“They Don’t Call it Hero-lose”

A while ago Saturday Night Live aired a sketch about the growing heroin problem in America. The trouble was America was not laughing. Heroin use, abuse, and deaths have been steadily on the rise for the last 15 years and increasing at an alarming rate since 2010*. The politicians are calling it an epidemic. The headlines are calling it an epidemic. It kind of seems like heroin is everywhere. But it’s not….not really, is it? As close to home as this has reached for so many Americans to many other Americans it still feels like “someone else’s problem”; someone who’s poor, or not white, or not living in “my neighborhood”, or someone who’s a criminal or a street person.

But here’s the thing; heroin is a suburban problem. It’s an urban problem. It’s a rural problem. It’s an everywhere and everyone problem. In a report released last July the CDC found that “significant increases in heroin use were found in groups with historically low rates of heroin use, including women and people with private insurance and higher incomes. The gaps between men and women, low and higher incomes, and people with Medicaid and private insurance have narrowed in the past decade.” The fact is that 90% (yes 90%) of first time heroin users are white. Many are middle class or “wealthy” and 75% of new users have had previous addiction issues with prescription painkillers.

But that’s just where the story starts this time around. The fact is that heroin has been in my life for over a dozen years. I have seen what it can do and what it does to people first hand at an uncomfortably close range. And I use that phrase with great intention. Talking about this makes people wildly uncomfortable. Most of the people who are outside that small circle of folks in my life who know exactly how devastating heroin addiction can be, just kind of cannot believe that someone, in real life, in their life, knows anything about heroin addiction. It’s like people don’t believe it’s real. That it’s something that only happens in the movies. But it happens in real life.

I have heretofore refrained from talking much about Bo’s dad because I have tried to be respectful of his privacy. His story never felt like it was mine to tell. But it is also my story.

I was 24. It was December. It was always December. I knew something was wrong with Zach. I just didn’t know what. I would, in time, grow very familiar with all the signs and symptoms of his drug abuse. At some point all the relapses blur together. Other moments, the really bad ones, stick out. It wasn’t until 2 months later, when he was fired from the restaurant at which we both worked for leaving a needle in the manager’s office that I knew something else had to be done. He was using heroin…again. I had caught him, eventually, back in December. He tearfully admitted it, said it wasn’t that bad, that he didn’t need to go to rehab or anything and that he could take care of it on his own. I trusted that he was being truthful because I didn’t know any better.

After he got fired in February even he had to admit that the problem was more serious than he had been letting on. He agreed to get clean. His best friend and former girlfriend, Sagan, who had been through this with him many times before, offered her help. She was not working at the time and offered to be the babysitter for the better part of the ordeal. When I was at work someone had to watch him while he was going through the difficult and painful process of detoxing.

We gathered his things and went over to Sagan’s apartment where we would be staying for about a week. At that time, in Seattle, there was a doctor on Beacon Hill called Dr. Si whose specialty was helping ease heroin users through the detox process with a combination of several non-narcotic prescription drugs. A lot of muscle relaxers, sleep aids, anti-nausea and anti-anxiety medications, taken all at once so that the patient is basically an anthropomorphous blob of relaxed, sleeping, human skin who occasionally wakes up to pee and drink gatorade. Through this detox process the patient does not experience as much or as intensely the classic symptoms of detoxification such as vomiting, diarrhea, uncontrollable shaking, sweating, cramping, anxiety, or excessive screaming if you are junkie being played by Leonardo Dicaprio.

Sagan and I had to go fill his prescriptions and gather the necessary supplies (e.g. gatorade, consume, saltines etc). Before we left him in her apartment alone, we took the phone (kids, this is when people still had land lines) which was not a cordless so we just unplugged the receiver from the phone and took it with us, along with his wallet, his keys, his pants and his shoes. We figured those measures would at least be a deterrent; if he wanted heroin he would literally have to run down the street with bare feet in his underpants begging for money in order to get it. We thought we were so clever.

