On April 29th I awoke around 11:30 a.m. after working late the night before. My face still stuck in the pillow I rolled over, slapped my hand down on the floor beside me and grabbed my phone. My lock screen notification menu was filled with Facebook, Instagram, calendar reminders, and text messages. Scrolling through all that I had missed from the night before I came across a text from my mom. The text was only from about ten minutes ago asking me to call her as soon as I got it. Since it has been a few days since we spoke I figured she just wanted to chat.
I gave her a call and then proceeded to hear the most heartbreaking news I had ever heard. My dad was having chest pains and went into the hospital. She explained further that four of his arteries were clogged. Three were at 99% and one was at 70% so, essentially, he needed quadruple bypass surgery. These are words that no one ever wants to hear. “So when do you want to come home?” was her next question. I could either come home a week later once he was out of the hospital or somehow try to hop on a plane within hours so I could see him before he went into surgery. Being the tech geek that I am I am almost always within an arm’s length of my laptop. Within an instant I had a few different travel sites popped up searching for flights from Austin, TX to Erie, PA or Pittsburgh, PA (a larger city about two hours from Erie). I somehow managed to find a flight that left at 4 pm and arrived in Pittsburgh at 11 p.m. The clock read 12 o’clock noon which means I had about 2 hours to get ready so I could make it to the airport about an hour and a half before my plane left.
I stepped into the kitchen where I found my roommate Jet. “Well it looks like I’m going home,” I said as my eyes quickly began to water, “my dad has to have open heart surgery.” He gave me a hug and offered to make me breakfast while I got ready.
After packing and showering I returned to the kitchen to find two Torchy’s breakfast tacos on a plate for me. This was pretty much the best breakfast anyone could ask for even if it wasn’t homemade.
I called my work next since I was scheduled to work that night and informed them of what had happened. Luckily, I have an amazing boss who told me to go take care of my family and to just let her know when I was returning and she would put me back on the schedule.
Luckily, my friend, Ashley, who was crashing on my couch for the time being, had a car and offered to give me a ride to the airport so I wasn’t forced to rely on the horrendous public transportation offered by the city of Austin. Finally, after a connecting flight in Houston I made it to my home state of Pennsylvania. My brother came to pick me up in my dad’s brand new 2014 Ford Mustang.
A Short Story about My Dad’s Mustang
Way back, like a million years ago, when my dad was a teenager he had a ’67 Mustang, and now, ever since Ford has been coming out with the new retro Mustangs, he has fallen in love with the car once again. Originally his plan was to buy one in a few years after he retired but a few months ago after suddenly losing his cousin who was around the same age, my mom said, “just buy the damn car before something happens to you.” Life is such a fragile thing there is no sense in waiting around for what you want.
He went out and began test driving Mustangs and found that the 2014 model is closest to the ’67 model due to the similarity of the back lights. He decided if he was going to buy one then it was going to be the way HE wanted it, which was brand new, fresh off the line, with all the features in it that he wanted.
Fast-forward to two months later my dad ends up in the hospital with chest pains, and the next morning he gets a call from the car dealer. “Your car just came in, when can you come pick it up?” Now my dad has always had pretty awful luck when it came to pretty much anything in his life. So there was no surprise when his car came in at the exact time he was going into the hospital. The car dealer had to actually come to the hospital so my dad could sign the paperwork so it could be delivered to his house.
Back to the Story
So my plane finally lands in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where it was cold as hell, by the way. I got on the plane in Austin with shorts and a t shirt on and the weather around 90 degrees then got off the plane and it was about 50 degrees. Needless to say, I was freezing my ass off. My brother came to pick me up in this brand new sports car which I had the pleasure of driving home and after only driving it for only a couple short hours I knew that I should never own a sports car. The pick up on it was amazing and it handled turns like a dream. Without even realizing it you will slowly climb over 100 mph and not feel a thing. The car wants to go. The car that I had throughout high school and college, a ’94 Dodge Spirit, would start shaking anytime you would try to push it past 80.
Once I made it closer to home, on the back roads, it really shined. Flying around turns at double the posted speed limit and still managing to stop on a dime at crossing deer in the road. This car was freaking amazing.
If I ever do make it rich someday I think I’ll still stick with an old 90’s sedan. At least that way I know I won’t crash going 150 mph.
We finally made it to bed around 1 a.m. for pretty much just a nap because we had to wake up at 3 a.m. to get ready to go to the hospital. My dad was going into surgery at 6:30 a.m. We sat by his bedside for about an hour before the anesthesiologist came in to give him drugs to relax him. It was terrifying to see my dad like this, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him scared in my life but I could see in his eyes he was petrified. He sat up and looked at us, “you know I’m really scarred.,” he said.
I tried to lighten the mood with a few jokes but we knew before long he was going to be under the knife for several hours.
The nurses came in and wheeled him away to the operating room and we were led to the heart surgery waiting room. There was a dimly lit room off to the side that contained a few recliners. My mom, my brother, and I each took one to grab a little rest. We awoke a few hours later and received an update from the waiting room receptionist. She said things were going as planned and the surgery would last about 4 to 6 hours.
