Sometimes Life Happens
I figure it's time to get real. It's been over two months since my last post, so I think you deserve the truth. Or maybe I just need to tell my truth.
People often talk about the facade social media and internet presence create upon one's life; the viewer only sees select pieces of a life, usually the pretty and filtered.
That's not what I'm trying to do here. I truly believe exploring life and it's wonders are what makes us human. My life is full of beauty and adventure, something I've carefully, almost meticulously crafted and surrounded myself with.
But all of that has been put to the test recently...
On April 28th, I got a call from my mom - a call I have been dreading, yet preparing for, since I was a teenager: something was wrong with my dad. See my dad was in his late forties when he had me. As I approach my late twenties... well, you can do the math.
Apparently that morning, on April 28, my dad came home from work at an unusually early time, directly walked into the bedroom and laid down. A few things transpired, including my mom asking him questions, up until the point my mom called me. I was told my dad couldn’t answer basic questions like “what year is it?”
I was working when I got the call - surrounded by a sea of people (although not particularly religious myself, I'll always be thankful for my coworker who immediately stopped his work to begin praying). These things always happen at the worst times, don’t they? It's like you've entered a movie scene you didn't volunteer for. I ran into a bathroom stall, attempting to find privacy and stifle my tears.
My mom wanted me to talk to my dad – in her mind, what if he was just tired and she was overreacting? Physically he was fine, he had driven home and was walking around. Yet when I heard his voice and asked him questions, I knew something was off. I told my mom she needed to call the ambulance right away.
Within hours, he had been air lifted to a major city and diagnosed with a massive stroke. His entire left artery was blocked and no blood was flowing to his brain. The doctors in our hometown were hopeful the neurosurgeon forty miles away would consider him a good candidate for surgery.
Serendipitous or not, when I received the call, I was about to head to the airport for a girl’s beach weekend in Wilmington, NC. I changed my flight for Orlando and landed at the same time my dad touched down at the hospital. The next few hours were strangely calm, at least for me. I arrived at the hospital to get a call from the surgeon who needed our approval to attempt the surgery. This was risky and there was a 20-30% chance my dad could die during the procedure. Yet the only other option was to just wait it out until he had another stroke – as I said before, he wasn’t getting blood flow into the left side of his brain (which hosts the memory, speech and communication). No blood flow means brain damage. Brain damage in the left brain means you could be a mental vegetable – the person you once were is no longer there.
These are the moments you can never prepare for, yet life forces your hand. Make a decision, make the right one – you can spend your whole life readying yourself for this moment, yet you have uncertainty as to whether you should seek hope or brace for impact. How can you, a child or a wife or a husband, make a life altering decision for someone you love in one minute?
The weight of the decision was heavy but strangely enough, I knew my dad would never want to live a half-life, one of mental deprivation. And with that, we took that feeble hope we had left and decided surgery was the best option.
A lot happened within the next few days, including the doctor not operating that day as it was deemed too risky, to my dad having another stroke, to our final decision to have the neurosurgeon perform a brain bypass – a very risky, seldom-done surgery that essentially reroutes your veins to bypass the blockage in your neck. As fate would have it, our neurosurgeon had studied this surgery during his fellowship, practiced on non-human subjects and felt confident enough he could complete this with dad (yes, you read that correctly – he had never done this on a human before). My dad was in surgery for eight, long, frightening hours. With a doctor who had never performed the surgery, in a hospital who had never seen this surgery been done.
This was the moment I think my soul started to break. I’ve always known death of parents, and those we love, are imminent. It’s not an “if” question but a “when.” We lucky humans know how to distract ourselves from this notion, until it’s forced upon us immediately. And thank goodness for that distraction mechanism; otherwise, we'd all be running around with a rain cloud over our head.
I think that first day, when he had the initial stroke, was easier for me than what was to come, in the sense that if my dad had died, I 100% knew our family had lived with no regrets. He knew I loved him and I knew his love for me. It was so sudden that day, there was a calm anticipating “this is the moment we’ve known had to come.”
But what life doesn’t really prepare you for is the drawn-out, forced, continual message of “this could be it.” Put more bluntly, when someone doesn’t die suddenly but is fighting for their life, every day becomes a battle of not knowing whether today will be goodbye or good morning. This is, of course, good news! There is hope that things will be better and my dad has a chance to recover – at least part of the way (some brain damage isn’t reversible).
