HR What, an Inspired Visions brand, is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and others. This post may contain affiliate links. We may earn money or products from the companies mentioned in this post. This is what keeps my blog in motion!
It has taken me almost 2 months to finish this story. Where did I leave off? Oh yes, my dad just had open heart surgery early Monday morning. My mom received a call that surgery went well and dad was in recovery. However, about 1.5 hours into recovery, my mom got a call that something went wrong and he was back in surgery. What the hell just happened? It is still an unbelievable event that has changed my life in ways I still can’t fully explain, understand or accept. If you missed Part 1, here it is.
When the doctors called the second time, my mom, two sisters, niece and I headed to the hospital. We were escorted two and three at a time to visit him in the CVCCU (Cardiovascular Critical Care Unit). I wasn’t paying attention to anything the nurse manager was saying. It was going in one ear and out the other. My entire focus was that we were allowed to break the visitation rules, which made no sense to me. None. All I kept thinking…this was not good.
The entire week was a blur. After we left the hospital, we all went back to the restaurant where we met up for lunch earlier in the afternoon. In fact, my mom and I went to the same restaurant Sunday evening after I visited my dad in the hospital before his surgery, which made 3 times in a row for us. My sister’s husband and niece’s fiancé joined us for dinner and drinks and I don’t really recall a lot of discussion about my dad. We ate dinner, decided who was staying overnight with my mom and planned for visiting my dad the next day.
If I remember correctly, the doctors said my dad was rushed back into surgery because he flatlined. While in recovery, they cut him open and started to massage his heart while they wheeled him back to the surgery unit. They elevated his heart to make sure there was nothing lingering underneath from the surgery. They found nothing and closed him up.
My dad went on a ventilator and had a 24/7 EEG running to monitor brain activity. Ironically, my mom retired from that same hospital as an EEG technician several years earlier. Now she is intently looking at the screen and while she can’t read specifics, she is aware of the movement of the lines or the lack thereof. My mom kept repeating, it’s not good. The movement is consistent with electricity in the room. Still, we had so many questions. The one thing I do remember is being told the next 72-96 hours were crucial for his recovery based on what happened even though they couldn’t tell us exactly.
So What Happened?
So many questions and so little answers. Due to Covid, visiting hour rules were 1 visitor at a time between the hours of 2pm and 6pm. We were there every single day-all of us. My mom would go in first and my niece usually afterwards to ask an enormous amount of questions. What happened? We really don’t know yet. Walk me through everything. Did he have a stroke? No. Everyone on the CVCCU knew all of us and the routine. The nurses felt like family as they were so optimistic and communicated with us every little positive thing.
However, my dad appeared unconscious and machine driven, laying there hooked up to lots of machines and medications. We would ask if there was any changes in his vitals. They would tell us he was comfortable and still coming down from all of the anesthesia he went under for the two surgeries. We would know more, specifically if he can breathe on his own and if he responds to pain as the anesthesia wore off. Still, many of the answers continued to suggest we wouldn’t really learn anything until 72-96 hours after the ‘event’.
After the first 24 hours, he was still hooked up to the EEG machine with readings every hour and there was movement in the scans. He was also hooked up to an ECMO machine. When I asked what that was they said his blood was being cycled through to be cleaned and put back into his body to get rid of any toxins and help pump blood faster. This was normal. However, only now when writing this did I look up what an ECMO machine does and what a gut punch that was. It was not explained in that way – I like directness, not fluffiness. My mom and my sister who work in the hospital probably knew exactly…I digress. Remember, they couldn’t tell us what happened. I should have looked up what the ECMO machine was that day.
Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is aAmerican Thoracic Society
life support machine. People who need ECMO have a
severe and life-threatening illness that stops their heart
or lungs from working properly. For example, ECMO is
used during life-threatening conditions such as severe
lung damage from infection, or shock after a massive
There were signs of improvement. I remember a machine to the left of my dad with about 10+ monitors for medications. Now down to just a few. He was coming out of anesthesia and responding to touch. His eyes were moving and pupils were less dilated. The nurse(s) seemed to be very upbeat about this. The EEG was moving in a positive direction, although my mom was still suspect about that.
While visiting, we all noticed what appeared to be hiccups. The nurse told us he is attempting to breathe on his own while the machine was assisting – that was perhaps one of the biggest positives we walked away with that day. In addition, my sister asked the nurse if we could play Donna Summer for my dad while we were there. He loved Donna Summer. We thought it may help in the healing process. The nurse was awesome and said that it would give him some stimulation, which would help. Even after we left, she continued to play music for my dad. She was the nurse that was with him since day one and she was very connected to her patient. She said she would call in for updates while she was off.
We all left the hospital a little more upbeat than the previous two days. Well, actually very upbeat and positive-very. There was hope all around us and these were the little signs everyone was looking for! The nurses and doctors began to phrase communication with “when he wakes up” and “it’s going to be a very long road to recovery.” Either way, that was the best day so far and we all went to dinner and celebrated a bit. A silent celebration but you could feel the hope around us.
Wednesday was an awesome day.
My mom received a call from the hospital early in the morning. She was told my dad was doing so well that they needed her permission to take him off the EEG machine to do a CAT scan on him to view his brain activity. They felt his heart and mind were ‘healthy’ enough and free of medications and trauma from the surgeries that he could handle this. My mom consented and waited for the results of the test prior to visiting hours. It was almost time for visiting hours. When we arrived at the hospital, the test was postponed because the doctor had too many emergencies.
There was a new nurse on duty. She was not as friendly as the one who had taken care of my father previously. In fact, she was not a talker or very humble. I was telling her we had positive vibes yesterday and even played music for him. She stated that was not allowed and it was over stimulating him. What? When I asked about his ‘hiccups’ and if they were more or less, she told me that was his way of telling us he was aggravated with the noise around him. She proceeded to say that stimulation was not good for him in this state, which was very contrary to what we were told previously. Really? How dare she be so damn insensitive and completely opposite of what the other nurse said.
