Thursday, March 16, 2006
Two and a half years ago--give or take a month or two--OmegaGrampa was diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. OmegaGrampa had been having sciatic nerve pain, and went in to his back doc to get the preliminaries done to have spine surgery to see if they couldn't relieve the nerve pain. While doing a pretty routine ultrasound to see if something else was causing the pain, the docs saw something. The "something" turned out to be this aneurysm. Things went into double-time physician-wise. Suddenly, OmegaGranny and OmegaGrampa were scheduling visits with specialists out the wazoo. OmegaGranny privately complained to me about how long it was taking, and I allowed as how it actually seemed to be moving pretty quickly to me--not "emergency" quickly (which would be within a few days), but "this is serious" quickly (each new specialist got him in within a few weeks). After much to-ing and fro-ing, ultrasounds, cat scans, MRIs, this, that, the other thing, OmegaGrampa's personal physician delivered a verdict: given OmegaGrampa's overall physical condition (long-term diabetes, smoking, heart problems), it was pretty much a given that he had only a year or two left, and open-stomach surgery to repair the aneurysm would be the kiss of death. OmegaMom, being the researchin' fool she is, promptly started googling abdominal aortic aneurysms. Amongst the things she found was this relatively newish approach: artheroscopic surgery through the groin to insert a stent. And she found a place relatively near that had an awesome reputation at doing this surgery, the Arizona Heart Hospital. So she started pitching the stent operation at OmegaGrampa and OmegaGranny. "Do it!" she said. "It has an awesome recovery rate! The hospital stay would only be a day or two! It's nothing like where they cut you open, and you've got a hospital stay of weeks to recuperate!" OmegaMom contacted AHH. She forwarded OmegaGrampa's email to them. She did everything she could to get this thing going. So two years ago, at roughly this time in late March, OmegaMom drove granny and grampa down to Phoenix and ensconced them in a hotel room near the hospital. They went out for dinner. OmegaGrampa, back at the hotel, allowed as how he was scared. OmegaMom kissed him, hugged him, said everything would be okay, and headed back up the mountains. Three days later, she drove back down to Phoenix to hang with granny and OmegaBro--flown in on emergency basis--in the ICU, stroking OmegaGrampa's hand, smoothing his brow, trying to hydrate him--ever so slightly--using a Q-tip soaked in water brushed across his lips. In the few days that we were there, OmegaMom got one grin, one weak hand-squeezing. We took OmegaGranny out and about, asked the specialists questions, explored the area. When there was no change, granny told us to head back up the hill again, get some stuff done. We went back up the hill our separate ways; OmegaBro had some stuff to attend to back at the grandparents' homestead, and OmegaMom had to put in an appearance to appease the dotter, who was bereft and driving OmegaDad nuts. OmegaBro headed from the homestead further up the hill to visit the Omegas. OmegaMom got a call from the hospital, saying grampa had had a severe heart attack and was on life support, and that they should get back to Phoenix now. When OmegaBro arrived on their doorstep, OM hugged him, told him the news, and they promptly started driving down again, crying and talking on the way, with the realization that this would be the last time they saw dad again. We didn't see dad. Mom had the life support stopped shortly after the phone call, because she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was not the way OmegaGrampa would want to be. I remember sitting on the floor outside the ICU room doors, sobbing, my arms around my brother. I remember sitting in the hotel room with mom, late that night, drinking beer and holding an impromptu wake, just the three of us, with mom telling us stories about dad. I remember scattering his ashes with my brother in June at a remote petroglyph site that he and mom used to go to, and crying again. The grief is not something that hangs around like an everlasting black cloud. Frankly, there are long stretches of time when I don't think about dad at all. But there are times, when the angle of sunlight is just right, that I am taken back to that time in an almost crystal-clear fashion. And I find myself wondering... What if... What if I hadn't pushed so hard. What if they hadn't done the stent surgery. What if. But the rational part of my mind looks at all the factors--the surgeons ended up putting three stents in, instead of one; dad had only 20% kidney function going in, which they didn't know; the diabetes was really running its course. There was no way he would have lasted much longer. But there are times it still really hurts.