How’s my dad doing?
Admirably, badly, decently. Poorly. Sometimes satisfactorily. And sometimes not.
The answer depends on exactly when you ask and where I am, alphabetically, on my list of valid responses. I’ve been cycling through this same set of words for the past six months. He was doing admirably after shattering his hip, then badly after a perforated ulcer left him septic. Then decently following two emergency stomach surgeries. Then his heart and kidneys started failing and he had to be put on a bunch of unpronounceable medications and intubated and plugged into a dialysis machine and opened up for yet another stomach surgery. He’s had pneumonia twice, a collapsed lung, numerous blood transfusions, and several thousand milliliters of fluid drained from around his chest. But between all the setbacks, there have been plenty of moments when his head would clear and his eyes would light up and the sound of his voice would fill the room with laughter, and our hearts with hope.
And so it’s gone.
A different day, a different word from the list.
The doctors warned us the path towards recovery was murky and would entail taking one step back for every two steps forward. Or maybe it was two steps back for every one forward. I don’t remember now. The ups and downs have been physically and emotionally exhausting for all of us – my dad, my mom, and my extended family who’ve spent countless hours in multiple ICUs, ERs, and LTAC centers across different states. We hit a brand new low, however, last month when his heart started failing again and we made the incredibly difficult decision to do nothing. We simply couldn’t put him through another surgery, so we gathered together to say our goodbyes. And I started looking for a new word, a once unthinkable word, to add to my list.
Then something crazy happened.
The doctors reduced my dad’s medications, and his condition stabilized. They then removed the ventilator, sat him up in bed, and made him start eating and drinking on his own. Within a few weeks, he literally went from lying on his deathbed in Utah to pedaling a stationary bike at a rehab center near his home in Idaho. He’s now strong enough to go out for an occasional car ride with my mom, where he’s once again able to complain about all the potholes the city hasn’t fixed.
To be clear, my dad isn’t out of the woods yet. Not even close. But the path ahead is at least spattered with sunlight. And if you were to ask me how my dad is doing today, I’d answer with a new word, a once unthinkable word, that I recently added to my list.