If you read my post, ‘Drowning in the Darkness’, you may have learned that I lost my father very recently. Six months ago to be precise.
Fare warning this is long and it is raw.
This chapter of our lives began in December of 2016. Just a few days after Christmas. Dad was rushed to hospital in Alexandria. He was pale, in and out of consciousness, had no energy and was unable to lie down to sleep. His breathing had also become very shallow.
A couple of days prior to him being admitted into hospital, he’d visited his cardiologist for a check-up because he wasn’t looking well and was always out of breath, which was very unlike him. He had had multiple blood tests done, but the ‘TOP’ hematologist in the city, wanted more, before prescribing him any medication or treatment. His hemoglobin at that time had been 8. That morning in December, my mom put her foot down seeing how critical the situation was. I called the doctor non stop until he answered, to tell him of my father’s condition and his initial response was for us to send someone to his clinic later that afternoon to pick up the prescription. I told him, that wasn’t good enough, we insisted he go to a hospital. He instructed us to go to one in the Semouha area, where he has rounds. I rode with Dad in the ambulance and the person in the vehicle turned the oxygen on full and he was still struggling to breath.
He was eerily calm.
The ambulance was stuck in horrendous traffic. The sound of the sirens blared and filled the air, but no car budged. The ambulance crew asked me to make a decision to continue to the hospital ‘The Doctor’ had recommended with the risk of losing him on the way OR to the nearest one with a higher chance of arriving alive…
I chose the nearest one.
I couldn’t have my father’s death on my conscious … I wouldn’t have been able to live with that. I’d never have forgive myself.
When he was admitted into the ER, his hemoglobin had dropped to 4. He was at death’s door. His organs had begun to shut down and he was fading. He had stopped talking, his skin was turning a paler shade of white and was cold to the touch. My mother was in control mode and I her second in command. She told them his medical history, all the medications he was on and demanded to know what the prognosis was, without any sugar coating because she had a daughter who lived abroad that needed to be informed. After a full examination, they said they didn’t expect him to make it through the night. I will never forget that look in my mum’s eyes, when she turned to me and instructed me to call my sister and tell her to come home. I had been fine up until that point -nerves of steal. The moment I heard my sister’s voice I cracked and could barely get the words out, never had ‘come home’ been so hard to say. My throat closed up so tightly, it felt like I was being chocked.
The hours that passed, waiting to see him during the short visiting hour in ICU and for my sister’s arrival was nothing short of anguish. The seconds and minutes didn’t budge. It’s as if everything had been set in slow motion. I prayed . I prayed with every ounce of belief that I had that the outcome would be good, as well as for the best.
I even asked God to take years from my own life, to give to him, so that we could have more time.
When we were finally able to see him, Dad was on an incubator, a long tube had been inserted into his mouth, to help him breath, his eyes were not focused, they just rolled around looking at the ceiling. He didn’t know who we were. My mom and relatives, would talk to him, but my voice had retreated. My hero – my dad- had fallen. Roles had been reversed, we were now his guardians.
Sleep didn’t come to any of us that night. I was terrified of closing my eyes and being awoken by a call from the hospital. Perhaps if I stayed awake, I could somehow will, the call not come, was the subconscious thought that kept me awake.
My sister arrived shattered, nerve wrecked and full of worry. We were so happy to be reunited to support one another. The call never came that night…there was hope. We went to the hospital before visiting hours to persuade the ICU staff to allow my sister and our long time neighbor to see my Dad. They agreed. My mom said the minute he saw my sister, tears streamed down his cheeks. He was more alert than he had been when we had last seen him and was desperate to talk and to have the tube removed. A good sign.
Was the almighty granting me my prayer?
When we asked the doctors what caused his hemoglobin to drop from normal to 4. They informed us that Dad’s excessive use of Bruffen (a pain killer), eroded the lining of his stomach and that he had been bleeding internally for quite some time. That’s what caused his hemoglobin to drop and eventually led to his organs to start shutting down. They gave him blood transfusions along with many other medications and he seemed to be improving – BUT hospital test results showed he had Chronic Leukemia.
Our Hearts… plummeted…
We knew that if we shared this information with him, he would have given up. So we agreed to keep it from him – until he was strong enough and needed to know.
My Dad stayed in ICU for 7 weeks! They had stopped the bleeding in the stomach, but there was a secondary source of bleeding that took several investigative procedures to locate. Once it was located and treated his hemoglobin began to climb and was able to go home.
The day I came home to see him sat in his chair, in the sitting room was a day of great relief, joy and gratitude.
My Daddy, was home! My Daddy, was alive!
The medical roller coaster had not come to a halt. It was set on full speed. The next two years had ups and downs that would churn anyones stomach, strike the strongest nerves and pull at your heart stings. It was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting for everyone involved. Never once did we forget how grateful we were to have him with us, thanks to the amazing medical care he had gotten. We were very lucky with doctors and all those that came to our aid and gave support.
My father left the hospital diabetic, so that took a lot of adjusting to. We had to make sure he ate the right food, and we got the dosages right. We had to learn the signs of when his sugar was too low and have sugary treats at the ready, just in case.
