Up until the day before his aneurysm burst, Dad kept a detailed record of what he ate, his exercise routine and how he felt. He took his blood pressure a minimum of twelve times daily. His diet was gleaned from the dozens and dozens of medical books he read. Dad would not be offended by my saying that he was genuinely fanatical about his health. This all came about after he suffered a heart attack 13 years ago.
Dad retired from the Air Force in 1971. He bought himself a gas station and started working from 6am until 10 or 11pm nightly. After a few years of this, at my Mother's urging, Dad sold the station, taking a job with the county as a tax assessor. He worked from his home, whatever hours he desired. He really liked to work. He was out of the house when it was light enough to see, not returning until nighttime. He would work seven days a week, just as he did with his gas station.
Dad never gave any thought at this time to his health. While he had his gas station, he would sometimes go weeks eating steak for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dad was never overweight only because of how active he kept himself. Then, in 1983, he suffered a heart attack. I must mention, he was smoking heavily at this time. In fact, because the nurse would not allow him to smoke, he dressed himself and tried to sneak out of the hospital so he could have a cigarette.
His interest in health evolved within a few months of recovering. My wife innocently mentioned that she could smell someone who smoked. Dad quit that day, never to smoke again. He started reading about heart disease. He just could not find enough books to satisfy him. He maintained logs. He exercised. He drank one glass of wine daily. He took a half an aspirin daily. He took beta blockers. He ate one large can of salmon three times weekly. I could go on and on. Anyone coming upon his records would have thought he had been trained as an accountant. On September 12, he recorded that he hurt a good deal while exercising.
On September 14, Mother and Dad went shopping at a mall in Charleston, SC, approximately two hours from their home. Mom wanted to wander off. Dad told her that when she returned, he would either be right there waiting, or she could pick him up at MUSC (Medical University of South Carolina). While Mom was shopping, someone came upon Dad in a restroom in Sears. He was taken immediately to MUSC. This was about 1:30pm. I received a call about 5pm. He was headed for surgery.
Still today, I do not understand what went on from 1:30 to 5:00. I arrived in Charleston from Charlotte about 9:30pm. The doctors came to us about 10pm to tell us that he had come through surgery although they really failed to understand why. He had an AAA about 10cm. They told us it burst in the mall around 1:30. We were elated because we had started a prayer chain from Texas to the Carolinas the minute we received news at 5:00. I thought Dad would be alright. At that time, I did not know about the roller coaster ride that families ride while in the ICU waiting rooms.
He looked good after surgery. They told me that he was "very sick". I could see that for myself. I noticed a bruise on his foot so asked the doctor about it. I asked him Dad had been bruised from his fall at the mall. The doctor said that was probably the case. Twelve days later, his feet were dark blue, almost black.
During surgery he had required 8 units of blood. Over the next 14 days, he received another 8 or so. I'm not sure. Not once from the time following surgery, did the doctors come to the waiting room and update us. If I asked the doctor in his room, I was told that he was very sick. He was. He survived one night that the doctor said he would not make it. I thought the doctor's track record after that was weak. I thought Dad would make it. He was scribbling notes, saying things like "Doctor, how do you expect me to get better if you won't feed me?" He scribbled us several notes. Most were about being hungry. Two were about almost dying.
About 10 days after being there, his liver decided it was tired of it all. He turned very yellow. He was yellow on top and black and blue on the bottom. I considered drawing him another cartoon about it. You see, my Dad loved my cartoons. He still cherished the ones I drew for him when he had his heart attack 13 years earlier. I drew probably 30 or so over the 15 days he was at MUSC, a few extra for the waiting room staff. Dad made me hold them up for him while he read each and every one. He couldn't say so, but I know he enjoyed them.
After about 11 or 12 days, Dad received a tracheotomy. He just was never the same. The nurses said he was holding his own. On day 14, Mom asked to speak with the hospital chaplain. He came into the waiting room and stared talking about DNR papers. I couldn't believe it. Mom just wanted him to pray with her. I went to talk with his nurse. I wanted to know if the chaplain knew something that we did not know. The nurse said Dad was very sick. Mom was getting sick by this time. We talked her into going to the doctor for checking.
I went home myself that Sunday and prayed that Dad would not feel that we had abandoned him. I felt an awful lot of guilt that night. I almost crawled out of bed and drove back but fell asleep while thinking about it. I suppose I was pretty worn out too. Three hours later, we got a call to come back. We got the call about 3am. I arrived at the hospital about 7:10. Dad died about 7:15. He did not die alone. My Mom, my two sisters and I were all in the room with him.
The chaplain came in after a while. I suppose he still did not feel like praying. He just stood silently. I guess I am ok with it all because Dad is now in heaven. Just recently, He said to Mom that he was looking forward to going to heaven and finding out who his Mom and Dad were. Dad was 69 or 70. I suppose we will never know. He was born somewhere between Texas and South Carolina. I guess we will never know where. I don't feel like I know much about what happened. He was indeed very sick. He is happy now. His passion to discover who his Mom was was only matched by this passion to stay healthy.
I will miss him. Dad was unusual. I will remember the days he stood out by the road wearing a wig and Mom's house coat, waiting for truck drivers to honk their horns so he could turn and waive, flashing a big smile under his bushy moustache. He loved to sit by the highway giving away free tomatoes with the biggest hand drawn sign he could make saying FREE, just so he could explain what the word free meant to those who would stop asking how much his tomatoes were.
Now, I turn my attention to Mom's health. Mine too I suppose. Dad worried greatly about me. I am 46 and over weight. I hope I don't let him down. But, I too am looking forward to discovering who his mom was!
P.S. My wife will miss him too. He loved sending inappropriate occasional cards back and forth with her. This Christmas, I'm sure he would have sent a 'get well soon' card.