And so it begins… again

I’m spending another night at the hospital. My dad is feeling fine — his chest incision and areas of his legs where the surgeons took the grafts are healing normally, but now, he has an infection on his arm from the IV because it seems that his skin was so thick that the nurses had problems placing the IV into his vein. His arm swelled up to about one and a half times its normal size, and it got to a point where when the nurse took his blood pressure, the blood pressure machine cuff got so tight on his arm that my dad said he felt like his whole arm was going to explode — the woes of having a dad with literally thick skin.

This will be his eighth night in the hospital. We were originally hoping he’d only have to stay here for six nights, but it seems it’s going on for eight or nine now. Part of me is a bit relieved that he will be staying because it means less care taking on my mom’s part and more for the staff here to do, but the other part of me just wants him settled back at home to be comfortable and in his own space. Because my time here is coming to an end, my mom is gradually hinting that I should extend my stay since she says “I can’t handle all this by myself. There is so much to do. How am I supposed to do all this myself?” The guilt tripping had to start at some point, so I guess that some point is now. In the beginning, I heard a lot of “thank you for supporting Daddy and me.” Somewhere along the way, it became, “I’m not going to be angry with you if you decide not to, but you really should stay here longer.” Thanks, Mom.

 

DMV Woes

California DMV is a complete disaster zone. Why would someone who walks in somehow manage to wait for less time than someone with an appointment? I guess I shouldn’t complain because I ended up benefiting from this today to renew my driver’s license. I was in and out within an hour this morning.

It’s a pretty depressing place, though. Everyone is in a bad mood because they all know that they have to wait — first, just to get into the building (it was raining today, so that made this part even more fun than usual), and the second time, to actually get the real work done, whether that’s a written test, fingerprinting, an eye exam, and/or get your photo taken. I had to fill out a form, have my eyes checked, get fingerprinted, and take my picture. It’s been 13 years since I’ve had my photo taken for my driver’s license. I am smiling in the last photo when I was just 15, but in this photo, I am half smiling. I couldn’t bring myself to fully smile because I remembered the last time I really looked at anyone’s California driver’s license, it was my brother’s — the license he never got to use because he died before he had the chance.

It was sitting in his desk when I came home on July 24th last year. Ed had very recently sat in person at the DMV, waiting to renew like everyone else, because as per California’s stupid, inefficient law, you can only renew via internet or mail two times in a row; the next time, you have to go in person to renew. He had his number called just the way I did, and then had his photo taken. His photo was absolutely miserable. He looked depressed, with eyes as though they’d given up on the world because the world had given up on him. His lips were straight, almost frowning without even really trying. My eyes watered when I saw it.

His old license was in his wallet when our parents picked it up from the Marin County Coroner’s Office. That’s why the new one wasn’t in his wallet. And I had panicked on July 22 when my mom informed me that he was missing and said his driver’s license was in his desk, because I thought… oh my god, he doesn’t want to be found. That’s why he left his wallet behind.

Life really sucks when even a visit to the DMV reminds you of your brother who committed suicide.

Reconciliation

My younger uncle and my dad have never really gotten along. It stems from seemingly ridiculous childhood problems and their respective high levels of stubbornness. In my family, everyone loves to blame each other, and no one ever wants to admit fault — at least, out loud to others.

I guess it had to take a family history of heart disease to get these two to start reaching out to one another. They both saw their older brother pass away from a heart attack 14 years ago at just 65 years of age, and then my uncle had his angiogram two months ago that revealed his blocked artery, which prompted my dad to call him. And ultimately, it was my uncle who suggested to my dad that he get the stress test and angiogram done, which led to my dad’s bypass surgery this past week.

My uncle visited for the second time tonight, and he spent two hours in my dad’s room with us and my aunt, talking about childhood memories, recent events, and my grandpa’s position in the U.S. Navy during World War II. For the first time, I found out that my grandpa went to Okinawa to fight during the war, and he got within 10 inches of some sharp object that almost killed him. He apparently kept it and brought it back to the U.S. with him after the war — as a reminder of how close he came to death and how precious life is.

My dad and uncle were laughing so hard at a few points that my dad had to ask everyone to calm down because he was afraid his laughter would open up his chest incision. It was amazing to see them both laughing so freely together. It looked and felt natural — I couldn’t believe it.

