(Evening update follows the original post.)
The surgeon’s assistant finishes his explanation of the procedure and asks, “So do you have any final questions, concerns or requests?”
“Yea. My family knows me for having a tough heart and I’m concerned about what you’re going to do to it. Don’t put any soft spots in my heart, okay?!”
The doctor cocks his head quizzically as the joke threatens to make a dash over his head. The rest of the room, however, snickers, giggles and laughs loud enough to create the first echo of a ruckus that will later ignite the complaint of a neighbor and messenger nurse to “keep it down.” But if there’s one thing my father is known for not doing, it’s “keeping it down.” Not even the six valium he swallowed from the small paper cup can curb the adjective that the nursing staff have attached to the name and fame of the patient in Rm. 634; “ornery.”
Having been prodded and poked every hour throughout the night to gauge insulin levels, monitor rates, and prep the surgery, he hasn’t been allowed a sequential thirty minutes to sleep. My father looks gray and frail in the pale hospital gown and narrow bed, but the fiery resiliency of his spirit flares as he mumbles with eyes half closed to the 200 lb male attending nurse, “Let’s go out to the parking lot. I’m going to kick your ass.”
The audience (my family) goes off task and bursts out laughing again; It’s hardly the first time. While other waiting families clutch tissues and pat swollen eyes, my family turns a white laminated “heart healthy” menu around and proceeds to play “hang man” using the medical terms from the “Guide To Heart Patient Recovery.” The stick man is pathetically underdeveloped as my sister-in-law just recently replaced “Mrs.” with “Dr.” and I only get a head and one “X’ed” out eye before “Incentive Spirometer!” is correctly shouted out. But it’s during our tour of the CRU (Cardiac Recovery Unit) that we really begin to appreciate having a doctor in the family. While watching a myriad of machines assisting with the breathing, beating and bodily functioning of a recent patient yet to awaken, my sister-in-law swiftly cuts across our group to position my brother on the ground upon recognition that the color of his skin (green) was a go-light indicating that’d he was on his way to finding a much quicker and less conscious way to the floor. We find the space for seriousness when after reclaiming his normal color we agree to my brother’s request to, “not let Dad know that I *almost* fainted in the CRU until AFTER the surgery.”
Both of my father’s parents died while he was a still a young child. Raised an orphan, he dedicated 67 years to creating the family he never had while growing up. Right before my dad is wheeled through the double doors, his four children and wife pat his shoulder and whisper words of support and love. And I feel the recognition of his ultimate life achievement warm him.
In the waiting room I fall asleep. I dream of my dad. We are outside of the hospital and we’re surrounded by the dark and crisp freshness of a day before sunrise. He looks confused and stares through the dark to the horizon. “Dad, aren’t you supposed to be in the hospital?” I ask. He is completely calm. But he doesn’t answer my question. He just keeps watching the horizon. And it’s apparent that he hasn’t decided on the answer to that question yet.
I wake up.
It’s now 9:45am. The nurse just stopped by and told us that my father is on bypass and both his heart and lungs are officially on their first vacation in life from beating and breathing. Our own hearts skip as we too hold our breath – and wait.
One visitor is allowed every two hours for 10 minutes in the CRU.
My father is awake and as I come closer he rolls his eyes, groans and chuckles.
The attending nurse says, “You know. He’s been giving me a hell of a time.”
I try to tame my laugh noticing that my father’s recently cut chest plate is heaving up and down in a motion only made possible by a sizable shot of morphine.
The nurse continues, “but you can give him some ice cubes if he’s nice to you.”
I pick up the plastic cup and select a few of the larger ice cubes and with a spoon move towards the parched lips of my dehydrated father.
He hesitates only long enough to say, just loud enough for the nurse to hear, “got any vodka for this ice?!”
He doesn’t drink. And he won’t remember this conversation.
But we all laugh out loud.
And the question in my morning’s dream is answered.