May is a busy month. With the end of school, PTA carnival, Cub Scouts wrapping up, going with the Ramblers to Moab, and various other commitments, a TON of birthdays, (including mine which was on the 31st when I turned 41, (which is kinda relevant to this story) so if you've not sent a bike related present, what the hell are you waiting for?) we were running around like chickens with their heads cut off (which by the way, if you've never seen, it's gruesome and hilarious all at the same time, but that's a topic for another day). And, anytime you're super focused on stuff for a while, when the end comes, there is a bit of let down. Which having a let down for me at the end of this particular month in this particular year was a bit tougher than normal.
I know I just talked recently about my dad when it was his birthday, but I'm gonna do it again. And other than the fact that he had a mountain bike and it is now mine, this won't really have anything to do with bikes, but I'll get back to 'em next time around.
Without getting into the minutia of EVERYTHING that happened, I'll just say he was on the liver transplant list for 3 years before a man in Boulder, CO, fell in a climbing accident and was an organ donor, giving my dad another 10 years on his life. If you're not an organ and tissue donor, RUN, don't walk to your DMV and make that change and let your family know that is what you want to do. If you meet your demise, you won't need any of those things anymore, so give 'em to someone that can use them. Sorry...I'll get off my soapbox now and resume this story.
After his transplant, everything went really well for a while. But, ultimately my dad's version of Hep C wouldn't lie dormant and began the attack of his "new" liver, but I suppose that is fitting for a guy that didn't do anything half-assed and liked a challenge. He ended up being a walking experiment for the Hepatology department at University Hospital in Denver since they really didn't have anyone that had a transplant with all the medications necessary for that AND taking a regimen of chemotherapy to combat the Hepatitis all of which was a drain on him. It made him sick and tired (literally and figuratively) so he couldn't exercise, which would make him weaker, which would make him more sick and tired, turning the whole thing into a vicious downward spiral.
In the late spring of 2006 he slipped getting out of the shower and broke his knee. Both my mom and I knew it was ultimately going to be his demise. Not that the Hep C wasn't, it was, but this injury was going to speed everything up substantially. What little exercise he was getting was now gone and just getting up to his bedroom and around the house was going to be a mighty challenge.
That autumn saw him try to go see his dad in Arizona for a 80th birthday party, but he was turned away by the airline because he looked so sickly they were afraid to let him on, which was a good thing, since he went into the hospital for a few days. Like usual, they were able to get him stabilized and he ended up going home. But, these episodes would start happening in higher frequency throughout the winter and into the spring of '07.
Late in May of that year, I had to go to Boulder for an overnight meeting for work. Through some crazy circumstances and maybe a bit of destiny, I ended up having to go back to Littleton and spend the night at my parents house. Little did I know it would be the last time I'd actually see my dad when I could converse with him, though I spoke a few times on the phone.
That next weekend was Memorial Day weekend. My dad watched Dario Franchitti win a rain shortened Indianapolis 500 and late in the afternoon went up to his room. A short while later he went to the bathroom and slipped into one of those "episodes". Usually my mom could just talk loudly to him and he'd snap out of it and go to his bed or like at the airport 6 months earlier, to the hospital and they'd fix him up. But this time he wasn't snapping out of it, which is when I received a frantic phone call from my mom asking me to talk to him, that maybe a different voice would snap him out of it, which it didn't and at that point I told her to call 911.
The emergency service came and took him away. He had done a living will earlier in the year, but because they wouldn't let my mom ride in the ambulance, by the time she got to the hospital it was too late to convey this information and they had put him on all sorts of life support equipment which gave us the unenviable task of "unplugging" him.
I'm just being honest here, but selfishly, it did make it convenient as we were able to make arrangements, which I suppose we should have been doing all along, but when you're living in a bit of denial and really everyday was a struggle for my mom to balance work and care for my dad, the last thing you have time to do or want to do is go make funeral arrangements.
So, we made the decision to take him off the life support equipment on Friday, June 1st. To me we could have done it anytime, including on my birthday, but my mom refused that, so now I know the day after my birthday is the day we did that. Trying to still celebrate my birthday that year was kind of difficult, but my aunt (his sister) stayed at the hospital with my dad, torturing him to the very end by reading him articles from Oprah's O magazine (FYI, if that EVER happens to me, I'll haunt your ass for eternity), while my family and I went out for dinner to celebrate as much as we could.
The thoughts of the next day are surreal as I remember a ton about it and hardly anything about that day, more like a collage of thoughts and images of that day. I remember being there when the nurse came in and took all the tubes and junk out of his nose and mouth. I remember his face grimacing when she pulled the stuff out which caused me to think maybe we shouldn't do it even though there was no chance of improvement. I remember feeling bad for him as he lay there all day long, heart pounding along like a champ after the doctor told him a long time before he couldn't engage in sex anymore because his heart couldn't take it (lying bastard!). I remember feeling a bit like a ghoul, not unlike going to the vet to have your pet put to sleep. I remember getting a phone call late at night from my Lovely asking what is going on and I told her that nothing had changed. I remember after I hung up with her things started to change rapidly, like he heard my conversation and didn't want to be a bother to any of us. As his heart rate slowed, we all gathered around and said goodbye. Then everything stopped and the nurse and doctor came in and called the time of death. I remember all of us leaving and I was looking back seeing him lying there I felt weird about it, like I was walking away from one of my possessions and I should leave it lying there unless I knew exactly what was going to happen to him. I remember going to the bar with my mom, brother, sister-in-law, aunt and uncle and getting kinda tore up after that.
Whew. A lot of crap just spewed out of my finger tips. I apologize for this long post, but on this 5th anniversary of his death which was on the same day of the week, I kinda felt like I needed to get it out. I'm headed out on an epic ride this afternoon, so I'm sure I'll have a lot more fun stuff to talk about next time.