Is this what it takes for two hostile brothers to reconcile? It’s never too late. This surgery will save my dad’s life — and perhaps even my dad’s relationship with his younger brother. Here’s to hoping we’re all moving in a positive direction for both.

Another night at the hospital

I spent the night with my dad in his room at the hospital last night and woke up every hour or so when a nurse or lab technician would come in to check on things. As I was getting up this morning, I felt the deepest wave of respect for both of my parents. All I’m doing in life right now is working and taking care of my dad part time temporarily, and I’m already completely worn out. I have no idea how they took care of my grandma while she was sick in 1995, took care of me and Ed, and also did both of their full time jobs.

I went to the bathroom and stared at myself in the mirror. All I could see was a blotchy face, flat, greasy hair, dark circles under my eyes, and what appears to be a new indent on the right side of my face, marking the fact that I am aging along with my parents. I’m going to be 29 in two months. Ugh.

One child

My dad is in his own private regular room, away from the constant noise and lights of the Cardiovasular Intensive Care Unit, and he’s looking and sounding better each day. Today, he was having an irregular heart beat, so he had to slow down his walking a bit. A few of the nurses have commended us for always being there and taking turns spending the night with him. One of them was remarking how pretty and loving I am with my dad. “You just have one daughter?” a few of them asked my mom. “Yes, just one child,” my mom said, half smiling weakly.

I felt so angry when I heard the words come out of her mouth. I know that this is the only easy response to nurses and medical professionals who we will likely (fingers crossed, no offense) not have to see again, but I felt hurt anyway. I’m an only child now? I’m not an only child. I have a big brother. He may not be living, but he still exists.

I don’t want my brother to be forgotten. The idea that anyone would forget Ed angers me to no end. I know my parents won’t forget about him and will think about him constantly each day, but I hate the thought that we have to act “normal” as though he doesn’t exist around strangers. I won’t forget Ed. It’s not even the slightest bit possible. And the funny thing is… now, I think of Ed in a different way… because I am thinking about him in the context of leaving me alone in this earthly world to care for our aging parents by myself. It’s a lonely feeling, a terrifying responsibility. I have no one else in the world to lean on except myself.

Hospitals

I hate hospitals. They smell funny, have stale air, and just have a general aura of “ugh.” Bacteria are everywhere here, and everyone constantly is squirting alcohol or some form of antibacterial gel on their hands. Today, I saw a happy man carrying a big basket of flowers and balloons that read “It’s a GIRL!” It was likely to a new mother in one of the patient rooms. The idea of having to give birth to a child in a hospital just makes me seriously think about wanting to have a midwife and have a water birth in the comfort of my own future bath tub.

I just spent the night at the hospital in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit with my dad. I slept on and off throughout the night awkwardly in a chair next to him. My mom and I are taking turns staying with him each night until he gets home. Today, he was transferred out of the ICU into a regular room because his blood pressure has returned back to normal. All I have to say is, I cannot wait until he is well enough to come back home. I’m so exhausted.

My mom has a church service to attend tomorrow morning, and because she doesn’t want my dad to stay alone too long (the nurses didn’t give him his lunch until 2pm today while I was out with my friend, so she was furious), I said I’d arrive at the hospital before she leaves in the morning. My dad insisted he was fine and says that he can take care of himself. “Why do you want to come again tomorrow?” he said to me. “Because I want to see you, doofus!” I exclaimed. “Why do you think I came home?!” He laughs, along with my mom, aunt, cousin and his wife, who are visiting.

Sometimes, my dad is so clueless. But his progress is making me feel really proud now.

Beginning of recovery

After getting some chores and work done this morning, my aunt and I came back to the hospital to see my dad. My mom looked as though she had just spent the night dodging bullets, and my dad… Well, he looked like he just had heart surgery. I’d never seen him more frail in my life. He initially was so weak this morning that when the nurse asked him if he was ready to take a walk, he laughed and said, ‘No way!” His voice was weak, and he said his chest hurt every time he spoke due to the incision there from the surgery. Later in the morning after I arrived, he became more animated and alert, and he said he was up for a walk. He did not one lap but two laps around the ICU, and he said he could do another and feel fine, but the nurses said he should sit back down. Clearly, he was very proud of himself.

