It is roughly one year to the day that we found out my Dad has cancer. It is also about 4 months since we were told that it had come back and is now stage IV. What a year it has been... I often talk about the hellish nightmare it is, nothing's changed there. We should have a frequent flyer card for the hospital, even my 2 year old knows how to manuever through the rat maze that is Swedish Hospital, he'll tell you exactly where to go to see "Grampa and his big owie"...
A few days ago was another trek to the hospital. I got a phone call early in the morning from my step mom, clearly panicked, that my Dad had just left the house in an ambulance. He had gone to the bathroom and just as she went to check on him she caught him as he fell to the floor and proceeded to bleed out all over the bathroom floor.
I jumped in the car and headed to the ER... it was one of many of these drives, blurry tear filled eyes, arriving at my destination with no memory of getting there, wondering if one of these times would be the last time. A million things running through my mind... and then pulling myself together in time to walk in and see what disaster we would be dealing with this go round'.
I knew the bleeding would be a relatively quick fix, I knew exactly what had happened and I knew that the docs/nurses had screwed up just last night as I spoke with them. Most recently, he has a blood clot in his lungs and two more in each leg that they had just found the previous day. The docs had put him on some intense blood thinners, a standard practice with blood clots, but I knew it was a bad idea... too many variables in his situation that made this a bad move. I pleaded with them to treat his situation more urgently. I sat on the phone with the nurses the night before asking them why everyone was being so laissez faire about these clots and they continued to assure me "we stopped his Coumadin and we'll just monitor him and adjust his other med tomorrow when he comes in." My response was "IF he makes to then. Each of these problems is a LIFE THREATENING situation, it should be addressed NOW." Surprise surprise they didn't listen, and at 7:00 am the next day he arrived in the ER via ambulance.
They addressed the bleeding, and shortly after we arrived he was headed up to a room. They were already admitting him no more than 2 hours after getting there. I thought this was odd, usually we spend 8+ hours in the ER and FINALLY get a room at the end of the day. I can only guess that they figured he would be staying... since we've been through this rodeo a few million times before... so they sent him up. I knew I kept thinking this was odd... I had no idea that I should've said something... that I was about to witness the most traumatic experience of my entire life. It turns out he was much too critical to just be sent up to the floor, he should've stayed in the ER where they could deliver immediate care.
Once in the room I called the nurse to tell her we needed oxygen and that someone needed to reassess his bleeding because he was saturating more and more towels. Both of which were relatively urgent issues needing attention. The feeling in the room was escalating as we flagged down the tech to address some issues, he was also in a LOT of pain... it was growing very quickly. Long story short my brother and I were attempting to help my Dad to sit up in his bed per his request... It had been a good 3 minutes now since I asked for oxygen... I had him swing his legs to the side of the bed, and he sat up to grab hold of my brother's neck. What happened next is a complete blur yet so vivid I will not forget as long as I live.
He stood up with our help and immediately went limp, I couldn't see his face because I was behind him reaching over the bed. He started to almost convulse as we sat him back down, his head started to flop violently backward, I caught his head and started to lay him down. I could hear him sucking for air.... this is something I can't even explain... it is not like the movies folks. It was a sound that clearly indicated to me that he was not "there" that his brain stem had just taken over to sustain vital functioning, it was a barbaric sound. And I sat there and watched him stare blankly into the ceiling as his body continued to gasp for air. My Dad was not in that body at that moment and I knew it. I will never forget that expression on his face as he laid there contorted in the bed. Felt like the whole room was spinning around and I was just locked onto his face thinking.... this..... is..... it.... In the mere seconds that this occured the nurse had finally come in with the oxygen and a couple of other nurses. I immediately went into nurse panic mode, it was game time, and my brother and I started screaming at the people in the room. I shouted at one to GET THE OXYGEN!!!!! As my brother nearly tossed the tech out of the room to get help and to get the fuck out of the way. It was absolute chaos. I had one or two nurses behind me flailing around trying to get him hooked up to get a blood pressure reading and I turned to them and told them to stop. I yelled to them to FIND a pulse, NOW, while I yanked the oxygen tubing from the charge nurse and struggled to get it on his face. All the while he continued to suck for air with his eyes wide open... no one was home. The nurse behind me kept saying "Max are you ok, are you there, are you ok" as my step mom yelled at her NO he's NOT ok!! He can't even respond!! As I was literally about to climb on top of my Dad's chest to start CPR and call the crash cart the awful sound started to improve and I said DAD!!! DAD!! And he finally laid there and responded "yeah".
My Dad had literally almost coded in my brother's and my arms.
I have never seen anything like it in my life, not in my nursing career, never.
This was as close as it possibly gets. I literally almost had to climb on top of my father and attempt to save his life. This was not cancer, this was an acute situation that went south in a matter of seconds. This is what I was trying to avoid by requesting the oxygen as soon as we got to the floor. The nurses continued to refer to it as an "episode" as they explained it to the oncoming nursing staff. This was no episode. He almost died right on the table.
In our arms.
Traumatizing is the only word that comes close to describing it. It took me 2 days to even tell anyone what had happened in his room. I was literally shaking for the rest of the day. It is a memory forever seared into my brain. I won't forget that experience, that sound, that look on his face for as long as I live. I felt like it lasted 10 hours when in reality it was only a matter of a few minutes.
Several units of blood, plasma, platelets, etc later my Dad is doing much better. No telling when he'll finally get out of the hospital again but we've certainly done a 180 from three days ago. It's just another day on the cancer journey....
And this is exactly why I'll be Stepping UP on Sunday.
For you Dad, for all of our family in heaven taken by this awful disease, and for all of the families whose lives are forever altered by their experience with a family member's cancer.
I had a nurse ask me yesterday about my tattoo, I said it reads "Get up and fight another round" and she looked at me confused and said "fight? for what?" I pointed to my Dad and I said, for him, for this, for life. She smiled and said she had never thought about it like that before :)