The rest of the week was, for me, going back and forth from my apartment to feed our new kitten, to work and then to Sagan’s apartment. At work, everyone knew why he’d been fired. No one even asked me if I was okay, or what I was going to do about it. It’s like they just assumed that I was going to dump him because of his drug use. Truth is, I don’t know what I would have told them had they asked. I was just doing the one thing that made sense to me; helping my friend, whom I loved, with his problem. I didn’t know what the future held, but I knew that he would still be in it with me.

The trouble with being a junkie is that even when you’re not on heroin you’re probably on something else. Maybe it’s alcohol or cocaine or the program or yoga or guilt or self loathing or whatever it is, the hole that heroin left inside of you is going to get filled with something. He always filled it with alcohol, guilt, depression and hatred.

I cannot remember how long it was until the next relapse. He got his job back after some time. And then lost it again after refusing to take a drug test that he knew he would not pass. He said it was too hard to stay clean working downtown, right next to the blade. The drugs were unavoidable. And every time he started using again and started lying to me about it a little bit more of my confidence would erode, not just in him, but in myself. Finding out about it each time was like finding out I was being cheated on and effectively I was; his mistress was heroin. It would always be.

There was the time I found the make-up he had hidden; foundation that he used to cover up his bruises and track marks. When I confronted him with it he said it was old, from the last time he relapsed and he had just forgotten about it. I told him I did not believe him and that he’d have better luck with concealer than with foundation. He used that excuse all the time; “I haven’t been using I just forgot about (insert whatever piece of incriminating evidence I found) since the last time!”

After losing his job, again, and kicking heroin again, in the midst of his job search I encouraged him to take some time off. I worked two jobs and we could get by on that for a while. He took a year off work. He wrote and drank and cried for a year, but he did not use heroin. For that I was thankful. When he started to look for work again I was scared. I didn’t want to start the same thing all over again.

But it was okay. For a long while it was okay. He got back in touch with his son from his first marriage. Things were going well. Then some shit happened as shit tends to do. His longtime friend, who also struggled with heroin abuse, came back into town. That was hard. They would continually flip this coin wherein its landing on one side they would try to lift one another up but the other side of that coin was their dragging one another down. His friend, Ronnie, was about to have a baby with his girlfriend, who also used. Ronnie was trying really hard to get away from heroin but heroin is a mad goddamn dog and it does not stop coming after you. I watched over Ronnie as detoxed on an air mattress on our living room floor. I watched him as he writhed and cried and begged for drugs. I watched him get clean. I watched him relapse. I watched him get clean again and it all felt like a microcosm of what I was going through.

One morning, a watery grey dawn, I woke to find that I was the only one in bed, save for my cats. The dog, Ronnie’s dog actually, who had been living with us while Ronnie was homeless, was gone and so was Zach. I did not even have time to lean into the full froth of my panic when the door of the apartment rattled. It was Zach, dogless and bandaged about the neck and wearing a hospital bracelet and a shirt that did not belong to him.

He had waited until I went to sleep, took the dog out for a walk and while out, decided to stop on a side street and shoot up. The paramedics found him lying in some bushes near the sidewalk, a needle hanging out of his neck…with no dog. The depth of what happened, the overwhelming weight of the situation was completely overshadowed by the lack of the dog. Ratchet was not just a dog, he was Ronnie’s child, his partner of over a decade. That dog meant everything to him and he was missing.

I pulled on clothes. It had grown lighter out now, it was around 6:30 in the morning. We walked the whole neighborhood, looking and calling for Ratchet. I walked until my feet were sore and my throat was raw from calling Ratchet’s name. I cried. Out of despair for the loss of the dog, despair for the whole situation. I wanted to scream.

