Monday, September 13, 2010

The beginning of care

Will this ever end? I thought to myself as the cool November win stung my face.

It was near my nineteenth birthday as I pushed my father's wheelchair towards my compact car. It had been almost two weeks since he had been out of the hospital. After near begging his previous primary care physician to admit him back into the acute care hospital, he had been admitted and received treatment for the blood clots in his legs. Afterwards, having no other choice, he was re-admitted to the rehabilitation facility. He was there no longer than a week when he was taken to St. Josephs for the suffrage of another blood clot.

While being evaluated at St. Josephs my father because more verbal. We began to understand that the damage he had suffered was not only damage to his brain and legs in addition to a broken jaw...but he could no longer see out of his right eye.

After a week stay at St. Josephs he was released home into my care, requiring 24 hour supervision. My grandmother, boyfriend and myself began taking shifts.

Thanksgiving would be here soon...we left the eye surgeons office. Depressed and pessimistic about the future. How could we not be?

"So what are they going to do?" My Dad asked lighting a cigarette as soon as we exited the building.

"They are going to re-attach the retina in your eye so you can see again," I stated, leaving out the "hopefully" at the end of that sentence.

"Oh, they're gonna put me under, right?" My Dad asked, "There is no way they are doing it unless I am OUT of it!"

"I am sure they will put you under for the surgery," I said taking a deep breath.

"And they're gonna give me pain medicine?" My father asked, "I'm gonna need a lot of pain medicine after something like that!"

"I am sure they will give you some pain medicine," I stated firmly, beginning to grow weary of this line of questioning that was all too common and frequent with my father.

"And I'm not staying the night in the damn hospital," he started, "I've spent fourteen weeks in the hospital already," he continued.

"Dad, you spent seven weeks in the hospital and seven weeks in re-hab and if they need to keep you overnight for observation or something it is probably best that you..."

"I'm NOT GOING TO DO IT" He yelled as he exhaled cigarette smoke in my direction, "I'm NOT staying in the hospital! Those squarely ass doctors can just forget that!"

I drew in a deep breath. My father was defiant at best, and while I was grateful he had been released from the hospital and was recovering beyond anything the doctors expected, his recovery at home had been exhausting at best and at times pure torture.

He argued with us constantly. He refused his medication when it suited him. He needed 24 hour care and supervision and he fought us every step of the way. Every doctors appointment yielded an argument. Every suggestion about what he can or should do turned into a battle of wills and every step towards recovery was met with obstacles beyond anything I could possible comprehend.

I was exhausted. At times I was grateful. At times I wondered if he would fully recover and be able to live alone, and then I was reminded day after day- that thinking about anything more than what I had to contend with on that day, was fruitless.

The truth was none of us knew what lie ahead in the coming weeks, months, years...

There was simply know way to know.

My father had defied all odds. He spoke with a full-range vocabulary, although often times he confused words and suffered from Broca's aphasia; a patent's inability to comprehend language or speak with appropriately meaningful words. So he often became frustrated when the meaning of a word that was used was "just out of his reach" and he often confused similar words for others. For example, when asking for water he may use the word "mouth" or "cup." He was able to make connections but when we would suggest "do you want water?" He would become confused and agitated because he didn't seem to remember what the word "water" meant?

Verbal conflicts were frequent and physically he required a lot of care as well.
He had lost nearly 50 pounds during his stay in the hospital. He was weak, his muscles had atrophied and he was in constant pain. Leg pain, headaches, jaw aches and the inability to see out of his right eye caused him to run into things and have difficulty seeing at all...especially at night.

I was so, so grateful that he was alive and home and here with us. But, as the care giving began to take its toll I wondered- would it be like this forever? Would I feel like a slave to my father's every mood, every whim and every problem for the rest of his life?

I had no idea what lie ahead- and that was the scariest part of all.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


"You let him do WHAT?" I screamed at the nurse as my mother pulled me back towards the elevator, "The damn man has a blood clot, a fucking blood clot in his leg, and YOU....YOU let him WALK AROUND this fucking hospital?" I seethed, "What kind of incompetent, incapable, dumb fucking nur..."

The elevator doors slid shut on my words as my mother pushed me into the back of the elevator.

"CALM DOWN!" She yelled, placing her hands firmly on my arms, "this isn't going to get solved right now, in this way."

"What a bunch of fucking incompetent ASSHOLES," I screamed, "he could die, they could ruin his legs, his circulation, it could cost him his legs!!!" I yelled, "all because it is too much fucking trouble to keep him in bed!!!" I screamed. "I'm getting him THE FUCK out of here, NOW!!!"