That slightly tarnished the day for us but his extremely slow signs of improvement were still in mind. Visiting hours were over and it was time to retreat to my parents house where we had dinner, drinks, and all stayed the night.
We were told 72-96 hours after his surgeries were the most critical. There were signs of improvement that shed positivity for the past 2 days, what would the CAT scan show? Well, my mother received a call in the early morning hours from the doctor asking for all of us to come to the hospital for a family meeting. Never a good sign…never. After we arrived, all of us were led to the former ‘Covid’ wing of the hospital, the desolate, unused space where we all sat together in a room waiting for the doctor to visit. We were all nervous but trying to maintain some sense of normalcy. Then the doctor came in, sat down, and was as blunt as you can be, “I have one word….hopeless.”
I will never forget that day….ever.
The doctor proceeded to say my father suffered 75% brain damage when he flatlined and told us our options. The first was to leave him on the machines with the hope he would wake up. He said that some families leave their loved ones on life support for days, weeks, and months hoping for the best. He was adamant that if my dad was to survive this he would not be able to walk, eat, or dress himself and we would have to do everything for him. Secondly, we could take him off of the machines and see what happens. He could survive this but he most likely would not based on the results of the scan. With that, we had a decision to make.
What Happened Next
The doctor asked my mom out of the room to explain the results of the CAT scan. We elected my niece to go with her because she is young and asks lots of questions. The rest of us sat in the room trying to hold it together. Each of us trying to hold back emotions or at least softly let them out. I was also trying to listen to the conversation on the other side of the wall to see if there was anything I could question but it was very hard to hear everything. So instead, we stared at the conversation and tried to read my mom and niece’s body language. It went from intense stiffness to some minor smiles and a couple of chuckles. What are they learning right now?
After their conversation, they returned and reiterated the options and explained how the CAT scan looked. We cried and made phone calls to our significant others. Quite honestly, I don’t remember much about the rest of that day. We went to my parents house where our significant others were along with my nephews and had dinner and beverages. We already knew what we were going to do because dad wouldn’t want to live as a ‘vegetable’ and be a burden on anyone. However, we didn’t want to make the decision right then and there. We wanted to do that in the morning.
An interesting thing happened that day. It was September 4, 2020. There was a newspaper on the table left there by my father weeks earlier as scrap to help finish fixing the hole in the dining room wall. I picked up and glanced it. The date of the newspaper was September 5, 2019. I found that eerily strange. My sisters and I slept at my parents house for the 6th day to keep my mom company.
September 5, 2020
My sisters and I got up early to go for a run together before heading to the hospital. You see, we run and had been running or walking almost every day we stayed over. It was just after 10am and we set off into the neighborhood. About halfway through, my sisters decided to walk back while I continued on to complete 4 miles. As I approached my parents house, I noticed my sisters in the street, both on their phones. My sister shouted out to me, “he’s gone.” I didn’t really understand what she was saying so I asked her to repeat it. “He’s gone, dad is gone.” I was so confused.
The hospital called my mom and said he had passed away. Somewhat bewildered, but relieved at the same time, we did not have to be responsible for that difficult decision. I asked if they told her when he passed away and how. She said she wasn’t told when but she had to call the hospital back to let them know when we were coming because they were going to keep him comfortable so we all could say our last goodbyes. I wanted to know his time of death. You see, I read a paper yesterday that has today’s date on it exactly 1 year ago. In addition, my dad’s birthday is October 5th. Did he die at 10:05am? So many strange connections. My father was given last rites at 10:10am. Exactly one month before his 77th birthday.
It was time to get to the hospital. My husband met us there and we all were able to go at the same time up to the room where my dad lay. He looked a little better without those machines. All of the nurses and unit workers came in and we prayed together. It was hard to leave the room that day, especially my youngest sister and my niece. My mom, god love her, seemed okay. I don’t think this situation makes anyone okay but she is a strong woman, one of the most compassionate and loving women I know. After we all left the hospital, mom wanted to immediately go to a few funerals homes to get quotes – really? She just wanted to get it done and over with and that was understood.
And then we all retreated back to my parents house to drink, eat, drink and drink some more. It was a really rough night and honestly, it has been increasing difficult for me the more time that goes by.
When I look back on this…did my dad know something we didn’t? I think so. My dad was frustrated with the orange-haired man on television (aka President Trump) so much that he turned the channel any time he was on the TV. It didn’t matter if it was a televised speech or a news bit! The protests and riots were making him angry as well. Last but not least, my sister was and still is in the process of a divorce.
One thing my dad really didn’t get into was the drama of life. However, the weeks leading up to his death, he seemed keen on listening to the conversations revolving my sisters pending divorce, the lawyer speak and our concern for her boys. He didn’t comment but he was not in his puzzle room or on the computer when our family was over taking with my mom about the situation. In fact, he was right there with us, listening intently. That was unlike my father. It was also unlike my father to keep things to himself. However, I believe my dad had a feeling surgery was going to be complicated and risky and I try and take comfort in that.
Coming to Terms
The death certificate listed 3, not 1, but 3 causes of death. Seriously? Without going into details, it was basically stroke, heart attack, and brain damage. It has been three months since my father passed and we are all still having a very hard time. I have lost grandparents and have been okay afterwards. However, this loss is the most difficult to come to terms with. The entire situation was not right. He was fine. His life was not supposed to end this way. We are still trying to find the why…
all the best…..judean
Subscribe and stay plugged in! You will only hear from me once a month unless I have some awesome, outstanding news to share outside of my blog posts!