. THe doctors were now saying that he would have to be in the hospital for a few months for his intestines to heal, and that this was going to be long-term thing.
Mom started looking into more long-term places to stay, and I hoped that they wouldn't have to spend the entire winter there. Winters in Minneso-O-ta can be deadly.
We set up the things that he wanted in the room and left him to rest after an hour or so, as he would get tired easily. We headed off to let him rest and ate at a Dutch pancake place called "Pannekoeken", and the food was so-so, (not used to the idea of Dutch pancakes for dinner) but the waitress was hot. Day-amn, she was hot . Both my brother and I were talking about hitting on her, and I never do that at restaurants. I was halfway tempted to ask if she wanted to fly back to California with me. "Hey, baby, I work in Silicon Valley, want to come with me and check out my hardware?". Ah well. Probably woudln't be able to cope with the spandex-clad mascot costume.
So we got back to the hotel room and I started packing, for tomorrow was my flight out of there. My brother decided he was going to stay another week, so I had to get on the phone to reschedule his flight. I wrote out all the instructions that he would need to do his return flight, loaned him the GPS and the wireless router, and we talked plans until it was time to pass out at about 2 AM or so.
Sunday morning I finished packing, and we went over to see Dad. His eyes were moist as I wished him well and hoped for a full recovery, and he worried about us making the 90-mile drive back to Minneapolis with the weather starting to turn cold. Both my brother and I have had years of practice in driving through grueling conditions in Kansas and Illinois, so we'd be okay. I tried to take my leave of him without getting too emotional as we loaded up at the hotel headed out to Minneapolis.
Now that we could see rural Minnesota in the daytime, rather than at night, it looked even more like Kansas. We blew through Oronoco, Zumbrota, Cannon Falls, Coates, and Inver Grove Heights before getting to Minneapolis. It was scarily reminiscent of all those years that I did the Kansas Highway 10 run, between Lawrence and Kansas City for my job, blowing through all the little towns on K-10 past all the grain silos, pastures and limestone edifices. I had always thought Kansas was a unique land, but really, every state from Minnesota/North Dakota all the way down to Oklahoma would look pretty indistinguishable if you were dropped there without being told what state you were in.
We got to Minneapolis, and after some hassles, got the rental car switched over to my brother's name, as he was going to be taking it over now. We got there with a few hours to spare, so I said my goodbyes and told him to get back on the road before it got dark, and hung out at the airport quaffing a few at the local brew pub. The flight back was (thankfully) pretty easy, and Ultra-Gor picked me up from San Jose Airport. Getting back to the Bay Area after a week of hellish stress was like a breath of fresh air, and whlile I knew that this whole thing was not over, it was good to at least take a break. Even if work was in the morning, having landed late on a Sunday night.