I stormed out of the elevator and stomped across the lobby slamming my fists against the glass doors, near breaking them, out into the hospital parking lot.

"Rachel!" my mother yelled after me, "just listen to me...yes, I think we should get him out of here, but you have to..."

"I have to WHAT?!?" I screamed, "what exactly do I have to do NOW, because I am quite sure I am the only one around here doing what the FUCK I am supposed to do!!!"

I was shaking, I was screaming, I had NEVER been this mad in my entire life.

An hour before, I was perfectly calm, collected, actually having a good day for once...


"Oh, Lin's daughter," the nurse said picking some food out of her back molar, "yes, he's right down the hall..." the nurse gestured.

"Down the hall?" I asked confused, "did you move his room?"

"No, no," the nurse said, "he's walking down the hall."

I looked and to my shock I saw my father shuffling down the hallway, holding onto his bedroom food tray for support. The back of his gown open and twisting behind him. He wore no underwear, no shorts, just the dirty hospital gown swayed on either side of him...and his legs were the size of tree trunks, swollen and red as a tomato.

My mother, who was coming up to the unit behind me, stepped off the elevator and upon looking at my face asked, "what is going on?"

I glanced at my mother, and back to the nurse, furious.

"You are aware he has four blood clots in his legs, arn't you?" I asked through clenched teeth, "you are aware that letting someone walk around with acute DVT's can cause stroke and severe venous damage, are you NOT?" I asked as my voice grew louder.

The nurse took a step back behind the nurses station and set her jaw, "Well, um, yes I am but you know your father has a Greenfield filter in and...well, he just doesn't want to stay in bed..."

I cut the nurse off, "OH I SEE," I began to yell, "so because he has a filter and can't have a stroke you think its ok to compromise the circulation in both of his legs just because you can't manage to KEEP.HIM. IN. BED!!!!" I bellowed.

"Miss West," I heard a voice to my left say as I saw the hospital administrator round the corner, "we let your father walk around the hospital because we thought it was preferable to restrains and you see, he is really strong..."

I exploded.

And now, I have to find a way to go back up to that floor and not get myself arrested.

"Karen, what do I have to do?" I said into my cell phone. Karen was a social worker from St. John Hospital, she was one of the only people who ever gave the situation with my father to me straight, no bows, no lightly-veiled optimism, just the facts, just reality- and I could not be more grateful to her for that.

"Well honey, you'll have to get a doctor to assess him and be willing to admit him back into the acute care hospital, " she continued, "then he'll get the care he needs for both the brain injury and the DVTs."

"Ok," I said, "I think I know a doctor who might help with that," I exhaled, "unless he is absolutely at this breaking point."

"Well Rachel," Karen said, "no one can be at that point more than you."

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Nine Eleven

A few days had passed and my father had been placed into a step-down facility. Adjacent to a nursing home and close to an acute care hospital, I was assured that not only was this a good place for my father to be, it was THE place for my father to be.

The facility was furnished with toys, and therapists and rooms- all designed (I was told) to feed the minds of the brain injured- to nurse them back into the best condition possible. What the transferring hospital, social workers, and liaison for the facility failed to mention was that this hospital seemed to only be designed for the brain-injured. Not the brain injured who happened to also have multiple other conditions, like a life threatening blood clotting disorder...

But, I digress...

In between classes I had been spending day after exhausting day trying to communicate to the staff that in addition to care for a brain injury, my father also had to be watched for serious signs of a deep vein thrombosis. Swelling, leg pain, changes in temperature (skin temperature, not body temperature)- the fact that I had to actually explain the signs of a DVT to these medical staff exacerbated my dwindling faith in them and their abilities to care for my father...but what other choice did I have really? Take him home? Care for him on my own? Yeah, like that was even possible, let alone feasible.

I'm sorry college, but I have to take a short pit-stop in "I have no money or way of doing this- ville..." It just wasn't happening. Not to mention my father had no money coming in, social security had yet to go through, and I was, at best, making $150 a week...

My fear, apprehension and exhaustion was beginning to show in my homework as well. While I had managed to survive the first month of this ordeal and manage four classes at the near-by community college- it soon became evident that something needed to give. I was doing well in most of my classes, but I simply could not keep up with four classes any longer. I could not attend class 15 hours a week, spend equally as much time on homework, working part time and spend my nights and weekends in my father's hospital room- dealing with Recovery Scales and pulling tubes and infections and random screaming was just all too much.