But people don’t talk about the anxiety and worry that comes along with this fight. “Oh, he’s still alive – that’s great!” Well, yes it is of course. But what about tomorrow? How do you wish someone good luck and “we’ll see you in a few hours” when the odds say otherwise? You have to be positive for the other person but what about for yourself? You say goodbye, preparing yourself this is the last time. It’s successful? Great! But what about five years from now? What if he’s never himself again? What if he doesn’t remember who I am?
For those of you who’ve said I’ve handled this “well,” thank you? I suppose I'm okay and I have good days but how can one ever really handle these things well? What does that even mean? Does it look like I don't think about it constantly? Does it look like I've "moved on?" If so, it appears my acting days as Tom Sawyer in fourth grade paid off (inserting comical relief, for this otherwise heavy post).
But I think it’s a good lesson to learn: someone’s soul can begin to shatter, deep inside, without any physical manifestation. Another good lesson: everyone’s soul will begin to crack and break at some point in their life – so be kind, always be patient and when you join the “club,” just being there for your loved ones helps mend the missing pieces.
This whole experience broke my naive spirit enough to understand that “it’s just a matter of time” is a phrase too raw and real to be used lightly.
The day my dad had a stroke, I read a quote that summarized our entire journey this past month. “Life is man’s cancer.”
Now I don’t want you to think there isn’t hope. That life is all dark and gloom and it’s only a matter of time before your soul becomes completely shattered. I truly believe there is hope. And even in the moments of darkness, throughout his weeks in the hospital, I found so much to love about life. I felt a closeness to my parents I haven’t felt in years, I realized the people who love and support me are the most beautiful humans and doctors / nurses are effing rock stars.
But if we don’t talk about these things. If we don’t support those who are going through hard times. If we aren’t easier on ourselves, our family, our friends, our coworkers, strangers, whomever, life can easily become unbearable. If we don’t talk about mental illness, if we believe our friends live glamorous and picture-perfect lifestyles, we lose touch with what we are – human beings who need connection, love and support. Everyone today seems so worried about offending others, or saying the politically-correct version of whatever but guess what? We are humans. We will offend others, we will say the incorrect things. We will do shitty things and sometimes, life is shitty back to us. And you can be "perfect" your whole life and guess what, your time is still limited.
Instead of trying to perfect, instead of trying to mold into the "correct" versions of ourselves, just be a good human. If you always try to see hope, to see kindness, to be a better version of yourself and love with your heart, you can't go wrong.
For those of you who have suffered like this, through surgeries of loved ones and the roller coaster of emotion, I love you. Nothing eases the aches and sadness. I hope you have a great support system like I have had.
If not, call me.
If a loved one has had a stroke, call me too. Strokes are terrible things that not only mess you up physically but mentally. It's a heart attack and dementia rolled into one.
Another word to the wise: take care of your body. Starting in your twenties. The number one and three killers in the USA are results of (mostly) poor lifestyle choices that start in your twenties. The last few years, my dad has had impeccible health - no high blood pressure, no high cholesterol. Physically fit as a fiddle. Yet clogging arteries starts in your twenties and isn't reversible.
I think this goes without saying but... Hopefully my dear travel readers can forgive me for not writing lately (all ten followers of mine). I promise to keep exploring, keep being curious about life. Because one thing is for sure, our time is limited and we have to hold on to dear life.
Lastly, thank you to all of the people who have been there since this happened. Emily, Lillian, Sherri - you've been a guiding light through this all. Anna, Kirk, Justine, Andrew, Erin, Rob, Paul, Jason, Elliott, Lia, Cameron, my wonderful cousins, aunts and grandma who have checked-in and given their love and support. To my neighbors who have checked in on our kitty, Albus. To the random cab driver who took me to the hospital for free when I was too much of a mess to figure out stupid ground transportation at MCO. To my mom, who's living and breathing this every day - you are so strong and literally make our worlds go round. And of course to Brent, who dropped everything to be my side that dreadful week and continues to be my rock. Love you all.
And always remember, if someone is suffering, even the little things mean more than you could imagine. Just reach out.
P.S. Our healthcare system sucks. This is the bill they sent my mom for the helicopter ride. Yes, you read that correctly. $52,822 for 40 miles.