Ratchet, as it turned out, upon Zach’s passing out in the bushes, ran back to our apartment building where he dutifully stood outside, leash dangling on the ground and barked, and barked and barked, presumably in an effort to wake me, but to no avail. When he finally gave up on barking and returned to find Zach no longer where he had left him, Ratchet went to the local drugstore up the road which was open 24 hours. There he sought shelter and companionship for the rest of the evening. He was returned to us around 10 am. I was so exhausted from worry, hopelessness and relief that I collapsed into bed with Ratchet and my two cats and slept all day, until I had to go to work that night. I was simply trying to run away from the thought that there would be another detox, another “starting over”, another broken promise, more fighting, more anger, more exhaustion, more pain, more pain, more goddamn pain, more consuming and unfaltering and inescapable fucking pain. Pain….for poppies. Just poppies.

I was completely alone to deal with this, too. How could I expect anyone to understand what I was going through? I didn’t even understand it. I was just trying to survive it. I remember confiding in a friend, at the time, about what was happening with me, with him, with us. She seemed bewildered. She did not know what to say or do…so she just stopped talking to me. What I was going through was too much for her to handle. I wish I could say she was the only one. She was not. After a certain point I learned  my lesson and just didn’t talk about it anymore.

That was 2006. In 2010 our son was born. In the intervening years, after the last “getting clean” was all over, there were no more incidence of heroin use, at least none that I knew about.

It wasn’t Zach’s heroin abuse that (directly) lead to my ending the relationship after 11 years when our son was just 3 years old. It was a decade worth of things. A decade’s worth of my corrupted sense of self, a decade’s worth of alcoholism, a decade’s worth of mistrust, a decade’s worth of codependency. It was a death by a thousand cuts and I was quickly running out of unmarred skin. I felt like I couldn’t breathe under the weight of his hatred and judgement of me. After all HE had done it was ME who was never going to be good enough, never going to be able to repent enough for the past. He was always like that. He could never find the fault in himself but was a surgeon about finding it in others.

Of course I worried that the break-up would send him back into heroin’s sedative and tranquil embrace. But for a while he was okay. Then, at preschool orientation, he showed up high as fuck! He denied it when I confronted him about it because of course he did. I had no proof. I did not know what to do. I think that I secretly, and quite stupidly, thought that Bo would keep him on track. That the presence of this bright, coruscant, and breathlessly beautiful creature would somehow keep him out of the darkness.

One day, I went to pick Bo up for preschool at the apartment I had moved out of in favor of living in the back of my bookstore. At this point Zach and I were splitting the weeks with Bo. He was with me 4 days and 5 nights of the week and with Zach on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. This was one of the days that Bo had stayed with him and it was a work day for us parents at our Co-op preschool. I approached the door, opting to knock out of some sense of decorum despite my having a key. No answer. They should have been up and ready to go. I did not hear Bo inside. I did not knock again. I opened the door and it was quiet. Bo was still in bed. I looked at the couch and there was Zach, passed out with his sock rolled down and his foot and the needle still in his hands, his works spread out on the coffee table. I chocked on my own horror. I could not believe that he would do this…with our son asleep just feet away in his bedroom.

I did not scream. I woke him up. He tried to play it off like what I had just witnessed was, in fact, not at all what it looked like. I still did not scream. He scooped up his things from the coffee table, finally regaining his wits. I calmly assured him that I knew it was EXACTLY what it looked like. He tried to make more excuses. Then, finally, I screamed; “WHAT IF I HAD NOT FOUND YOU?!?!!! WHAT IF IT HAD BEEN HIM?!?!” I screamed, gesturing toward the hall down which my son’s bedroom lie. He started to cry. He was out of excuses and out of heroin and the reality of what he had done and what he had narrowly avoided began to hit him.

I told him that he would never see his son again unless he got help. I also told him that, this time, I could not be the one to give it to him. After all, I had a child to raise and a business to run. I woke Bo, gathered his things and we left. We did not go to school that day.