So, I dropped one class- the only class I have ever in my life dropped- ironically enough it was biology. And, contrary to most cases, the college actually refunded my money when they had heard about the circumstances of my withdrawal. I was both relieved and saddened that my situation was in fact dire enough to warrant a full refund for my college course.

~ ~ ~ ~

It was a calm September day when I return to class after a very long and exhausting weekend at the rehabilitation facility. My father had been particularly draining and as I excited my English course I kept thinking it was going to be a miracle if I could stay awake for my twelve hour day of classes.
Today, as on most Tuesdays, I was meeting up with my boyfriend for brunch in between my English and Math courses. As I walked to my car I looked around the parking lot, oddly noticing that many other students seemed to be in their cars listening intently to the radio.
Hm, that's odd, I thought. Maybe there is something going on with sports or a concert coming to town...

I slide into my 1992 Ford Tempo and started the engine. As usual I had a Metallica CD already in the player and as "Master of Puppets" blared through my speakers I pulled out of the parking lot and headed to Big Boy or brunch.

"Hey there, baby cakes," Mike cooed as he came up and lifted me into the air in a giant bear hug.
"Hey," I said, slightly nauseated from not eating, "I'm starved, let's get a table."

As we slide into a booth in the back of the restaurant and began to look at the menu, Mike said, "So did you hear some pilot drove his plane into the World Trade Center?"
"What?" I said, half-confused, half in non-belief, Mike was famous for telling me things that were exaggerated at the least and a down-right lie at best, "What kind of idiot could miss the World Trade Center?" I said waving my hand dismissively and looking back down a the menu.

"No, no, seriously," Mike insisted, "some other plane also flew into the Pentagon."
"What the hell?" I said, still confused and not really sure of what I was hearing. It sounded too surreal, too major, to well...unbelievable.

Mike and I continued our brunch and hugged good-by in the parking lot. He departed for work and I headed back to the community college for my second class of the day.

As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed even more students listening, even more intently to their radios. I ejected Metallica from the CD player and began to listen.

"Reports are unsure at this time exactly what is behind all this..."
"We have confirmed reports that two planes did actually strike the World Trade Center and the buildings seem, at least at this moment to be holding strong..."
"A plane, landing near a large generators and in between construction trucks at the Pentagon..."

What the hell is going on?
I heard a loud noise as a plane from Selfridge Airforce Base, 5 miles away began to circle the sky.

I walk tentatively to my class and heard students talking, and crying and whispering as I approached the door. As I entered I saw the professor sitting on the desk explaining to the students, "the college is closing immediately, we are all told to dismiss our classes to be home with their families. It has been confirmed that two planes have struck the World Trade Center in New York and a third plane has touched down into the Pentagon..."

The professor looked around the room, concerned, scared, in disbelief..."go home to be with your families," he stated and walked out of the room.

I walked back to the parking lot stunned as I heard the students passing...

"They're evacuating my Dad's plant near Detroit...."
"Do you think something will happen here..."
"What about the Ren Cen..."
"I have family that work in the Trade Center..."

My eyes began to fill with tears as I realized, as well as I could at the moment, the true impact of what had happened. The World Trade Center was filled with thousands of workers each and every day....a plane crashing into that had to be on purpose...but why...but who...

What is happening? I thought to myself.

Driving to the hospital to check on my father, my mind was filled with thoughts of him. Perhaps it is good he will not remember this day, I thought.

And as I drove towards Mt. Clemens, jets soaring and screaming above my head, I began to sob.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Level I - No Response: Total Assistance

Complete absence of observable change in behavior when presented visual, auditory, tactile, proprioceptive, vestibular or painful stimuli.

Level II - Generalized Response: Total Assistance

Demonstrates generalized reflex response to painful stimuli. Responds to repeated auditory stimuli with increased or decreased activity. Responds to external stimuli with physiological changes generalized, gross body movement and/or not purposeful vocalization. Responses noted above may be same regardless of type and location of stimulation. Responses may be significantly delayed.

"So, what number can we expect today?" My aunt asks as she breezes past me into the hospital waiting room, taking a seat at one of the far chairs on the short end of the room, near the lockers.
"Ugh," I say falling into the seat next to her. "Unfortunately, he is a four today, its only noon and I am exhausted!"
"Your exhausted because you have to deal with him AND spend all this time with grandma" my aunt jokes.

We begin to giggle.

