I am my dad.
The road was long. It was a familiar journey. The visit with family...the annual trip to the Clinic. A road traveled time and time again. But it wasn't painful or boring. It was filled with laughter and philosophy. A time he could take to teach...to impress...to mold...It was the last trip. Little did I know at that time.
1989. My dad and I drove the familiar highways to the Clinic... the forefront of modern medicine. A fabulous place. He had non-hodgekins lymphoma. In 6th grade, they told us he had 6 months. That was in 1978. He was strong, he refused to have a number put on his life. He lived how he wanted to live. With vigor and gusto. Many would not understand this.
We talked about everything...fishing, hunting, politics, life. I knew by the color in his skin that time was taking its toll. I was the only kid that didn't go on those fantastic spring break vacations. I longed to go home. I had to. I wanted to be there.
The last spring break was different. Dad wouldn't eat like he used to. He had lost weight. He threw up late at night and I heard him. I didn't want to say anything. I tried to cook and do all the ranch chores so he would have a break. I felt guilty I wasn't there to do more. He would insist I go to school. "Education is so important," he would say, "They can never take that away from you!"
That spring break was a first for everything. We went grocery shopping one day. I helped Dad pick out the month's groceries. He told me to add in some things I needed for college. I threw things in...our cart was huge. Typical rancher month. I also threw in girlie goodies (tampons). When the clerk rang them up...he was pissed. He looked at me, his face was white,..."I can't believe it." I said, "What?" He said, "Only girls who are not virgins use those. You insult me." I thought...Ugh, Dad! This is all in front of the clerk. But I said, "Dad, don't be such a moron. I am a virgin. No one wants me...Ok? And I would never insult you. Only people born in the dinosaur age believe that. Read the instructions." Yes, the clerk saved me. She opened the box and gave Dad a lesson in gynocology. I should have given her the golden crown or the tampon award. Egads...I think I was the most embarassed...ever...by my father. It is funny now.
He was always thin...I don't think he ever weighed over 170. He had a great appetite and loved to cook. (I miss his cooking). But not that week...he tried to eat...but I heard him throwing it up during the night. I worried all the time. They took him off his miracle drug because his body had become immune. I tried to hide it so he wouldn't worry. I think he knew. We both knew.
So, June, 1989, we drove back to the "Homeland"...the familiar path to the Clinic and to visit family. Funny, the conversations you remember. We talked about a DNR...a new concept then. We both had the same thoughts...let us die natural as God intended...not hooked up to a machine. I was 21. He was my rock. Not a Saint by any means...but I was a daddy's girl...and a tomboy.
Three days later we were driving to the Clinic...checked in...tests...blah, blah. I remember him sitting on the table...I was sitting on a chair. The doctor came in...."Bob, there is a cloud in your lungs. We don't know what it is." They wanted to do more tests. Dad was down with that. He had been on an experimental drug...Lukeran. You might be familiar with that. It extended his life from 6 months to 11 years. He was in remission...until now. Problems. He hadn't told me all the details. Just that he was on a new drug therapy.
Dad looked worried...not like a rock as usual. I had a strong faith in God. We were on board with whatever the doctor wanted. Afterall, we both thought he was brilliant...and he was. A transfusion was suggested. This was the time when transfusions were just hitting the news because of AIDS. Dad was not jiggy with that. He asked about other methods and they told him this was best. So, he did what was asked.
The nurse was Dolores Claiborne...only worse. Dad and I questioned the type of blood she was hooking up. Dad was adamant that she was wrong. I didn't know. I believed my dad was right. We questioned. Dolores told us she was right...we were stupid.
The transfusion continued. Dad was sent home...
Because of my parents separation at the time...I went to stay with my grandparents...my dad stayed with his best friend. The next day I received a call. It was Dad. He said his fever was 104 degrees. He had called the doctor and was told to come to the Clinic immediately. We did.
Funny, that day we talked about the time we met Caspar Weinberger at the Clinic on the drive back. He was so kind. My dad was a fan. Star struck. Dad was huge into politics...Republican born, Republican bred, When I die...I will be Republican dead. Dad often went sage chicken hunting with Governor Ed Hershler. He laughed that he was the only Democrat Dad truly respected.
Dad was worried. I knew something was wrong. He again talked about life and death. We usually talked about everything. We were not afraid. Life and death was reality. I prayed all the time. I was scared. Only 21. I was still a kid. But I wouldn't let my dad see that. I was strong. For him.
After many tests, the doctors said there was a cloud in his lungs that could not be explained. I remember the x-rays to this day. Weird. They wanted to put him in St. Mary's and give him antibiotics...other drugs...then chemo...he was out of remission. Much to my surprise he had been out of remission since about Spring Break. I gave him the stink eye. He laughed and shrugged his shoulders. Even in his toughest hour, he was protecting me. Bugger.
Dad trusted his doctor's advice and so did I. They were marvelous. Since Dad was on a study program...during the night they had summoned several doctors. The next day they were there...all 7 of them. Not one was from the same country or spoke the same language. I don't think any of them spoke a lick of English. My first exposure to foreign language. I thought it was a circus. Where were the monkeys?
After all the consulting, the doctors wanted to put dad under because his infection was getting worse. His breathing was shallow...they wanted to insert a breathing tube. I was terrified. Dad was trying to be strong but I could see it in his eyes. He was scared.