It took Zach a little while, and after exploring other programs, he got on methadone. I was not particularly pleased with this course of action. As far as I was concerned it was really no better than being on heroin. While it was not illegal, there was virtually no chance of overdose and it was free he was still going to “be on drugs” and quite dependent upon them too. And that is what eventually lead to his getting fired from yet another job. Even on methadone he could not hide the fact that he was a junkie. His decline was just too obvious, to me, to his employer and to everyone else around him. And of course, his losing his job meant his losing his home (when he realized he could no longer afford the apartment without my income, although he, ironically, always insisted that I did not contribute to the household financially as I was a business owner and did not “bring home a paycheck”, he was forced to take up at an “hotel” that rented rooms by the week).

After getting fired, just about a year after our split, he could not even maintain his room at the hotel and was forced to move out, seeking the succor and infinite patience of Sagan, once again. She was compliant with his presence in her home for as long and longer than anyone could expect. He had started using again, street drugs. It was too difficult to get to the methadone clinic each day, apparently, but not too difficult to steal money (or whatever could be sold in exchange for money) in order to buy heroin. It becomes really difficult for me to recall the timeline of events with much accuracy at this point. I had gotten a new job and in lieu of putting Bo in daycare, a step I was very reluctant to take as he had never been in any sort of childcare previously, Zach would take him during the day. At this point I thought he was still on methadone. He was, however, pretty much homeless, staying with friends when he could.

It was September when I was cleaning out my car, which I would leave for Zach and Bo to use while I was at work, that I found something under the diver’s seat. It was the small metal dish, the kind you get from the needle exchange, that is used to cook the heroin, an unfolded paper clip for stirring the drug while it cooks, the lot of which were charred and stained with the drug’s sticky, black residue. I was enraged but not surprised. I immediately made arrangements to put Bo into a school near my work. That Monday when it would usually be time to meet up with Zach before I went to work, Bo and I went to his new school/daycare. Bo was so excited to be in school, with other kids, it was like he didn’t even know he was supposed to be upset about my leaving him. The next day, however, was a different story. When it was time for me to leave him at school he cried and then I cried and I hated every decision I had ever made as a parent.

Zach actually had the fucking nerve to not only be indignant that I made the unilateral decision to put Bo into daycare and remove him from his care but he also fucking denied that what I found was his!!!! THE FUCK!!! Even if it were not his (which, DUH, it totally fucking was) the best case scenario is that he let one of his junkie friends use my car, drive my car, whilst on drugs and/ or use drugs in my car, and where was my son when all this was happening? Who the fuck knows? I could not let shit like this continue. I was pulling absolutely no punches this time after a fucking lifetime of giving him the benefit of the doubt, he was decidedly out of benefits.

It was November, the first time he was arrested. In between then and the first of the year he would be arrested and jailed more than 5 separate times. He would get released and then go right back to using and stealing to support his use. At his age it’s a damn miracle he hasn’t died from the physical stress of detoxing in jail. He was arrested for the last time in mid March. He’s been in jail ever since. It’s the best place for him. At least in jail there is a roof over his head and no heroin. We’ve spoken a few times. I still don’t think he realizes how much everyone around him hurts because of what he’s done. He’s never been good at looking at himself with a critical or even realistic eye.

He will get released soon. He sounds hopeful about his future. I want to be too, so that Bo might have his dad back someday. But I am not optimistic, for I’ve far too much sense and too much experience to have much room left for optimism.

That’s it for now. I realize the strokes, although measuring nearly 3,500 words, were indeed quite broad, this is all I have the mind to put to print at this point. There’s more, so much more, and maybe someday I will get around to writing it all down. For now…XOXO.

*what had been a steady increase in overdose rates, 6% a year, from 1999 to 2008 took a HUGE leap as overdose rates skyrocketed with a 37% increase in 2010.

P.S. As for the title, I have always said that if you cannot laugh about it, it WILL definitely kill you.

