I sat in my grandparent’s kitchen, wiping the steady stream of tears coming from my eyes, as I explained what was about to happen with my father. “He had another bought with chest pain this morning,” as I stopped to sniffle and wipe more tears away. “He will be leaving in an ambulance to head to Peoria where they will do an angiogram to determine what is happening. We’re hoping a stint or two but at this point, we just don’t know.” At the conclusion of the sentence, I’m now sobbing and apologizing for crying as my grandfather reassures me that I’m just expressing how everyone feels. Even though my family is full of nurses, I’ve never been one to handle medical issues well, especially with my father. Ever since I was little I’ve viewed my father as a rock, one that can take on any task and knows how to do just about anything you would ever need. To see him in a hospital bed is tough, really tough.
I sit awhile longer, after I’ve managed to tell my grandparents about what is happening, and we talk about my father, diet, exercise, and eventually my life. My grandfather looks at me and tells me that he is about to give me a piece of advice, something he doesn’t do- it’s always my grandmother. I sit up a bit straighter because when a person has reached the age of 92, he/she has to be full of wisdom. He continues, “stop burning the candle at both ends and stop to smell the roses.” At first I think, “well of course, I know that- it’s just hard to do!” But I let his words sink in and realize it may be time to reassess my own lifestyle even more.
After a half hour I realize it’s is probably time I head back to the hospital even though I wished I could have stayed in the comfort of my grandparents house. I hug my grandmother tight and make it a point to tell them I love them, something that doesn’t always get said in my family. I make my way back to the hospital with worry lines across my forward and a heavy heart. Not knowing is the worst.
Time passes, we transfer hospitals, and before he heads into the procedure, the doctor explains what they will be looking for, how they can fix it if they find it, and the risk of the procedure. We walk quietly down the hospital hallways, trying to take in what is happening, feeling as though we’ve been here before, mainly because we have. I don’t always have a strong memory but I can still remember eight years ago when my mother and I were sitting in a small, white office listening to the doctor tell us that they would have to open him up to do a quadruple bypass surgery because his heart wasn’t fully functioning.
We said goodbye and walked into the waiting room, which was dark and silent as this part of the hospital wasn’t really used on weekend unless it was an emergency. What I, and possibly my father, couldn’t understand was how we ended up here, again, after eight years. I asked my mother if she thought this was going to happen, his heart not functioning at full strength. She said yes, but not to have it happen so soon. He did everything right after his first heart attack. He never has smoked in his life, he changed his diet to eating healthier, and he’s been going to rehab three days a week, playing hockey, and doing manual labor since he first surgery. He was, minus the first heart attack, a perfectly healthy 53 year old man.
I seemed to be having an increasingly difficult time trying to comprehend these thoughts. The whole reason I started eating healthier and cultivating this blog was so I didn’t end up like him, with his heart attack and yet, here we were again, even with the lifestyle changes. Was changing the diet and exercise really enough? Was it even worth it? I started to question everything I’ve been fighting for the past couple of years.
My mom’s phone rang only 20 minutes after my father had entered to start the procedure. I carefully watched my mom’s expression change from okay to downright scared, to grateful (quite the roller coaster of a phone call). She hung up and told me that the person had started to say three out of the four bypass arteries are (at which point my mother assumed the worst- that they were going to be clogged or worse, beyond repair) perfect. The nurse continued on to tell her that the problem was being caused by a one of his natural born arteries and that they were going to be able to easily stint it and he’d be fine. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and then started to realize that this artery could have been partially blocked since his first heart attack eight years ago and finally closed. The best news that came from all of this is that his exercise and diet (along with a few prescription drugs) have helped keep his replaced arteries clear and perfectly healthy, proving that he was doing the right things. Had he not changed his diet and not exercised, there is a good possibility all those arteries would have shown signs of wear and tear (or be completely useless).
It is events like this in life that make me fight even harder for what I believe in and to make sure I appreciate all the things I have and all the people I love. The doctor my father had was telling us a bit about other people who she had seen recently come into the hospital with heart disease. My father joked that he was too young for this to happen the first time (age 45) at which point the doctor began to tell us about the 30 year olds she had seen along with a few 20 year olds.
People my age, coming in for heart attacks.
I worry that we live with the mentality, “it won’t happen to me” but really, we never know until it happens. I texted M during some point in this and said, “ I really hope you and I can live a life free of this. I know this is really far down the line but I don’t want out children to have to go through this and I’d hate to see you or I go through this is we can prevent.” This is why I’m so passionate about my food, about the politics, about everything.
For now I’ll keep fighting, hug everyone just a little tighter, and be terribly grateful for everything.