Wednesday, July 27, 2005
How It Goes

My father's heart, apparently, is enormous -- I mean in size and mass, not necessarily in its capacity to give and receive love. It's also flabby, diseased, and 80% of its tissue is effectively dead. And yet it still beats, albeit weakly, and only with an overwhelming amount of mechanical help and some of the most advanced medical technology in the world. My big, scary father has been reduced to a bag of sluggish blood attached to a bunch of tubes and hoses -- I try to imagine him that way, weak and frail and struggling to survive, but I can only see big, scary dad towering over me and filling my field of vision and giving me that glare that always made my id curl up into a ball and hide under the nearest piece of psychic furniture.

His chest was cracked open this morning, and a surgeon -- who described my father's surgery as the "one of the most difficult he'd ever performed" -- completed a quadruple bypass. On top of this, I've now learned, he's suffering from diabetes and increasingly from renal failure as well. It looks like he may get to spend the rest of his recovery (if not the rest of his life) undergoing daily dialysis. And, of course, his risk of death is still exceptionally high. Given all that's happening to his body -- multiple systems struggling to maintain function, some of them beginning to fail, and the double traumas of the recent heart attack and of the surgery itself -- the process he's in seems a lot more like death than recovery. The best case prognosis is that he lives another couple of years with severe physical disabilities -- one doctor apparently described him as a "heart cripple." The worst case prognosis is pretty obvious. He has, at best, months of excrutiating pain, helplessness, difficult rehabilitation and complete dependency ahead of him. Or his future might be one of sudden death when his heart finally says "fuck it," and twitches itself into oblivion.

I've gleaned all this from brief messages from his wife; she's encouraging me to come see him soon, offering to let me stay at her home. It looks like I may have to explain to her -- gently, of course, and with sensitivity but also with honesty -- why I feel that that would be an unconstructive thing to do. And between you and me, while I don't hate my father's wife, meeting her and staying in her home rank down near lobotomy on my list of attractive offers. Not to mention that her constant, saccharine invocations of Jesus and God are about to make me vomit. What do you want to bet she's got at least one object in her house with a Thomas Kinkaide "painting" on it?

So, until something else happens, which it will sooner or later -- maybe tonight, maybe a few years from now -- I guess that's that. I've spent much of the last three days thinking about my father, and I'm exhausted now. He told me once when I was a teenager living for six lonely, isolated months in his house in Alaska, that he believed he wouldn't live much past 50 (he's 52 or 53 now) -- no particular reason why he thought that, I guess it just seemed to be the most likely, most romantic outcome: die young, beautiful corpse, that kind of thing. He was only 40-ish when he said it, so I guess back then it still seemed like a reasonably long time to live, and I doubt he anticipated such an ignominious demise -- heart attack, sure, but not everything that's come after. I expect he'd have preferred something fast and dramatic that would leave his acquaintances goggle-eyed at his funeral, not something slow and painful and humbling that would isolate him from the world and reduce him to abject helplessness before it was through with him. But I guess with death you just take what you get.

Or maybe he's grateful that he's gotten an extra couple of years. I wouldn't know.

Anyway, I sent a message wishing him/them good luck this morning. I did consider calling him, but given that he didn't die in surgery, I think if I had I'd have felt pretty stupid afterwards -- I'd attempt to explain why, but it would take a long time, and I just don't feel like trying right now. If he called me himself and asked me to come, I might consider it. But that won't happen.

Tomorrow or the next day, I'll write about something else, I promise.
10:55 PM ::
Amy :: permalink
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