A Little Thing

My Dad’s memorial/wake/celebration of life thingy was yesterday (I started this on Sunday so “yesterday” was actually Saturday) and I wrote a little speech thing to kind of get the sharing ball rolling:

“I write a humor blog and when I have had the occasion, in the past, to do live readings I usually start off by talking about one of my greatest inspirations; my Dad. Those of you that knew him well, knew him peripherally or just stood in the same room with him for any length of time whatsoever, knew that Scott was rude, crude, crass, foul, vulgar, uncouth, tactless, classless, tasteless, coarse, obscene, profane, blue, purple and perhaps even off-color. Scott wove cussing into every day discourse with the stealth of a ninja and the precision of a surgeon. He loved dirty jokes. In fact when I was 6 he taught me a joke, the meaning of which I was totally unable to grasp until I was a little bit older but that did not stop me from sharing it with everyone at the family reunion that Summer. Here it is; What do a 747 and a peroxide blonde have in common? They both have a black box (pauses for laughter). At 6 years old I genuinely thought I understood this joke in that I believed that the black box that the bleach blonde had, referred to the box in which her hair dye came from the store…turns out I was wrong about that. 

The story I usually tell people about Dad is so inappropriate that I almost don’t want to share it today….almost. [BOAT STORY]
(This was actually copied directly from my notes wherein I did not write out the boat story. And no, I will not write out the boat story. I tell it at the beginning of nearly every live reading I have ever done, so chances are a lot of you have heard it. It would also lose something in print because if you cannot hear it in Scott’s voice [which, of course, at this point is impossible] you should at least hear it told with my impression of Scott. It would be no good in print…and also I don’t want anymore hate mail this week. Long story still pretty long, if you want to hear the boat story you have to come see me read…or just bump into me in line at the grocery store; I’ll totally tell it to you there)
My Dad taught me that it was better to laugh first, and last and every occasion in between. I am deeply blessed to have his wonderful sense of humor as well as his high tolerance for alcohol, his impossibly Scandinavian whiteness, his love for having fun, being outside, setting things on fire, camping, fishing, star-gazing, rivers, beaches, animals, loud music, laughter, dancing (not well, but dancing nonetheless), drinking, eating, and bullshitting. I think one of things I admired most about Scott was that he could make friends with anyone, and often did, as we can very well see looking around here today. Thank you all so much for coming, and I hope we can all share some wonderful memories and celebrate a man for whom we all cared very deeply and who cared very deeply for all of us. 
Sharing Scott’s love with all of you has served only to grow it, not incrementally but exponentially. Scott always had room for one more, at his table, in his home, in his heart whether you were human, canine, feline or my old roommate Rob’s rabbit that he didn’t want anymore, Scott would welcome you. And for those who would say that his passing so early on in life is a tragedy that could have been prevented; prevented with prudence or moderation to them I would say that there are those of us who would prefer to live our OWN life as opposed to a LONG life by someone else’s rules. Thank you!”
It was an awesome day! A difficult, nerve-wracking, heart-wrenching, confusing, sorrowful, unforgettable, awesome day and I really, really, really appreciate everyone who came out to show their love for Scotty. Everyone who laughed and cried and drank and shared, you made my day and I am sure a lot of others’ day as well. A few “thank yous” and “shouts out” to people who went above and beyond the make the day not only bearable but actually pretty darn okay:
I wanted to thank Skyler Cesarone for the beer, albeit Scott would never have touched an IPA I was very grateful, as I am sure most attendees were, that everyone could come together and raise a glass in Scott’s honor. Thank you so very much! Also, it was great catching up!
Sharon Lambert, I know you’ll never read this which is why I feel free to say that while I am fully aware that your eagerness to host my Father’s wake was not entirely egalitarian I nonetheless thank you so much for your hospitality, your reaching out to make the day possible and above all, your friendship with my Father which I know he valued a great deal. Also, I will be by later on tonight to pick up my Mom’s coat. See you then!
Those Pedersen Women, all of whom have married names now, and all of whom are my Sisters-in-law and for that I count myself amongst the luckiest gals alive. Thank you all for seeing that glazed look of confusion and uselessness in my eyes and knowing that it was your time to shine. When I could not handle it all three of you knew exactly when and how to take charge. You are a blessing to me and to everyone who knows you, of that I am sure!!!
Thank you to everyone who stepped up to share a story! I am sorry if there were any that I missed while I was out back sobbing in the horseshoe pit.
I know that just because we had a memorial does not mean that memorializing or remembering is over. It does help me, in the broader scope of things, to start to move on if such a thing can be done, but I will be celebrating Scott’s life every day for the rest of mine! I love you, Daddy! I miss you more than I can aptly express and I just hope that you are comfortable and happy and proud, wherever you are! XOXO

