I lost my father on May 31, 2001, and it really helps to talk about it, so here I am.
My father was a wonderful man. He was 51 yrs old when I was born, so I've always had an"older" daddy...I was his only natural child, and he loved me soooo very much!
My dad was 85 yrs old when he died. He had a heart attack in 1997 that we all thought would be the end of him...but he pulled through and within a few months, was back outside cutting his own grass..LOL.
In April of this year, he caught a cold...it lasted for over two weeks...but then again,I had the same cold and mine didn't want to go away either, so I didn't really worry too much. On April 28, he was feeling hot, like sweaty, and also, nauseous. Those were two symptoms of his past heart attack, and I worried that he might be having another one, so I called the ambulance, over my dad's protests. At the hospital, they diagnosed him with pneumonia, diabetes (that was wrong, he just had had a big glass of orange juice and it caused his sugar to go up to 170...he was NOT diabetic), and anemic. The anemia was shocking to me...anyway, they admitted him, and they got an oncologist on his case. I wondered why, and this dr. told me that my dad's red AND white cells were low...I didn't quite know what that meant, but she said that sometimes, when you get to be my father's age, your bone marrow just quits producing cells...and SOMETIMES, when that happens, after a few years, those people become leukemic. I almost cried when I heard that, but the dr. told me not to get upset, they weren't sure of anything. They did a bone marrow biopsy, and the dr. told me that there WAS NO leukemiain my father's cells. I DID cry when they said that...cried with relief! You see, ever since I was old enough to worry, I have worried about my daddy. I have been obsessive over his health all my life. I have never moved away from my home town because someone needed to be here for dad. My mother passed away in 1992, and I just lost my sister in November of last year. Anyway, while in the hospital, it was discovered that my father also had H.pylori, the virus that causes ulcers. They put him on very strong antibiotics that made him throw up evenwater....and then, they sent him HOME! Still throwing up water, I brought him home (I live next door to him) and me and my 15 yr old son took care of him...or tried the best we could.
We brought him home on Friday, and by Sunday, he refused to take the antibiotics anymore. He said that was why he was throwing up...he quit taking the antibiotics, and the throwing up stopped! BUT, then, his mouth got somebad sores...I assumed it was thrush from the antibiotics, and I got him some medicine for thrush...I gave him that stuff faithfullyfor a couple of days, but his mouth wasn't getting better.
Finally, on Wednesday, I told him he needed to go back to the ER...he was unable to even swallow water because of the sores in his mouth and throat. I wasn't worried that anything serious was wrong...I was just worried that hewas going to get dehydrated from not drinking. So, I called the ambulance again, and they took him to the ER. For the first time in my life,I was NOT afraid that something serious was wrong...it was JUST THRUSH AND DEHYDRATION!!!
Imagine my suprise when the dr. blurts out, he has leukemia! I said, no way..they just DID a bone marrow biopsy, and it did NOT show leukemia. The dr. said, well, he has it now...his white blood count is 153,000. OMG...Ialmost lost it! But, at that point, I still thought this guy was wrong..he was just an ER doctor..he was WRONG!!
The next day, Thursday, the oncologist told me that yes, he does have leukemia...but, the cells appear to be chronic leukemia, which is slow progressing, and also, that new drug, Gleevec, was just put out for the type of leukemia my dad "had", so everything was ok. They did another bone marrow biopsy that Thursday.
On Friday, I was at the hospital when the dr. came in...looking not very good. He sat me down and told me, "I'm sorry, but your father's leukemia is acute, and there is no treatment for it..I'm sorry..." The reason why there was no treatment is because of my dad's age...the only real treatment for acute leukemia of his type is agressive chemo, and my father wouldn't be able to tolerate it at his age. The doctor said that he only had UP TO three weeks to live...no more than that. I asked him, "How do you tell someone that they only have 3 weeks to live??" and he told me, "You don't...he is at high risk right now of a heart attack or stroke because of his blood being so thin from the high white cells. But, if that doesn't happen, the leukemia will probably invade his brain,and he won't know what's happening anyway."
The dr went in and told my dad what he had, and that there was no treatment. But we didn't tell him how soon it would be.
All my entire life, my father and I had been very very close...but not physically. I mean, we had NEVER told each other that we loved each other...we both KNEW that we did, but never said it. We also didn't hug, kiss, hold hands, etc...it just wasn't "us".
The day that the dr.told me that my father was going to die...soon...I went into hisroom and got hysterical...I told my father for the very first time how very very much I loved him, and he told me back. We both cried, but he told me "Don't cry baby, I'm ok. I've lived a long life."
I'm OK!" I told him that if he's ok, I'm ok. Later, my husband took my children to see myfather, and they all got emotional and cried too.