“How do you feel, Daddy?” I asked him today. “Do you feel like you have a new heart?”

He said he felt good, just very tired and a bit dizzy. The only pain he felt was from the chest incision. The nurse said that would take some time to heal, but the pain was completely normal. I asked him what it felt like between the period of getting sedated and then waking up after surgery.

“That Wednesday before the surgery… I was really scared,” he finally admitted. “I had no idea what was going to happen.” He then told me that wasn’t fully the truth because he spent a few days before reading all about the surgery and even watched a few bypass surgery videos on YouTube. Yes, that’s the kind of person my dad is. He wants to know everything and even see the gruesome stuff.

“Well, I didn’t watch the entire surgery,” he insisted. “I can’t handle that kind of stuff after a certain point!”

He said that after he fell asleep from the anesthesia, he felt like he was in one long sleep, like a coma. He said he dreamt he was in some place he didn’t recognize, and he said he had no idea which direction to go in. The next thing he knew, he was waking up, and he saw my mom sitting in a chair looking over him. Then it hit him: he survived.

“I know heart disease runs in this family,” he said. “Ever since I turned 64, I kept thinking… how much longer do I have? When is it (a heart attack) going to happen?”

It’s a scary reality to think about, but I’m so thankful that my dad had this surgery and every procedure and test before it that led up to this. Like my boss says, it’s like Life 2.0 for him. He has a new and renewed heart, and another shot at life. This surgery is “standard” for so many people now due to technological advances. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier being part of today’s world than the last 24 hours. My dad is going to be healthy and happy soon.

Did you hear that, Ed? Daddy’s on the road to recovery. He won’t be joining you anytime soon, but I know you aren’t upset about that. I know you aren’t worrying about the surgery anymore and are calm now that his heart has been fixed. Just don’t worry like our mother is about every little thing.

Bypass surgery

My mom and I spent an excruciating five hours waiting for a call or page from the surgeon to let us know the status of my dad’s coronary artery bypass surgery today. Within less than 45 minutes of bringing him into the pre-operating room, the pager goes off, and I immediately feel sick, wondering, why would they be paging us so soon? Has something already gone wrong?

Apparently, it was just the surgeon and the anesthesiologist who wanted to meet with us beforehand. Thank God.

The surgery officially began around 2pm, and then at about 6pm, the surgeon calls us in the waiting room and informs us that the surgery was a success. My dad’s heart was strong the entire time, and he anticipates a very smooth recovery. I can’t remember the last time I felt more relief. I think my mom felt a bit more calm once my aunt joined us in the waiting room.

We saw him for a bit in the ICU, but he hadn’t woken up yet. My aunt and I went home while my mom insisted that she stay with him overnight. His room was too small, so the nurse asked her to stay in the waiting room.

After I got home, ate dinner, and got ready for bed, I realized that this was the first time I’d ever slept in this house by myself. There were times when my brother was away for a trip, but there’s always been at least two other people in this house sleeping at night when I’ve been home. I felt this deep pain when I looked over at my brother’s bed, knowing that he wasn’t here with us today. The entire day today felt weird without him. It’s like I expected him to be there in the waiting room, but he wasn’t. The other part of me thought, he’s out there somewhere, so why haven’t I told him myself about our dad’s surgery? When is he going to come back?

It doesn’t feel like he’s really gone, and it made me miss him even more today. Realistically, I know it would have been really hard on him, probably even more so than on my mom and me because he tends to get the brunt of our mother’s wrath, particularly in trying situations like this, but I still miss him and wish he were here. Times like this will just be a constant reminder to me that his life ended too soon, and that from now on, I will need to deal with all of our family life events all by myself.

 

“Procedure”

Someone from the hospital called to confirm my dad’s appointment tomorrow for his coronary artery bypass surgery. She said that we need to be at the hospital at 9:30am for some pre-op things to do, but the actual “procedure” would not begin until the early afternoon. After my mom got off the speaker phone, my dad says to us, “See how she said it’s a ‘procedure’? This isn’t surgery. It’s just a procedure, so this isn’t high risk or anything like that. They do so many of these every week!”

There are some forms of delusion that aren’t so terrible. This is one of them. If my dad is better able to accept this and have greater peace of mind when thinking of this as a “procedure” rather than a “surgery,” it’s completely fine by me.