This was Supposed to Have a Happy Ending…But Alas

I was at work on Wednesday, in our usual Wednesday afternoon production meeting. When the meeting let out I sat down at my desk and, because I had no real work to do, started to write a post for my blog. I then checked my phone. I saw that I had two missed calls and 3 texts. The calls had come from my brother which could only mean one thing; my Dad was in the hospital again. The texts were from two of my Dad’s roommates and one from my brother. I picked up my phone and went into the hallway to call him back. I listened while he told me that Dad had passed out in Home Depot, that his heart had stopped and that his ICD (or implantable cardioverter defibrillator or, if you want to get technical, the “shock box” that lives in his chest) had not recovered him from the spell. His roommate/friend/special lady person (not going to get into that now because it could not be more irrelevant), Erica, was with him and luckily Erica is a nurse. She performed CPR on him for 15 minutes while waiting for the paramedics to arrive. I don’t know how many of you have ever performed CPR or even watched someone perform CPR but it is a monumentally difficult task, physically and emotionally, to sustain for even 5 minutes straight so to Erica I say thank you, thank Sweet Muscly Jesus for you and your being there.

When the paramedics arrived they took him to UW Valley Medical Center in Renton. He had hit his head when he went down…and now it occurs to me that I should probably explain why my Dad passes out all the times and ends up in the hospital all the time. About 10 years ago my Dad started passing out, no one knew why. He eventually had a spell that landed him in the hospital where they discovered that he had a golf-ball sized tumor ON his heart. The weird part is they had no idea how long it had been there. Some of the doctors thought it was possible that it had been there all his life and was just now starting to cause problems. After many pokings and proddings and tests it was determined that this enormous mass on his heart was not cancerous, not malignant and not really doing anything anyone could find fault with so he was released and told to go live his life. Which is exactly what he did, occasionally passing out along the way, until May of 2011. It was May 26th at about 8:45 in the morning and Dad was driving the service truck for his work when he passed out at the wheel.

kentpole-480x321

This is the actual picture of the actual remains of my Dad’s work truck taken from the Tacoma News Tribune.

After being taken to the hospital by paramedics and being cleared for any major life-threatening injuries, doctors began to examine why this was happening. It was determined that my Dad had Atrial Fibrillation (AF) which is the most common form of arrhythmia, a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. A-fib causes his heart to function at a significantly decreased efficiency than a normal, healthy heart. His A-fib is thought to be caused by or at least exacerbated by the mass on his heart and his A-fib has, ostensibly, caused him to develop congestive heart failure (his body, and chest in particular take on fluid at a rapid rate and because of his decreased heart function he is unable to move the fluid around and distribute it throughout his body causing enormous amounts of pressure to build up in his chest and on his lungs making it difficult for him to breathe) and the congestive heart failure causes him to pass out. After the accident in 2011 was when they installed the shock box in his chest. Since then he does not drive (legally anyhow) and was forced to quit working. His heart functions at about a level of 10% efficiency which, as you might imagine, is not too great.

When my Dad arrived at the hospital Wednesday afternoon he was going from bad to worse. He had to be intubated, he was unable to breathe on his own, his heart had stopped, completely, at least 6 times that the medical staff was able to determine from the cached data on his shock box, he had two heart attacks and had been defibrillated like 12 times. It was not looking good but his heart, we quickly learned, was to be least of our concerns.