Now in a situation like this, when someone gives you a time frame, you can’t help but watch the clock. We knew surgery started at 8 a.m. which means he should be done by noon or 2 p.m. Noon came and noon passed, then 2 came and 2 passed. This is when the worry set in. To be honest I was still trying to process all that had happened. The rest of my family knew about what was going on days before I did, in hopes it would just blow over, so they were a little more present than me. I just kept thinking that only 24 hours ago I was in Texas just living life without a care in the world and now I was stuck in a hospital waiting room while my father was receiving a serious operation.
We later learned the severity of his condition when we watched a family leaving the waiting room muttering how their surgery had been rescheduled and found out that the surgeon bumped their operation so he could take my dad in.
I don’t know a whole lot about how the heart works nor do I know what goes on during a surgery but the basic knowledge that I received is that during an open heart surgery they put the heart on a pump which pumps the blood through the heart while the heart is stopped so they can operate on it. Once the operation is complete they will take the heart off the pump and watch it for a few moments until they are comfortable to sew the body back together.
During my father’s operation everything was going fine until it came time to take the tubes out of his heart. When the surgeon was removing one of the tubes of his aorta, it tore. The surgeon later informed us that he has been doing surgery for 35 years and has done over 5,000 surgeries and this was maybe the third time this has happened. Once again my father’s marvelous luck coming into play. He managed to repair the aorta and once he took him off the pump again he noticed another tear in a different portion of his aorta which indicated a bruise on the inner layer of his aorta. Now many of you reading this don’t really understand what I’m talking about unless you took a few courses in med school and honestly I didn’t really understand too much of what the doctor was talking about either. All I knew is that what he was saying was not good.
Meanwhile, during this operation that lasted NINE HOURS, by the way, my family and family friends had taken over the sleeping room of the waiting room. There were no windows and no clocks which made time move in slow motion. Minutes felt like hours and hours felt like days. Then, FINALLY, the surgeon came in to talk with all of us. The surgeon, looking exhausted, remained calm and took a seat beside me in the room. We all huddled around to hear what he had to say. His voice was calm and emotionless as he began to explain every detail of what went on during surgery. He told us all about the torn aorta and how he repaired it. Everyone listened intently as he spoke, the room was so quiet you could hear the electricity flowing through the lights. My mom sat across from, him pen and paper in hand, as always, frantically writing down every word he spoke as if he was Moses listing off the Ten Commandments; trying her best to get the correct spelling of each and every complex medical term used.
He told us about the bruise on his aorta and the possibility of it tearing.
“What will happen if it does tear?” I asked, “Can you fix it?”
He slowly looked at me and said with no emotion, “Yes,” there was a long pause, “if there’s time.”
This suddenly confirmed the severity of his condition. Everyone’s eyes instantly began to water at the sounds of these words. He was not nearly close to being out of the woods yet. Hell, he was lucky to be alive right now. The surgeon further explained that they would keep him in the hospital for a few more days to monitor the tear and hope that it would heal itself. If not, then he would need to get life flighted to Cleveland Clinic (a heart specialist hospital) to have a further operation.
Once the surgeon left we were able to go into the ICU for a brief moment to see him. For as long as I live I don’t think I’ll ever forget this scene. He was hooked up to more machines than I could count, leaving his body more wired than a Christmas tree. Tubes coming out of his neck, throat, arms, and several monitors across his chest. Even typing this now I am cringing at the memory of it. No one should ever have to see their loved one in that kind of condition. It’s heartbreaking and emotionally draining. I’m usually the strong one in the family who can hold it all together but at a sight like this I could hardly do that.
We spent the night in the recliners of the waiting room in fear that something would happen in the middle of the night and the next day we were able to see him for limited hours. Basically every few hours we would get one hour of visiting time so he would be able to get his rest. He was exhausted and still a little drugged up from the anesthesia but was able to talk and make sense. His voice was distorted and raspy but we could tell he was back to his normal self once he started cracking jokes.
“My mother keeps saying she wants to come see her little boy.” My father said, “her little boy? I’m almost sixty frickin years old. I don’t think I’m a little boy anymore.” He said sarcastically.
It was relieving to see him begin to get his personality back but we all knew in the back of our head that his heart could tear at any moment. The only people that didn’t know about the tear was the grandmothers and him. We figured there was no sense in telling him because he’s normally a hyper person so the last thing he needed was something like that to get upset over. Throughout his recovery there was hope but still always that tainting level of uncertainty and worrying that laced over everyone.
The next night he was still in the ICU so we spent the night in the hospital’s guest house. Which is pretty much just a house with several bedrooms about the size of a dorm room each containing nothing more than a couple twin beds and a small bathroom. My brother and mother each took a bed and I slept on my thermarest that I used during Bike & Build. Before bed we were all talking about the situation at hand and what we would do if we needed to go to Cleveland. I was trying to stay positive and kept telling myself that everything would be fine but it was hard because my brother had the opposite outlook. “Mom, what are you gonna do? Do you think you’ll remarry? What about the Mustang? You have to keep the Mustang.”
“Holy shit, Brian. He’s still alive.” I said.