They put him under. A couple days later on my visit, the nurse told me Dad's lungs looked better and they were going to bring him out of the anesthesia to see how he would react and hopes he would breathe on his own. I was stoked. I had called my mom's sister who was a nurse to the hospital for moral support. I didn't know what else to do. I was alone. She was awesome and to this day, I put her on a high pedestal. My dad always thought she was a terrific woman...so kind, so sincere...so smart...and a super mother.
So he woke up. Typical that my dad would grab the tubes and try to pull them out too soon. Nurses panicked and told him to relax. Like that was going to happen! You put a dry, plastic pipe down a pea hole of an esophogus and say to relax. Really? Ok, I was on Dad's side here.
Anyway, he did what they said. They pulled the breathing tube out. Dad tried to talk..."I have to pee. I have to pee. __(my name)__, I love you." I looked at my aunt. She was grey. I was 21 and not so with it. I said, "Dad, I love you, too. You have a cathater. You can go pee." Dad asked for a notepad. He wrote it down. I still have it. Locked up. I can't look at it now. That day he scrolled.."I love you"...on the pad. Dad asked for ice. He was given some ice and the nurse helped him. He again said he had to pee.
The nurse panicked. She called the doctor. The monitors went crazy. I was shoved out of the room. Along with my aunt. It was odd. It didn't make sense.
We went to the waiting room. I talked to my aunt. The lightbulb went on. I told my aunt that I thought Dad actually said, "Help me, Help me...(my name) I love you." My aunt looked away and then with tears in her eyes, she said she agreed. She had wanted to tell me, but didn't have the heart. I wanted to run to my dad and tell him I understood.
A pretty woman beckoned me back into my dad's room. She told me what was going on. Dad started fighting the support system, he tore the tubes out...yada, yada. I knew what my dad was telling me. They put him under. They put him on life support. Those were the last words Dad and I spoke to each other.
Days turned into two weeks. I visited every day. I read. I sang dumb songs. I held his hand. I posted every get well card on his bulletin board after I read it aloud. I told him I would make him proud.
Finally, I was asked to go to the family room. By now I had notified my dad's brother...his parents...my mother (estranged)...my brother-he was all of 17. The Smock, as I will remember him, told us that a decision would have to be made...and I was the only one that could make it...at 21...heavy burden. I was the next of kin. Dad left everything in my hands. Life support or no life support...that was the question.
Everyone was asked to leave. I told Smock...no bother. I held my head high, I knew what my dad wanted. We talked about it. I knew. We agreed. I walked over to Smock's clipboard. Every letter I wrote in my name was one step toward pulling the plug. At the same time I felt heavy, I felt relief. It was what he wanted. There was no question in my mind. At 21, I still felt guilt...but I did what I knew my Dad had wanted. Every day changed...hope...despair...hope...despair...he was getting better...he was getting worse. I knew in my heart what was the truth.
After over three weeks, I asked my grandparents and mother if I could go home and pay the bills for Dad. He would have had a cow if any of them were late. And it was coming up on a month. I told them outloud I was spent, tired, exhausted, and I needed to pay Dad's bills. They fought me at first. Then they said they would send me on a bus. I told my brother to watch over Dad and take over my responsibilities. What was I thinking? I thought he was as strong as I was. He was a kid. 17. Thoughtless.
So, I went back to the ranch and paid some bills. The bank had arranged for me to only pay the necessitites...back in those days the banks were our friends. And I did that. I cleaned the house for Dad to return, cleaned the barn, paid attention to the animals. Irrigated the fields.
On July 3, 1989, I and my college roommate were at the reservoir...floating...relaxing. We talked about me returning. Dust clouds came our way as a vehicle came toward us. I saw it was my brother. He was supposed to be with my dad. What the hell? Then I knew. He told me with tears streaming down his face that Dad had a heart attack and they shut the machines off...because I had signed the papers...as Dad would have wanted. He and Mom had driven through the night... before Dad passed...because my brother couldn't take it. Dad passed with no one there.
I had failed.
I returned to bury my father. He had a plot there. I knew his heart was in Wyoming. I brought a sagebrush and planted it on his grave. He is still with me...especially when I fish...
Walking in the park after my Dad's funeral, my uncle took my hand and walked with me. He asked me if I felt guilty not being there for Dad. I told him it was the worst feeling I had. He said he felt guilty, too. He was so kind. We talked for a long time. He told me I had to let go of the anger I felt for my mother...for her leaving my dad when he was in the final hours of cancer. He said he shared my guilt of not being there that day. We made a pact that day forward to remember the good.
He asked me if I still thought Dolores made a mistake in the blood transfusion. I told him I knew she did. He asked me what I was going to do. I said nothing. He was proud of me. I had looked at Dad's dog tags from the Army. My dad totally believed in their research. I still do. They have helped my brother immensely who was diagnosed with Chrohn's at the age of 12. They still are high on my pedestal.
The only regret I now have is that Bug never got to know her Grandpa. He never got to know her. I think he is with her. And he smiles down on her. I just wish she had known him...
I have never forgiven myself...for not being there...for breaking down. But every Spring Break...on St. Patty's day...I sport a green mustache.