Laughing Through the Stress
November 9, 2009
I have just returned from a five hour drive through mountain roads, music blaring, thoughts racing, and yet peace within. I left my dad alone with his legs dangling over the edge of his bed in ICU. He insisted he was fine, and I was compelled to give him the dignity of letting me leave with him sitting up and the semblance of normalcy. He struggled out of his wheelchair, could not balance well, and then and there he appeared frail, gown gaping, hair askew. When he sat and talked, he was anything but frail. Oh sure, his voice was fainter, his eyes were moist and everything about him spoke of praise and admiration….but frail he wasn’t. “I am fighting this Heather…..not to escape death….death is not something I am afraid of….I am fighting this because Mom needs me….you need me….Ayaka…Mikee…and he continued to name his grandkids. “ Death would be easier than fighting….giving up would mean he didn’t have to work his right hand. It would mean he didn’t have to push to lift his right foot so it would not drag. It would mean that he didn’t have to worry about the plans he and mom had to go to New Zealand in January. “I should cancel these now” he decides. “I can have that surgery and then go” he states. He knows that the surgery cannot be until he is stronger….but ever the planner he is already counting six weeks from the stroke. Mom is not the planner and he knows she needs him.
As I am closer to home and my mind is racing when Mikee’s Neurosurgeon calls. He tells me he is very, very pleased because they found a cavernous angioma. He sounds relieved as he explains that this means it is an anomaly and unlikely to recur. He sounds bubbling. I am sure he is a parent and understands my worry for weeks. His voice and news bring me back to the reality of the past six weeks. Mikee has had a CT Scan, MRI, Cerebral Angiogram, another CT Scan, another MRI and finally a craniotomy to remove a blood clot. She has endured everything with grace, dignity, laughter, tears, courage and fear of the unknown. My dad and mom were there for it all. They arrived after Mik was first admitted to the hospital and got to witness the effects of anesthetic on her as she lay prone for five hours. They were there teasing her as she made us laugh as she was noticing that the ceiling lights were not organized in any sort of pattern….and she was telling everyone she was talking to that she was not wearing any underwear and that she could not even lift her leg or head.
Dad and mom were there when she was coming out of surgery and again, the effects made us all laugh again as she said things unabashedly. Dad was pleased as he brought Mik a Healing Angel to sit by her bed, and me a coin with an angel. He was sure it would bring a miracle. Mom stayed and held Mik’s hand in ICU as I had to be rushed to a dentist for an emergency repair. It was dad who took me and patiently waited in the car. He sounded pleased to help and asked what he could do as that was nothing. Dad and mom made sure the house was clean so I wasn’t stressed when I got home. Dad kept asking what I needed and was ever at the ready to run and fetch me milk or bread.
Then they left for the five hour trek home, amidst unruly weather. Their stress somewhat relieved by Mik’s quick recovery from surgery, but the ever present fear of the unknown weighed heavily on us all. And then, a few days later, dad has a stroke and a blood clot himself. The prognosis is dismal. The odds against him. It was my turn to bring the Healing Angel. I left before the light and drove for 120 K in slippery snow. When I arrived at ICU with the Angel there were things unfamiliar about my dad. Frail, sitting, misty eyed. His emotions were raw as he still was contemplating death and what that might mean to us all. When I brought the Angel from my pocket I saw something different in dad’s eyes. Intense sentiment at the tie to Mikee was apparent, but something deeper. Something much more meaningful was behind the tears and hugs. I believe it was hope.
Just like my time with Mik in the hospital, it feels odd to say how much I enjoyed myself. I enjoyed cajoling with dad and poking a little fun at his weakness. I knew he knew that meant he could take it. He was feisty back and we began our verbal sparring. He would stop sometimes overwrought by emotion….or forget what he was saying. I never let the awkwardness invade us. I pointed out that he was finally normal….because dad was always so sharp…remembering everything, some of us finally might have an advantage. He liked that. He liked that he saw himself as I see him. He was still rattling off phone numbers for mom, who although she writes them down can never seem to read what she has written. He still recalled conversations, details and facts that most people would have forgotten moments later. And so, I jest with him. I joke with mom. I point out the obvious….did you have a bowel movement? Because suddenly I am interested in his bowels….never having been before. I have to add that I just want to make sure the nurse is there to clean it up because I didn’t sign up for that part. He laughs. It feels good to be able to laugh these last six weeks. To know that life is funny sometimes and there is humour in our humanity…in our frailty and when we need it most. Perhaps this is my calling? Perhaps I am to bug patients on ICU wards…to remind them that the things that seem embarrassing or awkward are really quite funny…and we all feel that. Perhaps I should start a tour….ICU without your Gown Tied Up might be the title. There was a rather large, friendly sweet man walking around ICU, gown agape as much as his mouth in a smile. As he walked by dad noticed and pointed out his gown was flapping….”it’s okay dad, he’s wearing a g-string” I quip and mom starts to howl at the absurdity. Dad joins in and I know my tour has started…..