"Yeah, I guess," I say as I begin to knaw at my cuticles, " I just have all this homework and I can't think straight. I keep falling asleep in class and doing homework here is not as easy as it used to be," I said, leaning forward to rest my forehead in my hands, "He's so agitated sometimes, he yells and pulls at his tubes and the sitter is too afraid of hurting him, or getting hurt herself, so I have to hold him down until he's calm," I said shaking my head, "Not exactly making it easy to remember the Shakespeare I have to read or work on my biology homework."

"Hey, girl," my aunt says as she stands, "you know damn well that even without doing your homework you'll still pass the class. You're the brillant one in the family, remember?"

I smile, "Yeah, I guess," I say, standing to face her, "well let's get in there before he tears the place apart," I sigh and start towards the ICU doors.

It is now the beginning of September and my father has been in the hospital for four weeks. He has been rapidly, and painfully, progressing through the Rancho Los Amigos Recovery Scale. This scale is a generalization of healing processes the body and brain go through after suffering a traumatic brain injury. It is similar to developing again, from an infant state, only much more quickly.
Last week my father was playing with toddler toys, putting circles into their corresponding holes in a Fisher Price play cube. This week we are practicing writing down people's names and colors and having him point to the corresponding person or object. Sometimes he gets one right, sometimes he looks at the page, confused.

Other times he looks at the page and starts to yell or throw things. We just never know.

In addition to the cognitive development work my father needs, his moods change aggressively and rapidly. Day to day we never know what we are walking into when we enter his room. Will he be a three, where we think he is slipping backwards, perhaps back into a coma?

Level III - Localized Response: Total Assistance.
Demonstrates withdrawal or vocalization to painful stimuli. Turns toward or away from auditory stimuli. Blinks when strong light crosses visual field. Follows moving object passed within visual field. Responds to discomfort by pulling tubes or restraints. Responds inconsistently to simple commands. Responses directly related to type of stimulus. May respond to some persons (especially family and friends) but not to others.

Or will he be a more optimistic, yet exhausting level four:

Level IV - Confused/Agitated: Maximal Assistance
Alert and in heightened state of activity. Purposeful attempts to remove restraints or tubes or crawl out of bed. May perform motor activities such as sitting, reaching and walking but without any apparent purpose or upon another's request. Very brief and usually non-purposeful moments of sustained alternatives and divided attention. Absent short-term memory. May cry out or scream out of proportion to stimulus even after its removal. May exhibit aggressive or flight behavior. Mood may swing from euphoric to hostile with no apparent relationship to environmental events.

We just never know.

Arrangements are being made for my father to be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. A step down from the "regular" hospital, now known as an Acute Care Facility, but a step-up from a nursing home.
We are told by the doctors and nurses that this facility can handle all of my father's day to day care and that they specialize in recovery with brain injury patients.
I am also told that as my father's guardian I will be fully responsible for approval of the facility and will be the contact person for them as they progress through his case management.

It all sound good to me. Of course it does, what do you I know better? I've never been through this before. I didn't know what my rights were or were not. I had yet to become a parent myself and already I was being ushered into making life or death decisions. It was all too much.

In hindsight I realize I had received some bad advice, some good...but in most cases I realized that with my father there was simply no way to know how things would go.
There was no barometer to measure his recovery against, no yard stick or pamphlet of information could prepare me for the horrible and amazing journey ahead.

I felt like an infant myself at times. Trying to find my way, make sense of what was going on around me. Wondering if this world was really my life or just my imagination.

I never knew that a few days from now the rest of the world would be turned upside down. I never knew that this horrific family tragedy would pale in comparison to the devastation that lie ahead for thousands of people.

I never knew.

None of us did.

Sunday, May 3, 2009


Life seemed to march at a slow, steady beat. The days dragged on and as each day passed and my father lay motionless, my hopes began to dwindle.

I had no reason to believe today would be any different from the last few days, no more hopeful, no more enlightening. There had been nothing since my father's stunt a week ago. No more signs of pulling of IVs, just a constant, depressing- nothing.
His blood pressure had come down, slightly- but this was nothing promising.

I awoke to my 6am alarm and sat up slowly in bed. I was beginning to feel the effect of the long, stressful days. I, usually a very healthy eater, had been hardly able to hold much down. My stomach was upset so easily. The dark bluish, purple rings under my eyes had become a permanent fixture and another heavy strain looming ahead...I was beginning my freshman year of college in two weeks!

