Saturday, April 2, 2011

One Hour

At 4:15 on Monday the twenty first of March, I heard that my father was dead. Pulseless. Not breathing. CPR in progress. Medications on board. Headed for the emergency department.  Every report was that Dad was not going to make it. My paramedic brain was recalling percentages and screaming that this was not survivable. As we packed rapidly, I couldn’t get hold of anyone but my friend Matt. He headed for the hospital to find out what he could. I spent the time knowing that as each minute passed, his chances of survival dropped. I called the hospital, but they had no information. Mom wasn’t answering her cell phone. Finally we left for Cedar Rapids. When we stopped for gas, I glanced at the time again. It was 5:15. One hour after I first heard. I finally got through to the emergency room nurse, she put me on hold to get my mother on the phone. My heart sank and I had to walk over to a wide open space with plenty of sky. I was certain that they were getting mom on the phone to tell me that he had died.


When I first heard the news of his cardiac arrest, my paramedic mind took over. With the information I was given, I knew that he was gone. It would take a miracle to even get a rhythm back. And even if they did, his brain would probably be irreparably damaged. I imagined what life without Dad would be like. Camping at the Island would be hard, as we had gone there together since I was a child. Canoeing would be a reminder of him.  So many memories of things we did.  Amazing, routine, simple, involved things that now raced through my mind.  It was like the end of a really great book where I can think of a thousand other things that could happen after that last page, but there were no more pages now.

My kiddos had birthdays approaching, and would not have their Grampa to celebrate with. The Boyo and I had been planning a rocket launch with Grampa using the rocket kit he had given us. My little Sweet Pea would have only the most vague memories of him, and they love each other so much right now. What hurt my heart the most was the thought of not being able to call him and share my latest crazy idea, or show him my latest creation. I have never questioned how my Dad feels about me. I know he loves me and is proud of me. I just couldn’t get my head around a world where he was not around to keep showing me that. His greatest gift to me was the desire to show my own children how much I love them and how proud of them I am.
While I waited for someone to speak on the other end, I thought that perhaps we should go home and get clothes for a funeral and close down the house a little better. There would be no rush if he was dead.

When Mom got on the phone, she was pretty incoherent which did not give me any relief. She handed the phone to another nurse who proceeded to tell me what had happened. At some point I interrupted her and asked if he was still alive.

“Oh. Yes. He’s going to the cath lab soon.”

I didn’t hear anything else of the conversation. Dad was alive. He had literally come back from the dead. He was not out of the woods. But he was alive, and I could drive safely. He was alive and I could breathe again. He was still very, very sick, and very, very critical. But he was alive after being dead for one hour.

In the whole of my life, it was probably the worst hour I’ve ever spent. I know the day will come when that one hour will extend to the rest of my life, because in the natural order of things a child should outlive their parents. For one hour I got a taste of what that will be like. It scares me and saddens me, and I pray it will not come again for a great many years. Until it does though, I will relish every day, every week, all the time I have remaining in this, my father’s second life. I have long appreciated what I have. The people in my life. The blessings I’ve been given. I will relish the memories that will still be made. This event has given me a new drive to create and enjoy. Create new memories with those I love, and enjoy every minute I spend on this side of the grass.

For one hour I was living in a world without my Dad. It gave me new respect for my friends who have lost their fathers. I felt like I was lost in a terrible fog. Dad isn’t just my father. He’s my best friend. The one who was always up for an adventure, no matter how seemingly crazy. Blacksmithing classes, flight school, paddling the Mississippi River. Dad was always in. For one hour, I believed that all of my future adventures would not include my dad, and that loss broke my heart.
For one hour, my world was devastatingly different, and while I know I would have eventually transitioned into a new world without Dad, I am thankful that this time it was only for one hour.

Welcome Back, Dad.

More Later

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Holy goodness, Shaffer family! I've just read the entire scoop here on your blog so that I could round out the emails you sent.

I have no words...

I'm limited in time but not in heart. If there is anything you need, call.

Jen

Steph said...

Well said, John. You took the words right out of my heart.

patresa said...

ugh. gut wrenching. can't even think about it with my own dad. so glad you have him back.