Due to my wacky and hectic life, I haven't had time to write a decent follow-up to what happened with my Dad in October 2005 This is a cross-sectional entry, that covers from then to Christmas 2006. Between all the insanity that happened between Halloween fursuit gigs, the big FNL skit, Christmas fursuit gigs, and FC, there was absolutely no time to write about any of this.
So now I'm playing catch-up, and have written a "Cliffs' Notes" summary of what happened.
Those of you that know me and have seen me run amok in the last few years know that I spend so much time <I>doing</I> that I rarely have much in the way of time to actually write about it. The months between September 2006 and FC are a total blur, and I was pretty much wiped out day and night with just keeping up. So now that we're in the post-FC lull of February, this is the first time that I've had time to write much about anything substantial other than last-minute things I needed to post about then.
So now I want to write about what happened with my Dad, after the epic journey that we had in October 2005 where the Mayo Clinic almost killed him. He went in for a simple hernia checkup after his 1994 cancer surgery, and they ended up (1) puncturing his bowel, (2) telling him he could eat, so the food got stuck in his intestine when he (3) got violently ill and had to be readmitted the hospital and (4) told him it was all in his mind and ignored him before he (5) started going into shock and had to be rushed into emergency surgery.
And this the whole gut-wrenching Mayo Clinic saga began, where Mom called me up during my little brother's birthday celebration in San Jose, to say, "Your Father's Dying".
I won't bore you with the minute details of what it was like flying out to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in a desparate haze the next morning or what technical terms the doctors threw around-- but by the time we got there, Dad was in the ICU, and Mom had all her hair turn white. I'd never seen anyone have their hair turn from black to white in a matter of four days, but it happened to Mom.
She had aged twenty years since I saw her a few months before, and had lost about 20 pounds. When I first saw her, she fell into my arms and nearly collapsed with grief. We brought her food and begged her to eat, until she finally did.
Dad rode upon hospital bed from test to test, from emergency surgery to more surgery as interns tried to patch him up while the head surgeron was, amazingly enough, away on a conference not seeming to give a rat's ass. Nurses and interists kept trying to screw up his treatment and his recovery, and my Mom (a trained pharmacist for 20+ yeras) had to fight them tooth and nail when they would do things that were egregiously wrong. My Dad had a fever for a month, as they went through antibiotic after antibiotic trying to fight the infection that was trying to kill him after the abdominal surgery.
During this time, every day that he got to live another day was a Christmas present delivered down the chimney from Santa; Every sunrise with him a celebration as we bought a little more time and his vitals seemed to not crash for a little while longer. Another day of holding Mom up to keep her strong, not to mention from collapsing in my arms. Another day where my brother and I would run amok in shopping runs to get anything, everything, that Dad needed to keep him comfortable for a little while longer while the machines beeped and nurses gave us sympathetic looks. (Most nurses don't usually do that).
Two doors down from his room in the ICU, was a six-year old kid dying of cancer. God, life is unfair. I remembered all the hospital gigs that we'd done in fursuit, seeing kids just like that, and now this was no fursuit gig. This was as serious as, well, a heart attack.
While the people and all the locals in Rochester, Minnesota were good Midwestern stock that cared deeply and would bend over backwards to help you, the Mayo Clinic seemed more like a Gulag for sick people from which you could never escape. Maybe they were better at dealing with cancer than with gastrointestinal surgery, but we were appalled at the lack of concern given by the medical staff at a supposedly world-class medical institution.
I could only spend about a week and a half of frentic OMG-we're-gonna-die insanity in Minnesota before I had to come back for work. My little brother spent another week there helping out with things, and then it was constant phone calls that began with "Your Father's dying" with the latest news of how we thought he was doing better, but the doctors screwed something else up and now he's doing worse.
I ran amok trying to send them things, anything, like posters of home, presents, cards and letters, flowers from my brother and I, anything we could, just to give him a reason to hang on a little longer. Christmas came, and he was still hanging on, after spending the entire month of November with a fever that would have killed most people. (My Dad is one tough cookie). He had finally checked out of the hospital to the hotel that we had set up for him, but was still on a bag attached to his stomach, and couldn't eat or drink anything. All his nutrition and water came (and still does) through an IV bag that they had to plug into him twice a day. I got to learn up close what the whole wedding vow that was "In sickness and in health" meant, watching my Mom become a full-time nurse for Dad.
Christmas 2005 was a lonely, melancoly affair. Since they were planning to make their escape from Minnesota right after New Year's 2006, we decided to just save the vacation time and spend Christmas separately. We sent gifts, they sent us pictures, but it felt like I was getting pictures from the hospital/prison camp that my parents were staying in. A sucky Christmas and messing up the HawkMobile in the parking garage at work didn't help my mood (cost $2500 to fix), I was pretty pissed off about things in general.