I swung my short legs to one side of the bed and slowly stood.

My body ached.

I had a headache already.

And quite honestly I dreaded seeing my grandmother at the hospital.

I had gotten to know a lot more about my grandmother through this whole ordeal and was a bit ashamed of the fact that the more I came to know her, the less I liked her.
I still loved her and would do anything for her. But I realized, as a grandchild should never have to, that my grandmother was somewhat delusional, intolerant and extremely controlling.
She knew my father's care was in my hands and this seemed to torment her- she questioned every move or decision I made and challenged me about simple, easy decisions. When a decision I made turned out to be wrong, she blamed me. And when I was right, she was silent.
In hindsight I see how it might be difficult to leave your son's life in the hands of an 18 year old girl, but then again, that 18 year old girl was his daughter, his next of kin, and quite honestly the best and most reliable thing in his life.

My grandmother insisted we should have taken my father to the University of Michigan, because if he had been there he would surely be better cared for. She insisted we do everything possible to hold onto my father's home (so he can give it to me one day).
She didn't seem to realize that I, unlike herself, only cared if my father lived, not if he had an inheritance to leave behind.
She insisted upon financial aspects of his care that left me reeling- I had never known how materialistic she was. Apparently a side effect from living poor most of her life...or from placing far too much importance on money, I wasn't sure which.

This day was no different from any other, I awoke at 6 am and began my routine.
I was particularly cranky today, preparing to hear the words from my grandmother again, "Now you know what you should do..." or "Here's something for you to take care of..."
I was so sick of taking care of everything, of being the one in charge. As my friends packed their things and headed to college I was stuck in the ICU being a parent to a 50 year old man in a coma.
I was beginning to get pissed- life was so unfair.

And I realized that 18 year old friends are not so good of friends at these times...only one friend, a friend I had known since childhood, came to the hospital to visit.
The others called and offered to take me out (you know so I could forget about things for awhile, as if that was possible), but only one sat with me and watched me cry as my father lie helpless.

"Hey, you" my mother said as she entered my bedroom and watched me pull on my sweatpants and pull my hair into a ponytail, "why don't you take the day off- you look terrible," she said.
"I can't Mom," I said, "what if something happens?"
"Then they'll call you," she said wrapping her arms around me, "you can't keep going on like this forever.
She was right
She was always right.
She knew me.
Better than anyone.
I began to softly cry and shake against my mother's thin frame. I looked up into her face, a face filled with love, concern and mostly sadness.
"I am so angry Punkin," she said stroking my hair, "I am so angry this had to happen to your father and to you. You deserve to be out being a kid, having fun."
"Yeah," I said wiping the tears onto the back of my hand, "apparently life had other plans."

I didn't take the day off.
I went, faithfully to the hospital- just like every other day.
Today I brought the nurses donuts. A tip for anyone with a loved on in very serious condition. Keep the nurses happy.
They will be the ones that save or take that persons life.
Trust me.

I had no idea what was in store for me at the hospital today.
No idea that today, 13 days after my father's brain surgery I would be given a gift unlike any other I had received before. I would be amazed, shocked, touched and sad all at would be like no other experience.

I rounded the corner and headed into the West Deck of St. John Main in Detroit. I parked on the roof of the parking garage in my usual spot. It was so sad that I had a usual spot...
I took the stairs down and walked across the drive into the West Entrance and followed the long winding hallway to the ICU elevators. Stepping into the elevators I noticed an older couple carrying flowers and a "Its a girl!" balloon.
The couple smiled and discussed how their new baby granddaughter looked so much like her father. They seemed so peaceful, so happy, so content.
Wow, I thought, people can actually come the hospital for something beautiful, instead of something tragic.
I know its true, but lately that thought seemed an utter impossibility.

I pushed the button and felt the car take us to the 2nd floor ICU and as I was stepping off the elevator I looked back at the couple and smiled. The couple smiled back and as the doors to the elevator shut I saw their smiles slowly fade.
They knew.
No one got off on this floor unless someone they were visiting someone very sick, someone dying.
Go welcome that new baby into the world, I thought as I headed through the ICU doors, the nurse, knowing me by name, nodded as I passed, someone in this world should be happy.

I followed the ICU wing around to my father's room. After his stint a week back he had been moved to a room directly in from on the nurses station, so that at all times he could be viewed from any seat.

I carried my orientation packet for the community college I would be attending in 10 short days and some text books I had already bought. I thought it wouldn't be a bad idea to have read the first few chapters before class starts. Its not like there was anything else to do in the hospital room anyway.

