Since I missed his birthday last month, April 2nd (I left for Europe that day...of course with thoughts of him in my head!), and I don't want to go the whole season without remembering and honoring him in some way. So I'm posting a piece I wrote for Yahoo Voices on the day that he died, May 6th, 2009. Read on...
I woke up this morning, as I do many mornings, with a song in my head. Only the tune that landed in my head today was related to what was going to happen in just a little while. The song, “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”, by the Temptations opens with the lines I’m still hearing now as I write this:
It was the third of September.
The day I’ll always remember,
Cause that was the day my daddy died.
Today George Myers, my father, passed on, and I awoke this morning knowing that it was going to happen. We’d been dreading it for four days now, knowing that any hope of survival was near zero percent. From the moment he was taken into the hospital, we were told that he had gone far too long without oxygen and that his brain was no longer functioning. As the hours and days passed, we knew this was the one time he wasn’t going to beat it.
We’d decided late last night to remove the support machines keeping his body alive, but we had to put it off for today because one of us was unable to be on hand. It was an unpleasant situation, to say the least. We all wanted to get past this anguish. And having to wait until morning, waking up with the knowledge that your dad was going to die, is just too odious a circumstance to be in.
Twenty eight years ago, my dad was diagnosed with Diabetes. At first, none of us had been too familiar with the disease, but what we did know it was controllable one if you followed the guidelines associated with the having the condition. In the beginning, dad was great about it. He quit smoking. He stopped drinking. Changing his dietary habits, though, proved too difficult for him and this allowed this debilitating sickness to attack his body slowly and steadily for so long.
Early on, dad’s kidneys began to malfunction and he was sent to undergo dialysis treatments three times a week. He was placed on a list for a kidney transplant. I hadn’t known what dialysis was at first, and I don’t wish to speak of it here, but I know from dad’s experiences that it is not pleasant.
As is common with diabetics, one problem invariably leads to other problems. To make things easier for his dialysis treatments, his doctor placed a plastic shunt in his arm. I recall almost immediately there were infections, blockages, and other problems associated with the multiple shunts that were eventually placed within his arms. These problems foreshadowed the more serious and painful things to come. I can’t possibly recall the numerous problems dad’s experienced over the years, but here are some I remember:
- - While working in a local supermarket, a 2 liter bottle of soda fell off a shelf and landed on dad’s big toe. An infection began to materialize. That was in May. By August, the infection had gotten so bad; he had to be hospitalized for over six weeks. It was the first time we thought we were going to lose him, but he persevered and eventually pulled through.
- - A little over ten years ago, dad got a call that a person with a donor kidney had passed and he needed to get to the hospital ASAP. In what turned out to be his happiest hospital stay, dad’s surgery was successful and he got to spend Christmas with the greatest gift he’s ever received. Dialysis was now a thing of the past.
- -About two years ago, dad began to have trouble hearing in his right ear. It was soon discovered that he had a massive, benign tumor growing on his cerebrum. With his state of health, surgical treatment was not an option, so he underwent 39 radiation treatments. Soon after the treatments had finished, his hearing improved once again, but his new kidney had begun to fail. In what turned out to be the beginning of his end, dialysis treatments once again became a necessity.
- -A more recent infection on his foot hadn’t been responding to treatments. Intravenous antibiotics were no help as circulation problems were preventing the medicines from reaching the infected site. A surgical bypass on his leg was ordered by his vascular doctor. During pre-surgical testing, though, a blockage was found in his heart and a resulting angioplasty put off the vascular bypass. The cardiac procedure was successful, and he was released from the hospital with the infected ulcer still oozing and painful on his foot.
- -Two weeks ago, and six weeks after the angioplasty, dad was brought back in to the hospital for the original vascular bypass to help fight the infection, which had gotten so bad that he had developed tendinitis in his Achilles tendon which prevented him from walking anymore. He had had to give up his job and his car, which crushed him. This surgery was successful, and the infection had begun to heal.
These episodes represent only a fraction of the seemingly countless health-related issues dad has had to contend with. Late night phone calls became all too familiar. Every time there was a new emergency, the situation led from a dire to insignificant, a false alarm. Dad took each case in stride, with rarely an utterance of complaint, even through two toe amputations (Though he always hated the needles!). We became too used to these episodes, expecting the same result each time. We’d lulled ourselves into a belief that dad was a fighter who’d always bounce back and be around for years to come. But it wasn’t meant to be this time.
The day after dad came out of the hospital, he experienced this episode which ultimately led us to today. Now I've skipped ahead a bit from the first part of this story, but this part of dad’s story is more pertinent to the freedom from suffering he earned today. Having been faced with the decision we all made, we knew we had no choice. Dad deserved no more pain.
In the end, he passed peacefully with his wife, his six children and other significant people in his life all around him. The room was filled with anguish, devotion, love and a sense of collective relief as George finally let go of all that pain.
So long dad! I love you!
It was the sixth of May…