“Yeah, but we don’t know what’s gonna happen.” He replied back.
“Well let’s at least think positive thoughts before we go to sleep.”
When my brother worries a lot he tends to think of the worst possible outcome and focus on solely that. It didn’t help that my brother’s best friend, Joe, is currently in med school and just so happened to currently be learning about the heart, so, Brian, made Joe sit him down and have him explain every aspect of the heart and exactly where the tear was and exactly what could happen. This probably wasn’t the best thing because it only made my brother more paranoid.
The days began to blend together, we pretty much lived our lives in hour increments while he was staying in the ICU. We would go see him for an hour then go get something to eat then go see him again then wait in the waiting room, and it was pretty much a constant cycle until he got out of the ICU.
Each day seemed to get a little bit better. Eventually the tubes from his neck came out as well as the tubes from his chest which was draining the blood. I’ll never forget when the nurse would come in to check his chest tube. She would lift it up to let the blood drain out. It was the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen; I’m cringing right now as I write this.
Eventually he was beginning to look more like a human again rather than Frankenstein’s Monster (sorry dad). His face was thinner, which is expected after not really eating for the past week and all he kept saying was how tired he was, which, again, is expected after having major surgery.
To learn a little bit about my dad and how he wound up in the hospital is partially genetic and partially due to his diet. Both his father and mother had to have open heart surgeries. In fact, his father had TWO! Along with the genetics side of it, a lot has to do with his lifestyle: growing up with in an authentic Sicilian household he ate a lot of fatty meats, loads of butter, and sugary sweets. He loved his chocolate, cigarettes, and coffee which are the three main things that put him in the hospital. After hearing that he was going to have to give up everything he loved I was a bit skeptical if he could actually do it. I had a feeling that quitting smoking would not be easy for him, especially when he’s been doing it since he learned how to drive.
But as he laid there in his uncomfortable hospital bed, exhausted, with his friends and family surrounding him he said, “I gotta make some changes in my life. You know, you go most of your life without even thinking about what you’re doing. You eat like shit, you smoke, don’t really exercise. And then eventually, it all catches up to you. And look where it gets ya. You know I coulda died? I am really lucky to be alive.” This moment of my life was so surreal. If things had worked out differently we could have all been standing around a casket rather than a hospital bed.
He continued, “No more cigarettes, that’s it. I’m done. No more prime rib or those Little Debbie cupcakes. Apple and oranges; that’s all I’m eating now.” He turned his attention to one of his closest friends, Eddie, and pointed, “you gotta quit too. Those cigarettes ain’t worth it. No one should go through what I went through. This sucks.”
The room became still. “I got a second chance at life. I’m not gonna screw it up.” He turned to my brother and I. “I gotta stay around so I can see you guys get married and start families. I don’t wanna miss out on that kind of stuff.”
These were the realest words I’ve ever heard anyone speak. You always hear about people having a second chance, some take advantage of it and some blow it. But, I don’t think I would ever see someone so close to me coming so close to death. Everything that was going on didn’t feel real. It was like something that you see in a movie or a tv drama.
A couple days passed and we were still all on edge awaiting the results of the scans that would pretty much determine everything. Monday morning they would do an x-ray which would show if things had gotten better. If they didn’t then we would be on our way to Cleveland for another week or so of stressful hell. So Sunday night my mom, my brother and I packed the car up in preparation of going to Cleveland just in case things weren’t getting better.
We went to the hospital that morning with no idea as to when we would find out or what we would find out. We pretty much just showed up and had to wait until the surgeon came out to tell us the news and still remain like everything was fine.
Surprisingly, before long at all the surgeon came in to tell us the news. He first informed my father about everything that had happened. About the torn aorta and the complications during surgery. Then he went into the results of his test. Everything was fine. His heart was healing on his own and they would just need to closely monitor his recovery along with some cardiac rehab therapy. But, besides that, he was good to go and would be getting out of the hospital that day.
The next couple days at home were a little hard on my dad. Anyone that knows him knows that he doesn’t know how to relax or take it easy. Relaxation isn’t even in his vocabulary. Hell, even when I was growing up and we went on family vacations our number one rule was “No relaxation while on vacation.” We were always go, go, go! From sunup to sundown we would be running around checking out museums, going on tours, and discovering new parts of whatever city we were exploring.
It has been about a month since my fathers surgery and I am happy to say he is on the road to recovery. Although he doesn’t like how long it’s taking. He is learning how to be patient and appreciating the fact that he is still alive.
I decided to wait until Father’s Day to publish the post to remind everyone how lucky we are to have dad’s in our lives. I don’t know where I would be without him. I have definitely chosen the bumpy road in life and every time I’ve fallen down he has been there to pick me back up. He has gotten me out of more jams than I can count. Although I may not show it as much as I should I am extremely grateful for everything that he has done.
My father and I have never really seen eye to eye on life. Like most Dads, he wants me to settle down and get a “real job,” but, I plan on jumping around and living more of a nomadic life (which is why I manage a travel blog). But, despite that I know he will always be there for me and that’s what makes him the best dad in the world. I love ya old man. Never change.