Then, the big mission, January 2 2006. Rescue Dad from his incarceration in Rochester, MN and bring him home, to San Diego. It felt like something outta the A-Team, but I'm not sure if I was Hannibal or the crazy Murdoch screaming, "I want some trash bags!". We spent a week there, packing up everything that my parents had acculumulated over a four-month stay and mailing it back-- I rented an SUV just to haul all the crap and was terrified that the Minnesota snow would prevent us from making the 90-mile drive back to Minneapolis; We left stupidly early after an entire night of nightmares of terrible things that would happen to my Dad that left me shaking, and yet, I had to drive this rental SUV and keep things together. It took over an hour to get through security at Minneapolis with my Dad in a wheelchair with all his IV bags, needles, medical equipment and other things you weren't allowed to take on a plane any more. Minneapolis airport is immense, and it was nearly 1/3 of a mile from the security checkpoint to the gate; We put Mom and Dad on an electric cart and my brother and I ran our asses off with the luggage, trailing behind.
I've flown many times (although I try not to any more since our country went insane in 2001) but I've never had as uplifting an experience as when we finally got Dad on the plane and flew out of Minnesota to get him home. Finally I could breathe easy, after three months of nearly losing my mind on a daily basis on how he was on the verge of dying-- finally we could at least get him home, and things would maybe be all right. At least, that's what I kept telling myself as I downed several glasses of wine and passed out in my seat. It was like taking the last plane out of Saigon.
We got back to San Diego Airport, and things were disturbingly bright. After all the time we'd spent with the slate-gray skies of Rochester, Minnesota, there were blue skies, palm trees, and it was hot enough we had to take all our coats off. We got Mom and Dad home, and he slept in his own bed, in their beautiful house in San Diego, and like a fool, I thought that maybe everything would be all right. I'm a sucker for easy, comic-book style endings, but life seldom works that way.
During the whole surgery and the recovery process, Dad had torn a <A HREF="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fistula">fistula</A>, an abnormal bypass between intestines (or worse yet, into the body cavity) which meant he couldn't eat or drink anything, for if he did, it would spill right out into his abdomen and his organs. Yeah, imagine the tomato sauce you had with your spaghetti coating your internal organs. That sort of bad. So he couldn't eat or drink anything, not since October 2005.
So he continued to be on IV bags for all his food and drink. Imagine a bag, about 2 liters big, that you're plugged into and that's all you get to keep you alive. Everything a body needs, or so they say. My Dad can't so much as have a celery stalk with peanut butter, and I imagne the smell and the taste must be insanely tantalizing to him. He's plugged into a bag, with another bag attached to his stomach. I couldn't even watch the latter bag get changed, just the sight of it gave me the willies. We kept hoping things would get better.
A funny thing happens to you if you end up at a medical institution where they screw up your surgery-- no other surgeon wants to even deal with you any more, because you're somebody else's mistake-- and you're already marked as damaged equipment. Surgerons are loath to take on such cases, and want fresh meat to work on. Already messed up projects are not somethign they want to deal with. So my parents went from hospital to hospital trying to find a surgeon in SoCal that would try to fix the problem and repair the hole in the intestines, and never got anywhere. Supposedly the hole in the intestines was going to heal, but it kept stubbornly not healing, due to a large part to the fact that my dad had to have chemotherapy in his instestines in 1994 for his cancer surgery. So the tissues and the organs involved weren't healing up like they normally would, and worse yet, they were having adhesion, where they stick together, making it harder to operate on.
So we spent the entire summer and fall trying to find another place where he could have his surgery done. A lot of places said it was too risky, that he might die-- but Dad was insistent that he go throgh with it, and well, it's his body, and his decision. All we could do was to be as supportive as possible in whatever he wanted to do. We had a really gut-wrenching visit in the summer for Mom's Birthday to see both of them, knowing that it might be our last time for all of us to get together.
So October came around, and they had scheduled the big surgery to be at UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, a suburb of Los Angeles. I was much happier with this than the forbidding landscape of Rochester, Minnesota, and drove down to help out. We camped out for nearly two weeks at UCLA, while I madly tried to provide logistics, supplies and support, just like I do at a fursuit gig. Only this one wasn't just hugging kids and having fun, this was literally life-and-death. We camped out at UCLA In October 2006 in a vigil atmosphere, waiting nervously for the next emergency cell-phone call from Mom. We brought flowers to the hospital room every day, camped out in the hospital front lobby, and had sleepless nights back in the hotel room.
