Saturday, February 06, 2010

You Might Want to Sit Down for This

these are words i never care to hear again, especially from my father, who called me the other week to say, “you might want to sit down for this. i went to the cardiologist and he said my heart has a clogged artery. i need to have surgery this friday to open it.”

thankfully, i had sat down, though i’m not sure it made the news any easier to hear. it sounded bad, very bad. my father was basically on the verge of a heart attack, had been FOR YEARS with a tightness in his chest that had been misdiagnosed as gas, as anxiety. the arteries sounded mighty blocked, if the doctor’s tests were to be believed. an angioplasty was scheduled and, if it didn’t work, pops would have to be rushed into a bypass, an open-heart surgery that had risks that made my head spin and hands shake.

pops sounded worried, so i was worried. he started telling me some things about taking care of my mother, that he loved me. the tears were already rolling off my cheeks. i sat frozen, stunned, speechless. this was an impossible situation because my pops is a superhero and heart problems only plague mortals.

“dad, i love you and you’ll be fine,” i managed to stutter through a cracked voice.

friday came and we were all nervous as hell. my mom, sister, Mo and sister’s husband sat in the waiting area waiting impatiently while trying to distract each other from the fact that we were waiting impatiently. we played Scrabble and Rummicube while checking the clock wall, which indicated that the surgery was taking longer than expected, first by 10 minutes, then 20 minutes, then by an additional hour. still, no word from the surgeon.

my hands started shaking again while my head was reeling with an imagination that i couldn’t get a handle on. with mom already teetering near meltdown mode, i had to get it together. “G.I.T., girl,” i repeated to myself. Get It Together. stay calm and don’t panic unless there’s a reason to panic.

finally, the surgeon appeared. his white outfit made him look like a butcher. we quickly gathered around him, arms folded across our chests in a mirror image of each other, the dent in our brows creased, eyes searching his face for reassurance.

“the surgery went well,” he finally said. i let out a deep breath, my first in days. the surgery went well. mom was crying. doc was talking, telling us about the three out of five arteries around my pops’ heart that were clogged 99%. i wish that were a typo, but they were clogged 99%. my pops is only 62. we were mortified.

“i imagine your husband has enjoyed a rich russian diet of vodka, caviar and beef tar tar for many years,” doc tells my mom. and he’s absolutely right. i don’t recall seeing my pops order anything but steak at a restaurant. nor do i recall him eating any vegetable beyond a potato, usually a baked one with his steak that’s piled high with butter and chives. family suppers at home always feature cold cuts, cured russian sausages, smoked fish, herring in sour cream, a cheese plate and a variety of barbecued meats. vodka and red caviar also made an appearance.

exercise did not. beyond looking for the remote so he could change the channel (usually to Fox News, just to piss me off), i’ve rarely seen my pops exert himself. he had no hobbies that kept him active. he is not a nature guy or rugged outdoorsman. he is a sports nut with a big-screen TV and leather recliner, which he rarely parts with. why had i not recognized this as a problem before? why do i need this doctor to point out the fundamentally obvious?

mom is thinking the same thing, i can tell. it’s not like pops does much of the cooking at home. doc is saying that pops needs to make major lifestyle changes, his diet among them. we are all nodding. we are sorry it came to this. we will make it better, we promise. pops will also need to take blood-thinning medication for the rest of his life.

one more thing, doc says, before leaving us: the catheter attached to my pops’ heart during the surgery several times sucked out copious amounts of cholesterol and fat that surrounded his heart. this is a rare sight, doc says. we hang our heads in shame. we are all changed people now.

we visit pops in his hospital room, where he’ll be spending the night. he’s awake, cheery, drinking cranberry juice and waving us all in. we huddle around him, like we usually do. he’s says he’s hungry, but only for food that’s good for him. he can live without the steak dinners. and he wants to live. my mom’s not done with him yet, she says. she ordered two rocking chairs for the porch, where they will sit and grow old together. he’s onboard with that plan.

i lean down to kiss him and stroke his graying hair. it’s thinner now. i hold his hand. my superhero. he’s looking up at me, smiling, looking happy, looking different.

“do me a favor, eh?” he says.

“anything, pops.”

“don’t get old.”

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