When I walked through the door with my head down I heard a strange noise.
No hiss.
No ventilator.
No ventilator?
I looked up.
I dropped my books.
I gasped.

My father's bed had been propped up into a semi-seated position and the tube that had been running out of his neck and into the ventilator was gone. In its place was a small white hole secured around his neck firmly with a blue fabric band.
My father's arms were tied down and he had a sheet tied around his middle, holding him tightly to the bed.

But this is not what shocked me.

My father's right index finger slowly tapped the bed rail.




As if counting the beats to some inaudible song.
And there he sat.


...and smiling.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


As the hardest week of my life drew on I found myself getting into a sort of weird, morbid schedule.

6am- get up, shower, get dressed and collect any paperwork, legal documents or other things I needed for the day.
8am- arrive at the hospital to being my daily shift of staring at my father's lifeless body in the oversized hospital bed.
11am- have lunch with my grandmother who was also at the hospital daily, religiously, as I was
1pm- return to my father's hospital room for another shift
4pm- leave the hospital with my grandmother, and other family members or friends who have come to visit after work, for dinner.
6pm- return to the hospital room and update the new shift of nurses on what has been happening...or not happening as is more relevant
8pm- return home, exhausted, dreary and utterly spent.

Of course there would be days here and there where I need to go to the courthouse to file guardianship papers for my father, or to meet with the Police Department about the case.
The police still had not charged the offender as it had only been a week and things were still very uncertain.
My life remained very routine and dull and depressing for these few days after my father's brain surgery. There would be moments of hopefulness when we would see him move every so slightly, just to have our hopes dashed when we were told the movement was nothing more than muscle spasms that naturally occur.
My mind flashed to the horrible stories you hear of corpses moving in their caskets at their funeral. A mouth flying open, an eye-lid coming unglued.
I swallowed.

As the days wore on, so had my patience with my boyfriend. While he had been up to the hospital with me on many occasions and had done the best he could to be supportive, the fact that he remained young, immature and ultimately selfish became more and more evident. I would discus our problems with my mother and she would tell me that times like these test a relationship and many people break up when horrible things happen.
I didn't want that to be the case. I loved him and I knew he loved me.
But, I was constantly disappointed in his level of support. On the weekends when he wasn't working he would agree to go to the hospital with me. I would drive to his house to pick him up and instead of being awake and dressed and ready to go...he would still be sleeping.
So there I would sit waiting for him to get ready wasting what I thought could have been the last few days of my father's live, waiting for him...again.
This happened on a few occasions and as horrible as it sounds I eventually got to a place where I stopped expecting his help or his support. It was just easier.

In those days I also learned many things about my father. What company he had kept, what problems he had hid from me and what things he did on a daily basis.
I learned that he routinely went to shoot pool after getting off of his night shift at noon. He would go, along with several work friends, to shoot pool and drink pitchers of beer and harass young waitresses.
Then, irresponsibly, my father would drive back to his suburban ranch, eat dinner, watch some TV and fall asleep...just to begin the process all over again.

My father had been dating an ex-stripper I had met briefly a few months earlier, but from what I could tell and what my father had told me recently, they were no longer close and he didn't think they would be again. She visited him many times in these first few days along with her mother and sons.

Many people visited my father.
Nothing like being in a coma to bring everyone out of the woodwork who ever cared about you.
I was proud and honestly surprised by the out-pouring of visitors- there were many.

Another inevitable occurrence that happens when one finds themselves as ill as my father was, your family gets to know your deepest, darkest, personal business. Your affairs are now left in their hands, as my father's affairs were left in mine. I found out he was thousands of dollars in credit card debt, he had a nasty habit of eating cold vegetables out of the can, he never cleaned his house and he kept every, single thing I had bought or made for him since I was a little girl.
Seeing a craft I had made in kindergarten displayed proudly on the entertainment center brought me to tears.
How can one man be such a contradiction? How can he be cold, yet loving. Chauvinistic yet protective. Idealistic yet delusional. Happy yet haunted. And now alive but not among the living?
But, my father had always been this way. He has an irreplicatable charm that drew people to him, yet a way about him that pushed people away. He was a man people didn't want to like, and couldn't help but like at the same time.

His addiction to alcohol, beer specifically- Bud Light or Labatt Blue, was what took an otherwise handsome, charming, charismatic man and turned him into a rude, bloated, chauvinist. This addiction played such a role in every one's lives around him that there were few family members he was still close with, and those were usually the ones that would love him regardless of what he said, or did.
Like me.

