P.’s Path: And Now the Hard Part

Day 3, Post Surgery

Maybe we thought the hard part was making the decision to amputate and wondering if he’d survive the surgery, but now is when the real work begins, the long hours, long days of sitting in the hospital and watching him struggle to regain his strength and his clarity of mind. His hands shake so much and his fine motor skills are so poor at this point that it’s difficult for him to eat. Part of me wants to just feed him, but I know he won’t get stronger unless he has to do things for himself. It’s a mess — hard to watch.

The physical therapist comes in to get him into a chair for a couple of hours a day. Within a few minutes Dad is asking how much longer he has to sit up. He’s tired. Hell, he was tired before this happened. Just imagine what his 97-year-old body must be experiencing. His skin is paper-thin and I worry about bed sores, even though his bed has some sort of system designed to inflate and deflate channels within the mattress to keep that from happening. 97-year old skin is a lot more sensitive than younger skin.

He is swollen with edema almost everywhere, so the doctor took him off IV fluids for awhile. I wish they’d give his wrists and hands a needle break, but hospitals love needles. They allowed a student nurse to practice on him today. She couldn’t get a new line started. I wish I’d just said, “No. No practicing on my Dad.” I will next time.

How many more days in the hospital? No way to know. He’s developed “a touch of pneumonia,” the nurse says, so they’re also giving him antibiotics and cough medicine. After this, it’s The Lutheran Home for rehab. Again, no way to know for sure how long he’ll be there. The goal is to get him strong enough to move himself out of a wheelchair and into bed or onto a toilet and back again. If he can do that, he can go back to CapeTown Assisted Living, where his second family loves him and takes good care of him.

Day 7, Post Surgery

Both he and I are getting grumpy. It’s really hard to maintain a positive attitude for such a long time. My friends have been super supportive, and I am more a Facebook fan than ever, since it is through it that I have reached out to high school friends who have really, really helped to take my mind of the situation for brief respites.

Dad is getting better, but progress is incredibly slow, as anyone might expect for his age. He’s not in a lot of pain — just discomfort. He’s very weak and can’t even shift himself around in bed by himself, but he can raise and lower the head of his bed, call for the nurse, and he can feed himself (although it’s a very messy operation). He has some swelling in places you might not expect, and still some pneumonia, but it isn’t serious.

I’m here until Wednesday until Fleda comes to take over, then I suppose I’ll be back. We’ll have to keep taking turns until he’s well enough to trust others with his care. If you’ve ever had a loved one in a hospital or nursing home, you know that’s true. Patients MUST have someone to advocate for them.

I keep telling him, “You can’t go dyin’ on me now, Dad. If you were gonna do that, you should have done it last week.” I sure hope we can manage to keep his (and our) spirits up in the weeks to come.

My Dad is a Superhero

P. Brown Begins His Recovery

Yesterday my sister Fleda and I went with our dad down to pre-op where he was prepared for the amputation of his right leg — at age 97 — after surviving a 3-hour attempt by a vascular surgeon to save his leg on Tuesday.

The anesthesiologist tried in vain (argh, argh — pun intended) to get an arterial catheter in his right wrist, but the vessel was too calcified and after poking, prodding, and wriggling for several minutes while blood spilled all over the bed and floor, she gave up and managed it in his left wrist.

A nurse arrived and introduced himself to Daddy asking, “How’re you doing today, Mr. Brown?”

His response? “Oh, I can’t complain.”

Really? Oh, I think most of us would.

Fleda and I waited alone and anxious for the hour-and-a-half this surgery would take. Saturday night is not a popular night for surgeries. No one else was in the surgery waiting area. We did yoga stretches to relieve the enormous built-up tensions of the week. We watched a YouTube video of a leg amputation and read about the post-op pain associated with it. Nearly nauseous, at last we saw the surgeon come into the room. Ready for anything, we heard the unbelievable. He came through it “solid as a rock.” They would keep him in recovery for about an hour then take him back to his room in the CTU, where we could see him. The nurse tells us to take a break, go get ourselves some dinner, and she’ll call us when we can see him.

We opt instead for a quiet glass of wine at a lovely little place called Cup ‘n’ Cork, which I highly recommend. There was music from two guys about our age playing music we like, and the wonderful smell of good coffee.

About 9:00, the nurse called to say we could see him now, so we headed back to Southeast Hospital, braced for what we might see. Walking through the doorway we are greeted by the sight of Daddy, sitting up, alert, and talking. His first words? “I don’t feel nearly as bad as I thought I would, and my right right leg doesn’t hurt at all anymore!”

Please excuse my language, but this man is un-f***ing believable. Would that we all could go through life with this kind of courage.

Daddy, you’ve always told us you were a coward.

You lied.

But that’s ok.


Popliteal Aneurysms — Weighing the Risks — Weighing the Outcome

P. Brown at Southeast Hospital

So, yesterday, toward the end of a very busy workday, I received word that my dad had been taken to the emergency room by ambulance due to pain and numbness in his right leg. Upon examination, doctors diagnosed popliteal aneurysms in both legs. Now, everybody knows what popliteal aneurysms are, right? Well, for the few uninformed, aneurysms are balloonings in a blood vessel. Popliteal means they’re in the back of his knees. He’s got one in each knee. Treatable by surgery, but surgery when you’re 97 is sketchy. Leaving them alone is even more sketchy — he’d likely lose both legs. You’re between a rock and a hard place. No choice but to try.

If Daddy didn’t wake up from this surgery, he’d be glad. He’s tired and ready to go. I’m selfish, though. I don’t want him to go, but as he’s lived to be 97 years old, I know that’s just plain selfishness. I can’t keep him with me forever. He’s going to die, so why not while he’s asleep on an operating table feeling no pain? If he wakes up, he’ll have pain in his groin and in both knees, he’ll likely be nauseous from the anaesthesia, and he may even suffer some cognitive impairment, which is not at all uncommon for post-operative nonagenarians. Yet, I sit here by my phone, waiting to hear from the scrub nurse, hoping for good news. Pure unadulterated selfishness. I want to keep my dad. I have no right to keep him longer. He’s done his time, earned his rest. Let him go, Michelle.

If I’m not ready now, will I be ready next month, the month after that? I tell myself I just want to be there, so he’ll know he’s not alone, that someone who loves him is there. This is, I recognize, not as much for him as for me. He knows I love him, but I need to be there, for him and for me. My dear, sweet high school friends, Janet and Rob went to the hospital yesterday and they’re going again this afternoon. Thank God for them, for friends who care. Daddy has known them nearly as long as he’s known me, and he knew their parents, too. Again, it’s as much for me as for Dad. It comforts me to know someone is there for him when I can’t be.

P. Brown with Usha

In the end, whatever I wish for is irrelevant. As Doris Day would sing, “Que sera, sera.” What will be, will be. I wish the best for you, Dad. I always have, always will. You’ve been a good man, a good dad. You will always live through your daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Imagine, you have lived to see all of your grandchildren graduate from college and go on to enjoy successful careers, and you’ve even welcomed nine great grandchildren into this world. You’ve led a good life.

“He could imitate Irving, play poker and pool, and tickle the Spanish guitar, In fact quite the cream of the Muscovite team, was Ivan Skavinski Skavar.”

Ivan┬áhad nothin’ on you, P. Brown.