His heart and kidneys weren’t working as well as they had. His body would retain fluid and he would have to be readmitted into hospital multiple times to try and extract it. Eventually we were left not choice but to start dialysis. It took two months for the machines to extract over 40 Liters of water from his body. He was told that he had to limit his intake of liquid, which was not something he ever got used to. He was a BIG tea drinker.
When the water had drained, He was so frail. So thin. He had aged so much. For the first time, I saw my dad as an old man.
Dad’s spirit was strong. He truly believe that he would be back on his feet, driving his car and would be ready for duck hunting season. He would clean his shot gun and assemble it every other day, to prove to himself, that he was getting better and stronger. He would climb the stairs outside the apartment until he was able to reach the landing of the floor above. My father had always been an active man. He would always be the first up in the house, even if he went to bed late. He would always be bustling and rushing around doing things. He felt trapped in the confines of his home. When I would visit, I would do my best to take him out for a drive or a meal. Some days he would gladly do so with his stick or roll-ator. Other days, he was too weak and down to attempt it.
Over time his kidneys started to fail and dialysis sessions were increased. He went 3 times a week. He hated going, he saw how unwell others were and he didn’t believe he was as bad. Then one day, a man on the machine next to him died in the middle of the session and this struck fear in him, that it might happen to him and that no one from the family would be with him.
The final blow to his will to live came in the summer. His white blood cells had climbed so high, that we had to tell him, he had Leukemia. We needed to start giving him treatment. We knew he would be mad and we knew that once we started his immune system would drop and his deterioration would be rapid, because of his multiple health conditions. When he was told, he was furious that we had kept it from him. It didn’t take him too long to forgive us. I still think we did the right thing.
From that time on wards, we spent as much time with him as we could. We told him everything we needed to say. We went through old family pictures together and wrote the names of everyone on the back so our history wouldn’t be lost. Something I had previously thought we would had plenty of time to do. I took loads of photos of him with us, with his childhood friends and videos of him telling us stories he had suddenly remembered. So, that our memories would always be able to remember how he looked and the sound of his voice.
The last two months he was in and out of hospital more times than I care to recall. For fever, chest infection, pneumonia, shingles and finally paralysis from the waist down. Every time the phone rang or a call from my mother came, my heart would skip a beat. The day, THE call came I was in class. When I saw my mum’s name, I knew. Her voice on the other end confirmed it. This call unlike previous ones was the toughest of all. I was trying to remain poised in front of my colleague and students, as my mother informed me of how grave his condition was, and that if we were truly kind, we would let him go, so that he would no longer have to suffer. We unanimously agreed to a DNR.
We all made our way home.
I was the first to arrive and made it in time for visiting hours at the ICU. His cousin, my aunt, my mom and the night nurse were there. I didn’t recognize my Dad, it had been 2 days since I’d last seen him. He had deteriorated beyond recognition. He didn’t know who I was…. my heart broke. My voice once again retreated. I couldn’t speak. I could only hold his hand and kiss his forehead to let him know that I was there. They had to tell him it was me, and when he spoke… He asked about my cat! My CAT! I couldn’t help but laugh.
He spent 2 nights in ICU drifting in and out of consciousness moaning in pain, barely eating or talking. When he did it was garbled. This was the most difficult thing I have had to bare witness too.
On the 3rd day, he was as alert and as sharp as a whip.
We knew what this meant.
It was HIS time.
We braced ourselves for the inevitable that comes to us all.
He recognized me for the first time in days and turned to me and said ‘Give me a kiss. Thank you, for everything you have done for me. I am so proud of you, and I love you so much, but please let me go. I am suffering and I am in so much pain.” He had one last request of us and that was to take him home, to die in peace in his bed.
I in-turn told him how much I loved him, how proud I was of his long 2 year fight and that we couldn’t ask any more of him. He was the strongest and bravest man I knew. He had my blessing to go and to be with his creator. It was the saddest day of my life, but a beautiful one too.
We carried out his wish. It was an arduous battle getting him released from the hospital. They weren’t keen on allowing him to leave, but we were relentless. That evening he came home and we called all those that were dearest to him to come and share the last moments with him. Those that couldn’t make it, called and said their final farewell over the phone. I think it was the best send off anyone could ask for.
Not many people get the chance to be surrounded by all their family when they die and others don’t get the closure and miss out on saying good bye. We did. We had two blessed years. We were there for him and with him right to the very end. I couldn’t have asked for anything else.
My father died at dawn the following morning. Our hearts ached, but he was at peace.
Our Captain had gained his angel wings. He was free from suffering and laid to rest.
We are still going through the cycle of mourning. It is different for each of us. I am the eldest so I feel the most responsible and tend to put my feelings on the back burner, to lend support and strength to everyone else. I recognize that it’s a way of not facing my loss and to suppress the grief. When my guard drops, it hits me in waves.
I miss him terribly. We all do.
Death is so much harder for the living friends and family members that have been left behind.
This experience taught me something, to never take any of our loved ones for granted. Make every moment you have with them count. Cherish the memories you make and make as many as you can. If your instinct is telling you to call and ask about someone, DO IT. If you have any qualms with anyone make your peace with them, because you may not have the chance tomorrow.
In loving memory of our Bulbul Pops- Allah Yerhamak.