(I wrote this at the airport in Houston on Tuesday)
I can’t remember if it was yesterday or today, but I was scratching my dad’s arm for him and I had such strong memories of scratching his back when I was a little kid. He’d tell me where to scratch, eyes closed and as relaxed and happy as a bear with a belly full of salmon who’s found the perfect tree to scratch his back against. My dad is a pretty private guy, (Hi, Dad!) but of course our stories overlap so I hope it’s okay for me to include part of his when I’m telling mine. Right now I am at the airport in Houston, waiting to board my flight home. It’s Tuesday, April 5th. I came to Houston early Saturday morning because my dad was admitted to the ICU last Friday and things weren’t looking so good for him. When I arrived, my brother, who had caught a red eye from Portland the night before, picked me up from the airport and took me straight to the hospital.
It is really, really hard to see someone you love so much on a ventilator in the ICU, unable to speak. Really hard.
I’ve spent the last four days with my stepmom and my brother and one of my dad’s sisters and a couple of his wonderful colleagues and friends, one of whom flew in from Colorado when he heard the news. We stood around dad’s bed, telling stories and scratching the itches he could not reach. When you are on a ventilator, they sedate you to make it more bearable, and because you are sedated there is a high likelihood that you’ll reach up and pull out the vent tube, so they use wrist restraints which really and truly sucks especially when you have an itch. His neighbors (she’s 75 and he’s 86) came to sit with him and she brought so much food to the house my stepmom and I were laughing about how we could ever eat that much. Then we proceeded to do a pretty good job of it.
Since my dad couldn’t talk, he used a clipboard to write notes to us. Sometimes it was a request for us to scratch his itches, other times he was telling us he loved us. Lots of the notes were him cracking jokes. Best jokes I have ever heard in my life. He wrote one to the respiratory therapist (a dude) who came in and woke him up that said, “You aren’t as cute as my sister – before you woke me up, she was bringing me a beer!”
At one point, my stepmom told us all the story, at dad’s request, of their very eventful and hilarious first date. Dad listened with a pen and clipboard, and added in details. He wrote us a note and said he was happy.
Today they were finally able to take him off the ventilator and put him on a CPAP machine. CPAP stands for continuous positive airway pressure, and helps you breathe after spending a few days having a machine do it for you. He needed some things and wrote notes to the nurse. My stepmom and I decided to go get lunch and let him rest for a bit, so I leaned over and gave him a kiss, squeezed his hand, and told him I loved him. I love you, too, he said under his mask. I was shocked because I thought it would be a few days before he could speak, and I can’t explain how good it was to finally hear his voice again. I forgot I could talk! He said, laughing, Isn’t that stupid!?
I don’t want to leave. But I need to get on this plane in a half hour and get back to taking care of my kids and work and all that stuff. I’m counting down the days until I’m back here, with my brother, at the end of the month. My dad had as close a call as a person can have, and he told me as I was getting ready to leave that he is lucky to be so loved and that he’s got our visit to look forward to. Really though, we are the lucky ones. The older I get the more I have learned that there aren’t a whole lot of us who have wonderful fathers who we love and love us back. My dad is one of the best people I know, and I know a whole lot of people.