Confrontation

I’ve been doing a lot of research in the last few days on artery blockages, bypass surgery, and this treadmill stress test that ultimately indicated that my dad needed an angiogram to identify his artery blockages. I’ve spoken with both his surgeon and his anesthesiologist at length to learn more (both of whom were incredibly patient, listened, and answered all my questions thoroughly), and I’ve also discussed this with others who are familiar with coronary artery bypass surgeries because they know people close to them who have had them. What I have found is that as common as bypass surgeries are, treadmill stress tests are just as common, if not more common, and are done regularly on people who are at high risk of heart disease, as indicated by family history. The American Heart Association recommends this as the #1 test for anyone with a history of heart disease in the family. It’s not a secret, and I don’t need to be a doctor to know this. It’s all available online for anyone to see and learn. They are done on people as young as their 20s and 30s who have indicated a family history of heart problems. Even Chris is one of these people, as he had this test done two years ago.

So you can imagine how angry I got after thinking about this whole chain of events. Why did my uncle have to tell my dad to ask his primary care doctor for the stress test — after his own stress test, which showed my uncle had a blockage? Why did my dad’s doctor not proactively recommend it to my dad, knowing my dad has heart issues already as well as high blood pressure and a family history of heart disease? Every person before my dad on that side of the family has died of a heart attack. My dad is very honest and open about discussing these issues and has made this all very clear to his primary care doctor. I posed this question to my dad’s surgeon, who paused and said, “That’s a very good question — one for your dad’s primary care doctor to answer.”

I scheduled some time with my dad’s primary care doctor to chat tonight. Needless to say, the conversation did not go so well. When he called me back, he was very curt and seemed confused as to why his patient’s daughter would be calling him. yet when I spoke with the other two doctors, they completely empathized and understood immediately why I would call — because I’m a concerned daughter. I explained to him my thoughts, and when I asked him point blank why he never recommended this specific test to my dad and had to wait until my dad asked HIM if he could do it, that was when the drama began.

He immediately started interrupting me, claiming I had “misinformation” and “misinterpreted” what I was reading and what I heard from the other two doctors. He said my dad exhibited no chest pains or tightness. To this, I insisted that this test is supposed to be preventive, not reactive — it certainly can (and should) be done reactively, but I thought the whole point of having a primary care doctor is to prevent problems, not just treat them after you are already ill? He insisted he was right and I was wrong, that I didn’t have the proper training to understand any of this. It was a lot of condescension, with him constantly raising his voice at me. Not one to be outdone, I made sure he knew I was not going to back down and just raised my voice even louder. And I told him to stop interrupting me. Here’s a hint: if I tell you that I’m not done speaking, it means you should probably shut up and let me speak. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I mean it. It became quite a shouting match in the end. I told him, I guess we’ll need to agree to disagree here. He laughed and said, “There’s nothing to disagree about. This is all very clear.” A few more back and forths, and I said, “This is going nowhere. This conversation is now over.” And I hung up.

While he was rude, condescending, and everything opposite of calm and empathetic, the worst part was when he actually told me that “family history” of any disease, whether it’s heart disease or cancer, is defined NOT by the family members before you such as your father, your grandfather, etc., but by those in your current generation, so your brother, sister, cousins, etc. I’d never heard anything more ludicrous in my life. “So you’re going to tell me that just because my father’s father and my great grandfather both died of heart attacks that this indicates nothing about my father’s risk for getting heart disease or a heart attack?” I asked him in complete shock.  He said yes — that’s how “family history” is defined by those in the medical profession. Oh, and I think he completely forgot my dad told him that his older brother died from a massive heart attack at age 65. That was over 14 years ago.

There’s a reason why the American Breast Cancer Foundation advocates that women whose mothers or grandmothers have had breast cancer should get tested earlier – because that’s how family history is defined – by anyone in your blood line. The same goes for anyone else.

I’m deeply dismayed at the fact that there are doctors like this who exist and can still practice medicine. Clearly, being proactive is not a valued or strong suit here. And this man, Richard Tang, is supposed to be the director of the Phase Clinic for Prevention of Heart Attack and Stroke at Kaiser in San Francisco.