My dad passed away September 19th, 1996. I was doing my clinical year in my Master’s program preparing to be a Family Nurse Practitioner. He had been critically ill previously that year and was in chronic pain because of long-term steroid use for temporal arteritis. Steroids are used to prevent blindness with this disorder, but steroids are a two-edged sword. His degenerative disc disease caused back pain that had grown harder and harder to control, and he had started taking large of amounts of Tylenol with codeine for relief.
During one of his previous illnesses he had become profoundly hypotensive early on morning, with a blood pressure of 60/40. My mom was asleep in the room while I sat with him, wondering if he would die that night. About 3 in the morning he was awake and looking intently up toward the ceiling. He asked what time it was and then muttered, “What are they doing up there?” Call me crazy, but I think he had a glimpse toward the other side.
Prior to that, I had always believed that he had a near death experience with his second open heart surgery. We were told that they “had trouble getting him off the pump”. When we visited in the CVICU the first time, he was still intubated with all the lines and tubes and such. But he was awake. As we spoke to him, his finger moved restlessly over his right abdomen and groin area. My mom thought he was hurting at the site where they had done his heart cath prior to surgery. But, as I watched closely, it became apparent that he was writing, “I love you.” He had not been a demonstrative father. However, after that surgery, he ended every visit with “I love you.”
The week before he died, he was scheduled for an epidural injection to try to relieve his back pain. But when he presented for the procedure, his INR (the measure of Coumadin activity in his blood–he was on the anticoagulant because of chronic atrial fibrillation with its risk for stroke) was too prolonged. Some people would say his blood was “too thin.” We went back home with his pain unrelieved.
The day before his death I took him and Mom to lunch at a little café in Judsonia. Like I said, I was finishing my clinicals that fall, and Wednesday was my day off. We had lunch and, as I was dropping them off at their house, he reached in his pocket and pressed something into my hand. It was a hundred-dollar bill. “Daddy, I’m fine. I don’t need this,” I protested. He firmly insisted that I take it. “I want you to have it.” He was proud of my efforts to complete my education. He didn’t live to see me graduate.
Early Thursday morning my phone rang. It was Mom calling for help. “Your dad’s coughing up bright red blood–a lot of it. I don’t know what to do.” I hurriedly dressed and drove the short distance to their house, the house I’d grown up in. When I walked in the bedroom, he greeted me with a hoarse, “A man can’t live like this.” He was pale and tremulous and actively coughing up blood. It was 3 in the morning.
I told him whatever he needed to do was all right, that we would be with him. An ambulance was called, and he was transported to the hospital with the request not to resuscitate if his heart stopped. At the hospital we found that, although he had not taken any Coumadin in days, his INR had continued to climb. He was bleeding into his lungs. The doctor said we might be able to slow things down if we gave him platelets and blood and such, but I knew he was ready to go. My mom and I elected comfort care. We stood beside him, holding his hand and talking to him as he wanted to talk, as he was given some medication to keep him comfortable. He was moved to the CCU for his last hours.
His last words to me were, “I love you, more than you know……” and those words have become my words to tell my children and grandchildren and great-grandchild how much they are loved. As he died, my dad raised slightly in the bed and gazed toward the ceiling. As the light left his eyes, I knew he was joining those who had come to take him home with them.
He was at peace, and so was I. But I miss him still. Thank you for being my dad. For loving me and supporting me in all I did. I love you, Dad, more than you know……….