After I spoke with my brother I decided to leave work. Something felt different about this time. I picked up Bo and headed down I-5. I was in downtown Seattle when I got another call from my brother, except when I answered it was his wife. She said “you’d better get down here” and proceeded to inform me that Dad was not breathing on his own and it was not looking good. I called Josh and asked him to meet me at the hospital; whatever was happening there I knew that I could not take Bo with me to see it. I got my visitor’s pass after handing Bo off to Josh and went into the ER. My sister-in-law was standing outside the room. She came up to me and delivered the broad strokes; he had hit his head, he had bleeding on his brain, they might have to do surgery, it would be tonight… I could barely stand up, everything around me went watery, nothing would hold still. I walked into the room, determined not to lose my shit, and promptly lost my shit. Dad was on a respirator, sedated, in a large room with every piece of intimidating medical equipment on the planet hooked up to him or shoved inside of him. It was not easy to see him underneath the confusing, twisted, labyrinth of medical technology.

Before I knew what was happening my brother and I were being swept out of the room by someone in neurosurgery who wanted to “speak with us about our options”, which sounded like a thinly veiled attempt at not being foreboding. It did not work. We were now in another room, a small room that had only one purpose; this is where they told you the bad news. An impossibly tall man with a gentle demeanor spoke to us about what we could expect from my father’s condition moving forward. It was all very vaguely worded and presented in hypotheticals. And then we were being lead back to the room of medical and technological marvels to be shown my father’s CT scan. The tall man pointed out the white, shadowy area that covered the better part of the left side of my Dad’s brain. The cardiologist joined us, admitting that the brain was not his area of expertise but his casual positivity seemed, if not encouraging, at least comforting.

I went out to the lobby and found Bo and Josh. I asked Josh to go grab me some cigarettes while I took Bo to the cafeteria to get something at least resembling dinner. I picked at a salad and Bo ignored everything in the way of food while he and another little boy at a nearby table struck up a lively conversation about the grossness of zombies. Josh called. We left the cafeteria and met him in the upper parking lot, presumably far enough away from the hospital proper where I could smoke without noticeably violating hospital rules. Just as I lit up my Mom and Aunt pulled up. We spoke briefly and I told them to go ahead and that I’d be in shortly. I got Bo’s things out of one car and put into the other, preparing him to go home with Josh. I got a call from my sister-in-law saying that the neurosurgeon was coming down and needed to talk to me and my brother.

I went back into the hospital after seeing off Josh and Bo. We went back into the tiny room where bad news is delivered. There were more of us in there now; me, my brother and sister-in-law, my mom and my aunt. The neurosurgeon was there with the tall man I now understood to be his surgical assistant. He had small, beady pig eyes like a dead shark or Tony Romo. He was wearing his surgery hat and had a faint air of dude-bro-ness about him. He started to explain that the bleeding on my father’s brain was quite severe. He said that surgery could relieve any pressure that might exist but it would also probably kill him; that with his heart and respiratory health he may not even survive anesthesia and that even if he survived surgery we would most like be a vegetable. Okay, so what happens if we don’t operate, doc? Well, if you don’t operate the swelling or pressure (if there is any) might go away on its own but your Dad will probably still be a vegetable. Don’t get me wrong, pig-eyes had a fine bedside manner and, frankly, getting him to give it to us straight did take a little cajoling.

The gist of what he was trying to say and only half succeeding was that brain injuries like the one my father had were typically traumatic and the likelihood that he would make anything close to a full recovery was not probable and, in his opinion not plausible. He basically said there was almost no chance that my father would be the same man he was before this ordeal. We were in a difficult spot. We had to decide between doing nothing and doing something but no matter what the results would not be good and would probably be the same. I, for one, could not see the point in having my Dad’s skull cut open to relieve pressure that might not exist in a procedure that would most probably kill him for the result of his definitely being on life support for the rest of forever…I mean, fiscally alone it did not make sense, let alone all those other really good reasons to not cut someone’s skull open. I was about to pass out and could not look at pig-eyes anymore so I left the room and went to my Dad. I sat by his bed and cried while holding his hand. I leaned into his ear and said, “Daddy? Can you hear me?” He opened his eyes and nodded. I said, “I love you.” and he mouthed around the respirator that he loved me too. I could simply not reconcile that he was a lost cause at that point, that he was as good as broccoli and we should all just save ourselves the trouble and pull the plug, which is pretty much what pig-eyes over in the other room was getting at.

