FOCUS: ‘Say Something,’ The story of my father’s strokes

I awoke to my alarm at 6 a.m. that morning, just as I would any other day.

I had a shower, styled my hair, spent too long picking out what to wear and drove to work, just as I would any other day.

I arrived at work and got a coffee, just as I would any other day.

I left work at the end of the day, just as I would any other day.

But something was different about that day.

I had a call from my father’s employer, saying they hadn’t been able to get in touch with him.

This was the second time I’d had such a call.

Seeing as he works from home, I didn’t think too much of it the first time. But twice? This had never happened before.

The first time I knocked on Dad’s door, he took a while to get up to open it.

"Your work is looking for you, Dad, is everything OK?" I asked.

Dazed and seemingly tired he nodded that he was alright.

"Just feel sick," he said. "Do you need anything? Want me to grab you something to eat? Need any medicine?" I inquired.

"No," he said. He seemed quite out of it. But it was clear he had just gotten out of bed, and he said he was sick so, at the time, I didn’t think twice of it.

Away I went. But for the second time that week, I decided to go check on him.

Something felt different this time. I knocked. And knocked. And knocked again.

No answer. I could hear his dog, Sammy, barking inside.

His car was parked out front. He was home.

I found a back door open and went inside.

"Dad? Are you here? Everything OK?" I said, for what felt like the hundredth time.

Silence. I felt a pit in my stomach as I just knew something was wrong.

The door to his bedroom was closed, Sammy, still barking loudly from inside.

I opened the door to find my father in his bed with the dog.

It was clear he hadn’t been out of bed for some time.

Sammy was jumping up on me now, barking aggressively. And he is a small, gentle dog. He was clearly trying to communicate with me, to tell me something was very wrong.

"Dad? What’s going on? Are you alright?"

No answer.

My dad just turned his head toward me with glazed eyes.

His gaze quickly went back to staring at the wall.

"Dad? I don’t understand what’s going on? Did something happen? Are you upset?"

No answer.

"Are you angry with me? Have I done something?"

No answer.

"Dad, I don’t know if something’s wrong or if you’re mad at me and want me to leave. If you say something, and I know you’re OK, I’ll leave. But I will NOT leave until you say something."

Silence.

"Dad. Please just say something. Please," I pleaded.

I continued asking questions for several minutes.

The only response I got was the occasional glance my way.

Dad’s eyes would gaze into mine, with an empty look, then he’d look away again.

Out of instinct, I called my godmother, Debbie, who also happens to be a nurse. Whenever I’m afraid or something goes wrong, I call her.

I went outside for a moment and told her what was happening.

She could hear the fear in my voice. I took the phone inside, and put her on speaker phone.

She asked my dad a few questions and again, he would not respond.

"Amy. Hang up the phone and call 9-1-1," she said calmly.

I was anything but calm. I could’ve screamed.

I called, waiting on the phone with the 9-1-1 operator.

She stayed on the line with me, asking questions, which I barely remember.

The fire department was the first to arrive. Then the paramedics.

They, too, had a plethora of questions.

"Is this normal for him?"

"Does he have a history of depression?"

"When did you see him behaving normally last?"

"Does he live alone?"

And on and on it went.

They took him out of bed on a stretcher.

He wouldn’t speak. He wouldn’t stand. I later learned it wasn’t that he wouldn’t – he couldn’t.

One paramedic took me aside and explained they weren’t sure what was going on.

"I can’t say for certain, and I don’t want to alarm you, but your father may have had a stroke."

Everything was a blur for a while after that.

As the ambulance rushed him to hospital, I rushed to meet him at the hospital.

My brother wasn’t far behind me. There, on a stretcher in the emergency room, my dad was actually speaking. Not much – a word here or there. But words were coming out.

He didn’t really seem to recognize my brother and I. Those empty eyes. I’ll never forget those empty eyes.

We waited. And waited. Tests. More tests.

No one could tell us anything for certain.

A stroke? Perhaps. We’re not sure, they’d tell us.

Then, they moved Dad into a private room.

It had been a stroke. That had been confirmed.

A neurologist approached my brother and I. A nice man. Kind and gentle in his demeanor.

He asked us to have a seat. There was a clot in Dad’s brain, he explained slowly.

I’ll never forget how close my brother clutched me at that moment. It’s not something he does often.

My head fell as I began to sob in my brother’s arms.

The doctor went on to say it wasn’t clear how large the clot was. But it was in a very troubling spot. I can’t recall exactly what he said, but it was in the entrance to the brain.

A spot where, if it burst, Dad could die. I felt like I was out of my own body, watching myself on TV.

My brother clutched me even tighter. I don’t know if he did it to comfort me, or himself. Perhaps both.

The doctor then explained that because we didn’t know how long ago the stroke had hit, some medical measures were no longer available to us.

I realized at that moment that he was preparing me for the realistic chance my father was going to die.

He. Might. Die.

Those words kept repeating over and over in my mind.

I didn’t hear anything else he said.

All I could think was that I should have checked on Dad earlier. Earlier that day. Perhaps even the day before.

The doctor said he had likely experienced what’s called a TIA – in essence, a mini stroke – earlier in the week.

He hadn’t been sick when I stopped by to check on him that first time.

He had been hit with small strokes, but was still functioning.

"It’s my fault," I told myself over and over. "If I had checked on him earlier, this wouldn’t have happened. How could I not notice when I saw him earlier in the week? This is MY FAULT."

I wanted to scream. I wanted to go back in time.

Never in my life had I felt such guilt. Such responsibility. Such regret.

When the doctor finished speaking to us, I broke down.

I called my mother and didn’t even get a sentence out before she realized how bad things were.

She hung up and rushed to the hospital. When she arrived, I saw her running toward me. She appeared to be in slow motion – at least to me, at that moment.

