I spent last night in the emergency room.
No, I wasn’t the patient. I was there with my father. Which is a pretty big miracle.
Just over three years ago, my dad was one of those life shattering events I was talking about. The ones that came in four? In a stunning and unexpected move, he walked out on my mom and on our family. No one saw it coming and it, understandably, it has caused a lot of strain in our relationship. To put it mildly.
In the interval, there have been highs and lows. At first I was angry – really angry. Not only was he making a completely selfish move that would impact so many lives, but he was turning his back on his family in a time when I desperately needed my father. Gradually – very gradually – the anger lessened and a variety of other emotions took its place. Recently, I would say that the winning emotion is disappointment – disappointment that the father who raised me seems to no longer exist and instead there is a man who has completely gone against all the teachings, morals, and examples that I was taught throughout my life.
While it’s not an easy relationship, it has, over time, reached the point of civility. I knew that this week was going to be difficult as he (along with his fiance as well as my mom and her new husband) was coming into town for my sister’s college graduation (talk about a fun family gathering). However, everyone was determined to make it a nice, drama-free moment for my sister, and I wasn’t going to be the one that rocked the boat.
Not long after he arrived, my sister and I learned of some health problems that he had been having. Mostly to do with his heart and his blood pressure. While my dad’s never been in the best of health (or shape), the recent problem was a big deal because it meant that he didn’t pass his mandatory work physical.
I could see his anxiety as he was talking about it. His fiance was trying to get him to talk to another doctor and to buy a machine that would let him monitor his levels at home. My sister (who was graduating in exercise science) started to drill him and soon more and more stories were coming out – about light headedness, shortness of breath, and alarmingly high heart rates and blood pressures. It was clear that there was some type of problem.
We thought that it was a problem that he would deal with when he returned home. Then yesterday, after the commencement ceremony, we headed to my sister’s celebratory dinner. It was painfully obvious that there was something wrong. While he didn’t want to ruin my sister’s dinner, you could read the panic on his face as he kept saying that he didn’t feel quite right. We placed a call to our other sister (who is nurse practitioner), who, after hearing the story, urged him to go in and get checked out. After heading back to his hotel room to check his vitals one last time (which were, again, ridiculously high), we headed over to the ER.
I am somewhat amazed to say that I volunteered to go to the ER with him.
Despite the messy, complicated relationship that exists between us, I knew that having his daughters with him in the ER (yes, my sister volunteered to come as well) would be helpful in keeping him calm. I also knew that this was potentially a big step towards healing the seemingly irreparable breach that has formed in between us. While I may not like or condone any of his life choices at the moment, in the end, he is my father. And I can’t help wanting that breach to be healed.
It was a humbling experience. After taking his vitals at the entrance, they immediately took him back, did an EKG, hooked him up to all the monitoring machines, and started some medications. Watching my father cry while he lies on a hospital bed, connected to all sorts of equipment, is not a memory that I will cherish. And yet, it was a huge wake-up call. A reminder that life is fragile and often over too soon. A reminder of the fact that relationships are the most important thing in this life. A reminder of how essential it is to take care of our bodies. And a reminder of how connected the body and mind really are.
I didn’t expect that last one. While I am no doctor (the only daughter who didn’t go into a medical field), even my untrained eye could see the physical effects of my father’s mental agitation. As he literally started Spinning – if he didn’t pass his physical, then he couldn’t keep his job…if he can’t keep his job, then he can’t pay his bills…if he can’t pay his bills, he might lose his house – we could see the effects on the monitors, as his heart rate and blood pressure would spike. The medication could not have any positive effect on his body until he managed to quiet his mind.
They released my father in the early hours of the morning. While’s he not cured of this health problem, he is hopefully on the right path. Our relationship hasn’t magically returned to normal but it has taken a positive step forward.
And I have received a poignant reminder of the things that need to be prioritized in my life.