January 5, 2011

Broken hearts

On October 18, 2006, exactly one week after the death of his mother, my dad was sitting in a doctor's office. He had been diagnosed with type II diabetes about ten years earlier, but because he had failed to properly take care of it, he was experiencing many side effects and related conditions. That day was a regularly scheduled check-up. The doctor was checking his heartbeat with a stethoscope when he stopped very suddenly, looked at my father, and asked "Do you not feel that?!" My dad was having a heart attack, and because of his diabetes-related neuropathy, he could not feel his body failing.

He was airlifted to the hospital where he spent several weeks recovering from his emergency quadruple bypass surgery and congestive heart failure. The recovery was especially difficult because of the effects of not taking his insulin, not losing weight or exercising, and continuing to eat poorly. In fact, he never fully recovered, and the neuropathy worsened in his hands and feet. He was forced to retire early from his job: he could not walk without a cane, and even with the cane he could only walk for a couple of minutes at a time before he became exhausted and needed to stop - also, his vision deteriorated, and he just couldn't make the half-hour drive safely.

A little over four years later, it's hard to remember what life was like before Dad became handicapped ... like how it was when Dad could go with us on family walks, or what it was like to go to the grocery store without having him follow in a motorized scooter. It's also hard to see the whole family seemingly unaffected by what has happened. Given the choice, I know everyone would choose to have Dad healthy and back to normal.fille à papa dès le debut But at the same time, no one has tried to encourage a healthier lifestyle - it would not save him or make him as capable as he used to be, but it would help him feel a little better. In fact, we've all continued to eat poorly, remain sedentary, and gain weight - and I am guilty of this myself.

It took me nearly four years to realize that I was on a fast-track to the same exact situation as my father. I'm trying my absolute hardest to stay on the right path and hopefully avoid a similar situation. And so it really hurts to go back home and see my father free-falling into what he has accepted as his fate. For many people, being told what they ought to be doing is often a catalyst for their doing the exact opposite, and my father is no exception to this. It hurts, because this is not the same as being told to clean your room and refusing. This is huge. This is his life, and he's not willing to make a few changes in order to live longer. Changing habits is hard, but staying the same is easy - even though staying the same worsens his condition.

For the past few months, I've had a recurring nightmare: we sit down at our kitchen table for a meal, and then I start screaming at my father, telling him that he'll never meet his grandchildren. The meaning is obvious, and I'm very glad that they were nightmares and not scenes nestling in for later moments of déjà vu. At many points in my trip, I thought they would come to fruition, and I found myself very conflicted: I cannot scold or lecture - I am the child, not the parent - yet I cannot sit there and watch him eat the way he does without saying something. My father's eating habits are horrible - unhealthy for even an average person, but someone in his condition medically? It's killing him - and that kills me. His broken heart is breaking mine.


Amy said...

Wow, that's so difficult and I can completely relate to how that feels.

My Dad's side of the family isn't filled with very many men, because most of them have died. His father died when I was 2(from an unknown cause because there was no autopsy), and both of his Uncles died from heart attacks at fairly young ages a few months apart.

My Dad used to be fairly overweight - not obese but overweight and he didn't care about what he ate. He was extremely active growing up so I think that helped in his favour for him never getting so big. I used to bug him all the time growing up about how he had to smarten up - even at a young age I knew that he was heading to his Uncle's fate. I had this deep-routed fear in my heart. Every time I would say something he'd make some joke about dying like, "Don't worry I'm insured". It broke my heart.

At some point while I was in high school he found out he had high cholesterol. I'm not sure what happened in that doctor's appointment but I think the Doctor scared the crap out of him, because he completely changed his eating habits. They weren't great but he started eating Cheerios, having dry toast, and made some changes.

About 6-8 months before my brother died my Dad started having chest pains, which he attributed to his ongoing back problems - a similar pain he had been having for years. When it got bad in the chest, he went back to his doctor and she gave him Nitro for whenever he was having chest pains. At first the chest pains only happened when he was being active - and everyone teased him... me I worried. We'd go for a bike ride and he'd end up walking because he was in so much pain.

Fast forward to my brother's death and the pains just escalated, and he started having them even when he was just lying down. At my mom's doctors appt. she asked her if it was normal that he was taking the Nitro 3-4 times a day. She was in shock and said it should only be taken that many times a week and scheduled him an angioplasty right away.