On the fifth day post surgery an amazing thing happened. I was returning for my usual daily stay at my father's bedside when his nurse entered. I sat there with my boyfriend by my side, holding my father's hand.
"Well we had quite the occurrence last night didn't we," the nurse said as she entered the room looking at my father, who still lay lifeless and unmoving on the hospital bed.
"Occurrence?" I asked, looking to my boyfriend, who shrugged.
"Linwood decided to sit up and ripe all of his IVs out last night," the nurse continued, "And I got in here just in time to hold him down before he riped his catheter and feeding tube out."
"What?!?" I exclaimed, "How could he do that? I thought he was in a coma?"
"Well he is in a medically induced coma," the nurse said shaking her head, "we want him to heal for at least another week after his extensive surgery, but it seems his body is not as reactive to the sedation as most people, so we are giving him twice the normal dosage now," she continued, "he had quite the tolerance for drugs."
I looked at my boyfriend, he smirked, "you can say that again," I mumbled.
"Yes, yes," the nurse said softly as she walked around my father's bed checking his intervenous lines and stats that still shone on the monitor above his bed, "I believe he is going to be quite the handful."
And with that the nurse left.
Quite the handful?
Going to be?
Was my father going to make it? Was this the first sign of him coming back? Was he alive in there and thinking and trying to come back to me?
I looked at my father lying there as the nurse slide the glass door behind her, he still lay as I had seen him the day before, motionless and breathing by the steady hiss of the ventilator. But there was something different about him that day. A color had come back into his face and his body seemed ready to move at any moment.
He's in there, I thought.
He's fighting.
He's alive.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


After our discussion with the detective, I needed to be alone. I decided to step into the women's room on the surgical floor.
Upon entering the bathroom, I headed for the far stall with my head hanging down, holding my breath. The bathroom was illuminated with florescent lights attached to an electric strip on the ceiling. It held two stalls on opposite sides of a small, white porcelain sink.
When I entered the stall I caught myself leaning against the cool, pale blue tile. I struggled to catch my breath as I began to shake.

Before leaving the small meeting room the detective had left me with another devastating bit of news. Upon arriving at Mt.Clemens General the day before, the hospital had run a routine drug panel on my father's blood. They do this for all unconscious patients to make sure they are aware of any and all drugs or chemicals that may be in a person's system.
My father's blood alcohol level had been 2.4

My father had always had a drinking problem, his entire life. He spent his life either deep in the throws of addiction or fighting the addiction with all his strength, often with the substitution of pot, cigarettes, exercise or sex...anything...anything to give him a high.
I remember the first two years after my parents divorced being so frightened to be left alone with my father. His drinking had raged out of control after my mother left him and the honest truth was I was afraid of him.
He was unpredictable.
His usual pattern being a happy drunk at the beginning of the evening, than as the alcohol continued to flow he would become sloppier and finally...he would become... scary.

He never beat me, hit me or hurt me physically while he was drunk, but the verbal and emotional abuse I endured for years was almost worse. I remember him screaming at me as if I had crashed his car, simply because I had spilled his beer on the living room floor.
I remember my father pouring his beer into a to-go cup as we left the house, with him behind the wheel. As young as I was I never knew how wrong that was...for me it was normal.
It was only when I became an adult that I realized, my father had endangered my life on a nightly basis for well over two years.
I remember being called fat and being told to shut up...but most importantly I remember feeling angry and inferior. Angry that he couldn't spend one night with me sober. Angry that no matter how much he told me he loved me, he would still drink. Angry that he couldn't see what he was doing to himself. And I felt inferior. No matter how much he loved me, he loved beer more. That is what I spent my adolescence believing...
No matter what I did, it was never enough.

But when the morning would come, and the alcohol would wear off, my father was so different. Still not the most calm, collected and supportive man in the world...none the less, he was far different during the day. He was capable, funny, loving, charismatic and extremely intelligent. He would take me horse-back riding in the mountains. We would drive the two hour stretch to the Horse Ranch singing Motown's greatest hits with the windows rolled down.
We would ride for hours at the ranch enjoying the sound, feel and smell of nature...sharing our equal love for horses. On the way back from the ranch we would always stop at the old A&W drive-in cafe and get foot-long hot dogs and french fries. When he was sober I was no longer fat, but strong. When he was sober I was never annoying, but intelligent and articulate. When he was sober he was my father and I was his daughter.
When he was sober I loved him.