Once the decision was made (with no help from me) to NOT operate my Dad was able to be moved upstairs to the ICU. His fate, at this point still seemed murky. It was difficult to determine how much communication he was capable of between the heavy sedation and the roadblock of intubation. For the next few hours we just went in and out of his room, getting him settled, trying to gauge the severity of his brain injury. Trying to shake off our Sophie’s Choice ordeal that was still haunting all of us. We was a little more awake now; Erica and her husband Andy (I told you, not now) had shown up and we all went into his room in shifts, two at a time. It was quickly determined that not only was Dad awake, he was aware of what was going on, he knew everyone who had come in to visit. In short, he was the same man as he had been that morning before the fall! We did not know what, if any, effects to his motor function had been suffered but we could breathe a little bit easier knowing that Dad was, from what we could tell, still Dad.

The other visitors trickled out of the ICU, leaving me, my brother and his wife. We decided food and whiskey were in order….okay they decided food was in order, I decided whiskey was in order. After whiskey and poutine and fried pickles and buffalo wings and tater tots or as I like to call it, grief’s smorgasbord, we went back to the hospital. I fell asleep for a little while on the fold-out chair. I woke up around 1 am and decided there wasn’t anything else I could do. I went home.

The next day he was off the respirator and breathing on his own. He was fully awake and aware, all in all, himself, that is to say he was ornery, cussing at the nursing staff and bitching about not being able to pee (he a tube up his pee-hole so he was able to pee just not in the earthy and satisfying way he wanted to).

The next few days were strange. We were still coming down off the high of knowing that Dad was not, as predicted, going to be a vegetable, but the road ahead of him was still roughly cobbled and dimly lit. On Friday evening he was moved out of the ICU which we all viewed as an immensely positive turn of events. His Mother and Sisters had come up California on Thursday (alerted and alarmed since we were told he was most likely going to be a shell of his former self); we spent the better part of Thursday assuring them that we did not jump the gun in calling them and that the night before we were told that his brain injury was most likely going to kill him because by the time their flight had landed on Thursday morning his brain injury had been all but forgotten.

Despite his ability to shake off an enormous blood clot on his brain as if it were nothing more than a hangnail he still had his heart to worry about. He struggled to breathe normally, exacerbated by the fact that the chest compressions from all the CPR he had endured on Wednesday had left his ribs deeply bruised making it nearly impossible for him to draw a deep breath or cough.

He was moved back into the ICU on Saturday night/early Sunday morning because of trouble breathing. I went down to the hospital on Sunday before I had to work. He had not been intubated, thankfully, but he was wearing an oxygen mask or bi-pap but he was able to talk while wearing it and able to take it off at times. My brother, his wife and I sat in Dad’s room for hours, joking and laughing, sometimes with Dad and sometimes at him; Ian (my brother) worked on RC car body he was preparing to paint, Kayrn (his wife) played a puzzle game on her phone and joked with me while I sketched in one of my many books. At one point Dad suggested that a unicorn I had drawn on the whiteboard hanging up in his hospital room should “shove its horn up the nurse’s ass”. It was a beautiful day outside and the room had huge, south-facing windows and was flooded with light. I helped my Dad drink soda and told him what his oxygen saturation levels were when he obsessively asked every 74 seconds. When I had to leave for work around 4 in the afternoon I hugged him and kissed his forehead and told him that I loved him and that I would see him the next day.

hospital white board 1

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I started writing this on Sunday night and it was supposed to be a story about how my Dad beat the odds, refusing to succumb to the grim predictions of the neurosurgeon who said he was going to be a vacant invalid for his remaining days, if, in fact he had any days remaining at all.

My Dad passed away yesterday morning just before 6 am.