The surgery to fix the fistula appeared to go well, but in the process of recovery things went badly, and it tore another fistula (although a simpler one) in Dad's insestines. A week after I had to go home, Dad was released from the hospital, as there wasn't anything more they could do for him. The doctors held out faint hope that he might heal up, but the surgery was only a partial success-- he didn't die. (which was a definite possibility).
I got back to the Bay Area, and found out the next day from Diadexxus that Terraluna had crashed his motorcycle in the Sierra Nevadas. I hadn't even had time to calm down from Dad's UCLA trip yet. Two days later, my grandfather was rushed to the hospital for emphysema. and the whole time, I'm going, "One at time in the hospital, <B>PLEASE!</B>"
Then the October/Halloween gigs happened, and the epic Christmas fursuit gigs, which I'll get into later. I had no time to feel sorry for myself or get angsty about the whole mess, all I could do was barrel through work and the gigs without losing my mind and trying to be strong and be a leader for those that looked for me to do so-- and in the mad blur leading up to it, my brother and I went back to visit my folks for Christmas.
Will and I drove down to San Diego for Christmas, and the weather sucked. It rained like hell, (even by Midwestern standards) and the high winds blew the Mighty HawkMobile all over the highway as we took the Tehachapi Freeway (CA-58) around LA to avoid its traffic jams. We made it late and exhausted to San Diego in the wee hours of the night.
We had probably the most somber Christmas I can remember. My parents moved to Chicago from the Bay Area in 1987, something I could never accept, and still don't. I hated living in Chicago so much that I fled to Kansas in 1989, and said, "I'm never coming back". We fought bitterly about it for almost twenty years, until they moved to San Diego recently.
By Christmas, Dad isn't getting any better, and all of us are forced to admit that the UCLA surgery was a failure. Well, not a total failure, because he didn't die. But he's still on an IV bag, unable to eat or drink anything. The hardest thing of all was having Christmas dinner with Mom and my little brother without him, where we had to sit him in another room on an IV Bag and have him watch TV while we ate Christmas turkey. I don't think I've ever wanted to cry that hard during a meal before. My Dad is much stronger than I'll ever be, he kept his chin up and pretended like it was another day of relaxing in the den.
So, for the first time in over a decade, we built a Christmas tree, once again, something I hadn't done since I was in my early twenties. Sure, it was artificial, but the ceremony was still there. Ornaments that I hadn't seen since I was a kid (and some that I made for them over thirty years ago) were suddenly out, as we tried to figure out how to decorate a tree, something I haven't done in over thirteen years since. The World War II ornaments made out of cheap glass (as metal was rationed for the war effort) were broken out. My Mom used to think those ornaments were cheap and crappy-looking until she understood how much my grandmother trasured them, while my grandfather was off to war. Some of them are insanely valuable.
And then the Angel. Oh dear God. The plastic Angel that looked like something out the early 60's, still in the product box that looked like something out of a Leave it to Beaver episode, that my Dad always put atop the tree on a ladder. I sat in awe of it as he would put it up on the Christmas tree growing up. He always towered over me as a kid, so mighty and so able, and he would get on the ladder and so easily put the angel atop the tree as I would gawk with awe that any human could scale such heights. The Angel has a hole in the back for a Christmas light bulb to stick through to illuminate it, and he would always get it right. This was probably only 8 feet off the ground when this feat was accomplished, but as a kid, it might as well have been a thousand. I knew I could never do that sort of thing in a million years.
So now, my Dad is too sick to do anything other than sit on the couch and watch us, and they hand the Angel to me to put atop the tree, as I look around. But wait! I'm only thirty-seven! I'm not ready! I can't do this, I don't even have any kids! I'm just this guy!
And suddenly I'm atop a chair fumbling with the light bulb plugged into its back, the same thing that I was terrifyingly in awe of thirty years ago. The torch has been passed, and I'm not ready to deal with its flame or its weight.
I'm pissed at myself as I get down off the chair and look at it-- the Angel is leaning to one side, and is barely clipped onto the tree branch of the artificial tree. "it's perfect!", my Mom says and my Dad has a tear in his eye, and all I can do is play along as we begin to open our presents for what might be our last Christmas together. For we just don't know. with all the medical stuff we've gone through in the last year, we know that any of us could go at any minute, so you must enjoy the moment.
We took pictures and opened presents, and although mine weren't that great, I didn't care. The things that meant the most to me were having everyone there. They could have given me a box of rocks and I would have been happy just to have them all there.
So for those of you that can eat, that can drink and be merry, do all three and enjoy the time you've been given. For the day may
very well come where you can't eat or drink a thing, and all that's left are needles, IV bags, beeping hospital machinery. and tearful family members. So enjoy every day as if it were your last, and never pass up the oppportunity to have a good steak or a glass of great wine.
I'm sure my Dad would give most of his teeth to do that once again, even though he never says so. And for now, we all hang on.