After everyone left, the nurse told me that my father cried for three hours by himself, and when she tried to comfort him and asked why he was so upset, he said "I'm ready to go...but, I'm worried about Nancy(me)." From then on,I decided that I would NOT cry when I saw him...I would go in and have a smile on my face...and to be there for him if he needed to talk. He kept saying to me "Who knows, I might die tomorrow, but then again, I might be here next year..I'm going to fight this!!" It broke my heart to not be able to tell him that he would NOT be here next year, but I just couldn't tell him.
The amazing thing was, my dad didn't really LOOK sick...definitely NOT like a dying man. It was very hard for us to go there every day and see him sitting up, eating, talking, laughing, etc. His mouth was still very very sore (we found out that it wasn't thrush, it was Herpes Simplex 1 or 2..whichever one causes cold sores...his mouth and throat were just one huge open cold sore). They were trying to treat the mouth, but it wasn't getting any better...but besides that, my father was not in pain.
I went in the next day, and I said "How are you doing?" and he told me not too good. I asked him why, and he says "I'm dying!". I couldn't believe he said that...I told him..well, who knows? And besides, it could be worse....he asked HOW could it be worse? And I told him...because you could be in pain...and you're not, not really. He agreed that that was true. And from then on, we talked, good, wonderful talks...but not sad talks...Talks about him being ok, and me being ok, and that he was ready to go.
The next Friday, they moved him to long term care..supposedly he wasn't "sick" enough to be on the medical floor anymore. I had no option to bring him home with hospice...I am the only person here, and I just couldn't take care of him alone. Once in long term care, he still looked good, but you could tell he wasn't feeling all that well. They did blood tests every day,and his blood counts were doing ok...but he still wasn't feeling all that well. They had been giving him blood and platelet transfusions, and those seemed to be helping. In fact, at one point, my husband thought that the doctors were wrong...I personally never thought that. I just KNEW, in my heart, that they were right...this was the end of my fathers life.
On Monday, we went to visit the hospital, and my father was very nauseous, had thrown up what he could eat of his breakfast, etc. I told them to give him something for nausea, and they gave him a phenergan PILL...I wentoutside to smoke, and when I came back in, I heard my father yelling from down the hall. I went into the room, and there is my father, covered in vomit...but, it was dark brown vomit...it was blood. I knew that, the nurses knew that. He vomited blood twice on Tuesday too. We knew the end was coming. He was "bleeding out" as they say, because his red blood count and platelet counts were very very low. My father had chosen to be a DNR..but, to have everything done up to a ventilator and CPR....that included blood transfusions, etc.
I went in on Tuesday evening, and talked to my dad...I told him "Dad...I'm sorry, but this leukemia is beating you" and he said he knew it was. I explained that if they gave him more blood, all it would do is allow him to live another day or two...but that it would make him absolutely miserable, with the nausea and burning in his stomach. I told him, if we took him off of those treatments, blood etc, that we could put him on morphine, and let him sleep and relax. He said "Yes, that's what I want...th sooner I go, the better...I am suffering". That was the last thing we ever wanted to see..him suffering. We (my father, basically) made the decision to stop all treatments except for comfort measures. We (and the nurses) BEGGED the dr. to just put my father on a morphine drip and let him sleep. She REFUSED because he wasn't in "pain". I told the nurses, if he didn't have a morphine drip by Wednesday morning, I was getting another doctor...period! Wednesday morning, the dr.ordered the morphine drip. My dad slept most of the day...everytime he would wake up, he had the sweetest, most beautiful grin on his face. No pain, no suffering anymore...just a grin. I stayed at the hospital until after midnight and then struggled with myself as to whether I should stay, or go home and be with my son, who was by himself. One nurse finally said to me, if you've said your goodbyes, there is nothing you can do here...go home and get some rest, you only live 10 minutes away, if something changes, we'll call you.
I came home and called back around 1:30am...they had had to suction my dad earlier because of phlegm in his throat..but it hadn't seemed to help..only cleared him up for about 2 minutes, then the "rattle' came back. At 1:30 when I called, he was sleeping.
I got a call at 3:15 am, telling me that my dad was having periods of apnea, and that I might want to come. On the way to the hospital, I was telling my husband...I don't know how I will be able to sit there as he takes his last breath. I have NEVER been strong when it came to my father...I loved him so very much, and never ever wanted him to be afraid or hurting. And to be in there during his last breath...well, I didn't know how I could cope with that..but of course, I WOULD be there...for him. Well,when I got to the hospital, they told me, he had stopped breathing about 10 minutes after they called me...which means, he passed away just a few minutes before I got there...he had taken care of me one more time by not making me see his last breath.
No one who knew me thought I would be able to cope with my father's illness and death...but I have done amazingly well. It's not MY strength that has kept me going...it has been my FATHER'S strength. As it was leaving him, it was coming into me...and he is still here with me, making sure that I'm ok...he is helping me through this.
Tomorrow is his memorial services...that will be so hard...but he deserves all the respect in the world, and I'm going to make sure he gets it.