This is writing as catalog. Writing as journal. Writing as catharthis.
Maybe this is a blog post. Maybe it’s a memory. Maybe I just need to write.
On Wednesday, May 8th at around 10:50 am I texted my Mom to remind her that Owen’s kindergarten performance was the following night at 6:30 pm. I’d initially told her 7:00 and I wanted to clear up the confusion.
The text that came back – 10 minutes later – chilled me to the bone.
“Dad is vey ill. Ambulance here”
My stunned “What?!?!?” was answered with “Helicopter will come to golf course, that’s all I know”
There aren’t many times in your life that your heart beats so loudly that you’d swear other people can hear, but this was one of those times. Mercifully the meeting I was attending was just wrapping up so I went outside to call my Mom. When I reached her she was in hysterics and could only get out “stroke or heart attack” before saying she had to go.
Not knowing who knew what, I texted and called both my younger brothers. One knew (as little as I did), one knew nothing.
I spread what little word I had around my office and went to the car. My Mom initially let me know he was going to Piedmont, but later got diverted to Emory Crawford Long. Only once I got there and in the ER she called me back and told me Atlanta Medical Center.
My uncle was beeping in. He was en route too. Almost to AMC. Meet him there.
I pulled in past the ambulance bay and got his text. Room 21. Noted.
I went in the wrong entrance of the hospital. I left through an emergency exit and texted a brother – I don’t remember which one – the details I knew.
I saw Randy (my uncle) through the door. He peeked out to tell me how to get credentialed. It took too long.
It always takes too long.
Dad was on a gurney and in pain. Pale. Sweaty. Moaning a little to himself but trying to rest or close his eyes to the pain.
“We’ve got to stop meeting in ERs like this.” I joke when I’m really nervous. I was really nervous. This was a terrible joke.
He groaned again and I backed out in to the hall to talk to Randy.
Two doctors had examined him. Initial diagnosis was aneurysm and now two nurses were taking him for a CT scan.
As he was wheeled off, Mom arrived.
She looked OK, considering our earlier conversations. Flush and still in her jogging clothes.
I apologized for not getting to the ER sooner and she apologized for telling me the wrong hospital. Neither was necessary. Both were appreciated.
I could still hear Dad asking Randy “did they say aneurysm” when I first got there. I didn’t write that earlier, but I remember it. Or did Randy tell me that fact later? Was I really paying attention? I tried.
Doctors seen, in order, upon Dad’s return from the CT.
Corey, a nurse anesthetist, who thought Dad had a “Triple A” (abdominal aortic aneurysm) and started making Mom sign surgical consent forms
Dr. Sunaan (or something similar) – a surgical resident on the vascular rotation. He spoke only a sentence to my Dad before being called by Dr. Poindexter (the vascular surgeon)
Now it gets crazy. Corey is asking us about medical history – smoking (none), drinking (social) and past surgeries (we forget his shoulder surgery from a few years back). Dad answers “penicillin” from the gurney when Mom & I forget his allergy. His head is now below the level of the rest of his body. He is on his 3rd unit of saline. He has a minor heart attack while we are there.
It starts as pain in his left hip. He describes it “arcing” across his chest and now he has pain in his left shoulder. He arches his back and is a shade whiter than the sheet and two blankets warming him.
Saline is cold (or at least room temperature) and his body was already shivering before it convulsed. We won’t know it’s a heart attack until the following afternoon. We just know we want something to happen, something medical or surgical, soon.
We wait outside as they stabilize him with more saline and blankets. They don’t give him pain medication. His blood pressure is already too low but it’s being kept up by the saline.
We go back in and my Mom kisses his forehead and tells him it will be OK. He’s in the hospital and the vascular surgeon is on the way. Dad apologizes for being sick and tells the story I’ve already heard about how we got here.
Back pain. Shooting pain in leg/hip. Faintness.
“Neal, do you want me to call 911?”
My Mom had been on the phone with my youngest brother, Graham, but she hung up to call 911. Now I remember that he knew something and Thad, our middle brother, hadn’t.
I work in Midtown Atlanta. Graham is in Knoxville, Tennessee. Thad is in West Virginia. We are all scared and communicating by text for the next 2 hours.
Poindexter arrives. He tells my Dad, “You’re in a real pickle, Mr. Miller.” Neither my mother or I hear this. It is relayed to us the next afternoon by my Dad. He can remember Poindexter from that one conscious meeting while in the ER. I can’t remember Tuesday anymore.
Poindexter talks to my Mom & I in the hall while a curtain is drawn and they try to give Dad a Foley catheter. He screams and it sounds like a cat has been thrown in to a blender. I try to focus on Poindexter’s mouth to make sure there are two sets of ears listening to the prognosis.
Randy is in the waiting room. Only two family members at a time in the ER.
The stats, a la Poindexter:
Iliac artery is the size of a pinky. Dad’s is 7.5cm. That’s the size of a baseball.
Coronary artery has an aneurysm too. That’s only 3.5cm. They normally don’t operate until it gets to 5. They won’t be fixing that today.
98% mortality rate if either aneurysm ruptures. 90% success rate upon repair.
Going to surgery. Meet us upstairs.
We go in a separate elevator with the resident. Mom kisses Dad again as he’s wheeled in to the operating room.
We go back to the waiting room and wait.
I make two phone calls. One to Thad, one to Graham.
An hour passes and we get our own phone call. It’s the OR, surgery has just started.
It’s 4pm. We got to the ER around 12:30. Dad first went down at 10:30. Surgery lasts 2 hours if it’s elective. This is not elective. Time has no meaning apart from all our talking and trips to get bad break room coffee and to the rest room.
Another call comes just past 7pm. They’re done. Poindexter will be out soon to talk to us.
At 7:45 we talk to Poindexter and his nurse, Pam. They’ve repaired both aneurysms. Took them 90 minutes just to get to the first, but he responded so well they kept on going.
Does he have a brother? He needs to be checked.
When did his father have his aortic aneurysm?
What questions did we have?
Not enough, but we knew he’d be in for another 7-10 days. May have had a heart attack pre-surgically. Had to look out for heart, kidneys and infections.
We could go back around 9, if the nurses said it was OK.
Shakes and hugs.
An hour passes and Corey stops by. He is almost frenetic but he has nothing but nice things to say about Dad. He tells a story that cracks him up and says lightened the mood before surgery.
“How are you doing, Mr. Miller?”
“Oh, pretty good, considering the circumstances.”
This is how he approaches the anesthesia and the surgery. It works for him, the humor and the surgery.
We see him at 9:15. Corey has prepared us that he will look bloated because of the fluids. This is no preparation at all.
He looks like a drowned man, all sausage fingers and taut skin. He can barely open his eyes. He is still anesthetized somewhat, he is intubated and he is more handsome than I have ever seen him.
He is alive.
We both talk to him a bit, Mom and me. Neither of our voices crack. We both squeeze his hand and kiss his forehead and go home for the night.
He is alive.
That’s all I can write right now.
He is alive.