But he was rarely sober.

A blood alcohol level of 2.4. Jesus! And that had been a good hour or so after he had gotten into his car. Even though this news upset me, it did not surprise me. I had been in the car with him after drinking 16 beers, and that was simply on a night I had decided to keep count. This was not unusual for my father and as much as I hate to say it, as much as saying it seems to condone it, the truth was my father was probably more sober that day than most days...
With my face pressed against the cool tile, my body shaking, I began to finally allow the tears to roll down my checks, my body wretched with sobs and I began to pound my fist against the tile wall.
Until my skin became raw.
I kept pounding, until I thought my hand would break.

I could not explain the emotions coursing through my body. Anger. Sadness. Grief. Remorse. Anger. Love. Hopelessness. Revenge. Fear. Anger...but ultimately,

Its unexplainable how you can love so deeply someone who has hurt you so badly. It is almost as if love it programed into the DNA. Just as my father's curly hair, oval face and muscular build had been programmed into me at birth, so had my love for him. No matter what he had done, no matter what role he had played in this horrible incident, I still loved him and I still wanted him back in my life. I still wanted him alive.

Peeling myself off of the tile wall, I unlatched the silver lock of the stall door and walked to the sink. As I cupped my hands under the cool water I bent down to splash the water over my face. I threw my head back and looked into the mirror.
What I saw staring back at me was a stranger. A gaunt, sunken, tired, lifeless stranger. My eyes look wild and lost. My usually olive complexion had gone fair with grief and my face was held in an almost permanent grimace, as if I had smelled something sour.
I turned away from the mirror and left the bathroom.

As I headed back towards the waiting room I saw my mother at the nurses desk. She was walking towards me, fast.
"We can go back and see him now," she said, "He's out of recovery."
"Honey?" she said catching my arm, "try to forget about what the detective said for a little while and just visit with your father."
I looked at her wanting to say what was in my mind. I wanted to tell her that nothing would ever take those words out of my head. I wanted to tell her that years upon years later I would remember every second of the last two days in gruesome detail, that it would haunt me...forever...and that I would be angry that no matter how supportive my friends, family and lovers one would know what I one would ever be able to matter how much they tried.
But I didn't.
On some level I knew this accident had affected her deeply. She used to be married to my father, she used to love him, more than anyone. She still loved him on some level, and I knew she always would.
And I knew that there was not a day that goes by that she does not look at my face, as I resemble my father greatly, and see him staring back at her.
"Ok, Mom," I said...more for her than for myself.


Upon entering my fathers room in Intensive Care I at first could not look at the bed that held him, or the shell of what he used to be.
I found myself looking around the room at all of the machines he was attached to. He was connected to a ventilator that made a steady hissing noise as the equalizing air filter expanded and then fell, expanded and then fell...filing my father's lungs with air.
The heart monitor showed spikes of activity as my father's heart beat within his chest at 59 beats per minute.
The oxygenation sensor displayed a 95, than a 97, than a 93 and back constantly changed with each hiss of the ventilator.
A long yellow cord snaked out from under the sheets filing a large bag with urine as it hung from the bottom of the bed.
A blood pressure cuff automatically filled with air as it wrapped my father's arm and then slowly deflated....130/92....displayed in blue across the monitor.
And finally the bags hung from their IV poles with snake-like fingers reaching into all areas of my father's body...I would soon know all of these medications as if I were a nurse myself.

These figures, these numbers on a monitor, would become my lifeline into my father for the next several weeks. I would watch these numbers and believe that by knowing they were stable, that my father too, was stable and on his way back from the brink.
This of course was what I told myself, no one really knew.

I finally looked up into the hospital bed and saw my father. My eyes filled with tears and a single, slow, wet tear escaped down my check.
"Oh, daddy," I whispered walking to the bed.
He lie lifeless, his body swollen about 20% its normal size. His shaved head lie on a pillow bandaged from the forehead-up. His arms lie on pillows elevated above him chest, which rose and fell with each hiss of the ventilator. A feeding tube protruded from his stomach and ran into one of the containers hanging from one of the IV poles. The ventilator tube was fastened around his neck with a soft collar. His eyes were closed and the skin beneath them black; dried blood was still visible at each nostril. His mouth was shut tightly, and I remembered it had been wired shut.

I reached out and touched one of his swollen, coarse hands.
It was cold.
He did not move.
Without the ventilator and the small, slow drip of the IVs there was no movement.
There was no life.