Usually he'd have to wait months, but she got him put to the top of the list and he went about 2 weeks later. I remember just having this bad feeling and took the day off work.

When my Mom called that day I knew it was bad, and my Dad had been bumped to high-priority and on 07/07/07 he had his triple bypass. The doctor's wouldn't even let him leave the hospital after his angioplasty because he was described as a "ticking time bomb". The doctor told him that even if he ate healthy he would have ended up there because of his genes.

So now ever since he's still careful but he has this "it's my genes" thing in his head. I wish he'd try harder - but men are stubborn. It's been almost four years, and I see him slacking. I know he smokes behind my back. I know he could try much harder.

I know you're dad is on a faster track and more serious condition, so I can't imagine how amplified your feelings are comparatively to mine. I think the scariest thing about growing up is knowing that eventually we'll have to face the idea of our parents dying.

It's life - but we can only hope and pray that it's much later than we fear.

Nagging never helps, but I definitely suggest you tell your dad how you feel, because if you don't and something happens you might regret it for the rest of your life.

Unknown said...

Mary, this post was like deja-vu for me. My father - exact same situation. Everything. Except that after his surgery he suffered a stroke 4 days later and lived only 6 weeks after that. He went from being the strong, Superman hero I'd always known to not being able to remember my name and completely broken, both physically and emotionally. It was shortly after his death that I decided to start losing the weight (I was at my heaviest at the time of his death). It's never too late to begin, and sometimes even a crisis like your father's isn't enough to shock people into a better lifestyle but you set a very strong example and give your family a lot to think about, whether you realize it or not. Stay strong; you are a good role model.

Anonymous said...

Your situation is similar to a lot of "kids" whose parents don't take care of themselves. Lastnight on The Biggest Loser, there was a team of twin brothers and one of the brothers talked about what motivated him to get on the show and lose weight and his reason was because of his son who basically disowned him after repeatedly telling his father that he wanted him to be healthy. The son decided it was easier to cut his father of out of his life rather than watch him die slowly of morbid obesity.

It's sad, and if I were in your situation, it would piss me off!

In a way it's a lot like my sister and me. She's a year and a half older, smokes like a chimney despite watching family members suffer with emphyzema and lung related illnesses because of smoking, she drinks canned cokes all day and night (lastnight I heard her pop a can open at like 11:30!!!). But nothing I say helps..she has to find her own "Holy shit.." moment that makes her say ENOUGH is ENOUGH.

I hope your dad finds that moment but something tells me that after what he went through, if he hasn't found that moment, he never will. Maybe a nicely written letter from afar sent to him with things such as "you will never meet your grandchildren" could do a world of good?

Ann (-50 lbs in -60 lb challenge) said...

My sister took up cigarette smoking. She smokes heavily, and knew better before she ever picked up that first cigarette.

Our parents smoked as we were growing up, and she was the most vocal and angry over their smoking habits. She detested it. And all the angry confrontations did absolutely nothing to change their habits. (Dad eventually quit on his own, decades later.)

Now? My sister's house is so heavy with smoke, my brother's children don't even want to visit that aunt anymore.

Our mother died - too early - of smoke-related heart disease. My sister smoked in Mom's house, as we were planning the funeral, sitting on the same couch where Mom had passed away just days before. The reality of Mom's early death did nothing to give my sister pause over what she was doing.

Untimely Death, as it turns out, is almost always perceived as something that happens to "other people" or is so far into the future (we think), that there is no impetus to make significant changes today.

It is hard to watch.

Retta said...

I'm so sorry you are experiencing this. Especially since it's someone you love dearly. And all the attending emotions... anger, hurt, frustration, fear, love... so hard.

I agree with the other commenters, in that there really is nothing WE can do to change that other person we care about so much.

I also agree with the idea of sending a letter. Except, I would fill it with my honest feelings of love, my hopes and dreams for this person, my support, and love and care. Not in an attacking way or threatening them with dire consequences way.

That hasn't worked yet... why would it work now?

For me, I know "negative motivation" never worked. But love, acceptance and support is powerful.

And it may be... he has chosen his way, and doesn't WANT to change, and this is a thing you must learn to live with...? And instead, focus on those things you love about him, and treasure THOSE memories.

And YOU break the cycle. And pass on to the next generation the gift of health, and the knowledge that they don't have to bow down to "genes". But the genes are simply the bullet sitting in the gun. It is our actions, choices, that contribute to whether or not the trigger gets pulled.

May you find peace in your heart over this.