It’s now six weeks since my father had his stroke and three weeks since he passed away.
My dad had a full life. He passed away at 86 years “young”, as my brother said during his eulogy. I want to share with you what happened at the end.
When I got the news that my father had a stroke, I was not home. I was at L’Oreal getting my hair colored. Yeah, I know you all thought my hair was still completely untouched by gray. I left there at around 5 PM and saw I had a message from my brother. He left word telling me to call that it was urgent. My brother never uses the word urgent not even when his wife who was extremely ill from breast cancer and chemotherapy. I knew something horrible had happened. I called him back immediately and learned my father had a massive stroke.
I arrived to Ft Lauderdale at midnight and by 1:30 AM I was in the ICU unit with my mother and nephew. There was dad laying there with IVs in him. His eyes would open now and then but it didn’t seem like he could see us. His right side was paralyzedhi and he was able to move his left side, which had lots of strength. He actually looked good; he had color in his face but it was hard to see him laying there like that, not knowing what he could hear, what he could understand and what the prognosis was. His was moving one leg over the other. The nurse said it was an involuntary action.
Dad got to the hospital in less than an hour after his stroke. Many of you know about the miracle drug, TPA, the clot buster that can only be administered if it’s less than three hours after the stroke. Dad was a candidate for this drug, which can reverse the stroke. The risk was he could bleed out and die. My brother who is a doctor made the decision to go ahead realizing it was worth the risk. The stroke didn’t reverse; Dad didn’t bleed out and die. It had no effect at all.
The days passed and we went to visit him three times a day at all the ICU visiting hours, which were brief. One day I started singing songs from Fiddler on the Roof (and if you know me, you know I can’t sing – in fact, a doctor walked over to me in the ICU unit and wondered where the horrible sound was coming from) In any event, my dad was moving his hand and leg to the song. He even at times lifted his hand and was moving it as if he was conducting.
When I knew he could hear, I went out and bought a Walkman and brought in his Frank Sinatra tapes for him to listen to. He continued to move his hand and leg to the music.
Dad had a living will and often spoke about how he didn’t want to be kept alive or put in a nursing home. The days passed and dad was getting more and more black and blue. He was now on a blood thinner because they were afraid he would have another stroke. He was also developing his first bedsore and had a fever from a urinary infection caused by the catheter. He was being fed by a feeding tube running into his nose and down the back of his throat to his stomach.
They kept his left arm, the only one he could move strapped to the side of the bed to prevent him from pulling out the tube. When we would arrive for our visit we would unstrap it so he could move his arm. The entire time we were there he never once tried to pull it out. He would often reach up and gently scratch or touch his face or nose or forehead, avoiding the tube in his nose as if he knew it was there.
Eleven days had passed since his stroke and he no longer qualified for the ICU. All his vital signs were good. We met with the neurologist who told us the prognosis was bad. At most, maybe one day he would stand but the severity of the brain damage wasn’t clear. Maybe he would be able to say a word but what his cognition would be is unclear. He knew Dad had a living will and recommended hospice.
I have to admit I was still hanging on more than my brothers or mother. I wondered if we had given him enough time to see if he could come out of it before pulling the plug.
We kept Dad in the hospital that night. By the next day, mom made a decision to transport Dad to hospice where there would be no feeding tube and IV.
We met Dad there. The hospice aide shaved Dad’s face and cleaned him. He looked good and no longer was hooked to machines. He looked at peace.
That night I took pictures and even shot some video. The Olympics were on and Dad’s eyes were open looking at the TV. If you didn’t know he was in a semi coma and couldn’t speak, you’d think he was about to tell you to change the channel. Mom put her head on his chest and he rubbed her arm. It seemed completely purposeful but others have said it was an automatic response. I never agreed with that. I’m sure he knew it was mom.
I returned to New York for a few days to handle some things and got pretty sick – fever, cold, virus.
I volunteer in hospice with my dog and have seen many people dying in my life. My father was a funeral director so I grew up seeing dead bodies and never thought anything about it. But what I was about to experience was completely new and heart wrenching.
I returned back to Florida a few days later. My father had deteriorated from not having any nutrition or water. It was excruciating to watch him die so quickly like this. He was losing weight severely and his face was falling in. The color of his legs was becoming motley.
My elder brother, my mother and I were with him. I was going to sleep there that night but my mother thought it would be best if I slept at home since I was so sick. I was relieved. I was afraid to be there for his last breath.
The next morning I woke feeling much worse with a high fever. I stayed home and slept. In fact, I slept the entire day, something I never do, not even when I had malaria and 107 fever. It was as if I was intoxicated. My brother and mother returned late that night. They were distraught. My father’s feet were now blue.
We all went to bed. I woke at 5 AM feeling all healed. No fever, no stuffed sinuses, my energy was back. I started thinking that 9 hours had passed since they saw Dad and since hospice hadn’t call, then he was still alive. What did he look like now? My mother and brother woke and I asked both of them if either wanted to be with Dad when he took his last breath. They both said no, it would be too difficult.
I stepped into the shower feeling strong and healthy and started speaking to my Dad. No, he wasn’t there. He was at the hospice center. I kept saying, “Dad, don’t be afraid to let go. Don’t worry about mom. I will take care of her. You are looking like a corpse and it’s hard to see you like this. Please, Dad, you must let go and don’t worry.” I repeated this over and over. I stepped out of the shower and the phone rang. It was 7:45. The next thing I heard was my mother banging on the bathroom door, telling me not to wash my hair, dad died and we needed to head over there.
When we arrived, he was laying there with a rose on him. He was already feeling cold. He no longer looked like my Dad. I knew he was not there anymore and I was just looking at a shell.
I was curious to find out if anyone was with him when he had taken his last breath. The hospice doctor saw him a half-hour before he died. An aide walked in the room and told us she was with him when he took his last breath. It was exactly 7:45 AM. Coincidence?
I continue to speak to him as if he could hear me. Two days before he had a stroke he told me to hurry up and get married, that he wanted to come to my wedding. That was a tall order considering there wasn’t any candidate. When I do get married I know Dad will be there in spirit.
Dad is now at peace and has left me with a lifetime of wonderful memories. It is now time to celebrate his life and look forward to new beginnings.
Thank you for reading this long story I so wanted to share.