I honestly don’t remember much else that night.

I went home and hardly spoke another word.

I remember people in my life telling me that he’d get better. Strokes are common. Just give it time. He’ll be OK. I know someone who’s had a stroke, and they’re fine.

I didn’t want to hear any of that. I felt like I’d already lost my dad. And this wasn’t just "a" stroke. There had been several. In multiple areas of the brain. And he had laid there, alone, in his bed for who knows how long.

Early intervention means all the difference with strokes. And Dad didn’t receive early intervention.

I pictured him alone for hours, maybe days, lying there.

Confused. Or maybe he wasn’t confused, maybe he knew what was happening all along. How alone must he have felt? And I did nothing!

I hardly slept that night. How could I? Dad was alone, and likely still confused in the hospital. Unsure of where he was. Who knew what he was thinking?

In the days that followed, my life was spent at the hospital. I barely saw my children. I barely saw my husband. I barely showered. I barely talked to anyone, aside from my mother and brother.

As the days passed, Dad started to come back to us.

He came to remember my children, though he didn’t at first. Then he remembered how old they were. And on and on, the memories – and, more importantly, Dad – came back. One piece at a time.

Cognitively, he had many challenges.

Though a high-level computer programmer before the strokes, he couldn’t answer a simple math equation, like two plus two.

When he was asked simple questions, such as to name things that were cold, or things that were hot, he just couldn’t.

It was very hard to watch.

I recall watching his occupational therapist put a toothbrush, a comb and deodorant in front of him. She asked him to show her what to do with each one. For a long time, he couldn’t do it. He would just stare at them.

Even with verbal prompting, he couldn’t pick up a comb and run it through his hair.

I remembered sitting in my backyard the previous summer, with my children sitting on his lap, them laughing hysterically while he told them a joke.

I remembered him cooking eggs for my son in the morning when he would visit.

I remembered my son yelling, "Big Bubba!" every time he walked through my front door.

The contrast was more than I could take to think about for more than a moment.

But things continued to improve. I learned to celebrate the little victories. Eventually, he could brush his hair. He could put a shirt on by himself. He could put on deodorant.

The small accomplishments meant much more to me than many would understand.

And I started to get into a positive mindset for the first time in a long time.

I remember thinking everything was going to be OK.

Then, I got the horrible news. The news that my grandmother had been diagnosed with cancer.

It was bad. She didn’t have much time left.

I planned to go up to the Sunshine Coast a few days later to see her, as I had appointments with my father’s doctors that week.

I didn’t want to leave in case something happened with Dad. But I had to.

The morning my brother and I were set to leave, I missed a call from my cousin.

I knew what was coming.

I picked up the phone, called her back and she told me.

Grandma passed away that morning.

I was numb.

The first thing I thought about was how I was going to tell Dad.

He wouldn’t even understand, wouldn’t even be able to process this had happened. When he came back to us fully, and understood…

My heart broke. Over and over and over again. For so many reasons.

I thought things couldn’t get any worse. It felt as though I had no emotions anymore. I didn’t feel much of anything.

I was dealing with all of my dad’s finances, which wasn’t easy. I had no power of attorney. No one did.

And I certainly couldn’t ask for help from my dad’s family with everything that was going on, and had happened, with Grandma.

My parents are split up, and my mother helped tremendously. But when it came down to it, I was the only one to deal with things.

I had to apply for EI for Dad, but I needed the power to do so. Dad couldn’t consent to a power of attorney, so I had to get a representation agreement.

I had to get him out of his rental, as it was clear he wouldn’t be going back home anytime soon. And he had no funds to pay for it.

There was always something to do. Some paperwork that needed to be filed. On and on the list went.

I was drowning.

Then the day came where a second batch of strokes hit.

The hospital didn’t call to tell me. Or anyone else.

I arrived to visit Dad. His face was drooping on one side. He was slurring his words. He told me his arm wasn’t working. He told me he’d fallen the night before. He was extremely confused, seemingly he had regressed cognitively from the previous day.

I felt a pit in my stomach. I felt my throat close up.

It had happened again. I approached the nurse’s station on the stroke ward at the hospital and asked for his doctor.

She came to me and confirmed yes, he had another stroke.

This time, it hit him physically as well. He couldn’t move his left arm or leg. I walked into the hallway around the corner from his room before I went back in.

I leaned against a wall, as I felt light headed, as though I might faint. I slouched down to the ground and began sobbing. There were people all around, but I was almost oblivious to them at that point.

I called my mother again and she immediately rushed over.

Though my mother and father divorced more than 20 years ago, she still cared about him. And I knew her heart was breaking for me. She was watching me watch my father lose himself, and she could see the toll it was taking on me.

I could see the pain in her eyes when she arrived. It was painful for her to watch me in so much pain.

She knew things had started to get better, and now things were worse than they’d ever been.

For the first time in my life, I could tell that my mom didn’t know what to do, didn’t know how to help me.

This whole ordeal began seven months ago. Some good things have happened and a lot of bad things have happened.

It’s been a long, trying road. I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way. I’ve learned I have more strength than I knew.

I’ve learned my dad has more strength than I knew as well. I’m beyond proud of the motivation and progress he’s shown through his recovery.

There are days I feel as if I’m breaking. In all honesty, I feel broken most of the time. I suspect my father does as well.

In no way can I say I’ve emotionally recovered from what this horrible thing has done to me and my family. Nor will my dad ever be the same he was before.

But I’ve learned to stay positive, celebrate the small victories and remember what’s most important in life.

Family. I’ve lost part of my dad. I’ve lost my grandmother. Now, more than ever, I cherish the time I have with those I love, because everything truly can change in an instant.

areid@thenownewspaper.com

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