In the movies, you get the quick montage that, in seconds, makes the long surgery wait both dramatic and feeling like an eternity has passed. Back here in the real world, there simply weren’t enough distractions to make the time pass by quickly enough.
A few weeks ago, I had entered a new chapter of my life that I called, “My Father’s Triple Bypass.” There I sat in my parent’s garage realizing my dad could die from this operation. With diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney failure and a history of stroke and minor heart attacks, the doctors hadn’t given him very good odds.
We arrived at the hospital around 7 a.m. the next day. It was the first time I had seen him since last December, and he seemed more ashen than usual, his eyes puffier and his cheeks a bit more hollow. While, physically, he seemed weaker, verbally, he was his usual self. He bickered with mom, as is their habit. He didn’t show any signs he was nervous or concerned. He was never one to show much emotion outside of yelling at sports teams and nodding when I got high grades. “Wow, he’s really nervous,” Mom whispered while the nurse took his vitals. I couldn’t tell one bit. Leave it to Mom to be able to read Dad’s subtle signs. This revelation also made me much more nervous. We waited with my father in his room for more than three hours, alternating between watching cable television and small talk. I figured out eight different ways to talk about the weather. Suddenly, people in scrubs appeared in the room to hurriedly wheel dad out to the surgery preparation room.
I met an entourage of new people, from the lead nurse to the doctor of anesthesia to the nurse-anesthetist to another nurse to the surgeon, etc.
Various machines and tubes got hooked up to my dad’s body. And in an instant, after a curt hug and some tears, the scrub-clad scrum of nurses whisked my dad to surgery. By the time I was able to collect my thoughts, the wheels of my dad’s bed had disappeared behind the double doors.
In the movies, you get the quick montage that, in seconds, makes the long surgery wait both dramatic and feeling like an eternity has passed. Back here in the real world, there simply weren’t enough distractions to make the time pass by quickly enough. Minutes still crawled by at a paint-drying pace, despite being immersed in a world of ubiquitous, easy-access Internet.
The wait did give me quite a lot of time to reflect on this concerning state of affairs. My dad was a cop in the Philippines and later retired from 30 years of service with the Cleveland Department of Public Safety. He knows a lot about a lot of things, but not so much how to live healthily. For my dad, like many other Filipinos who came to America for a better life, he brought with him his culture — a set of distinct values, likes and dislikes. In the Philippines, access to meat is a luxury. The average peasant family eats a lot of vegetables. They are cheaper and easy to grow. Cut to the U.S., where the meat is not only plentiful, but also extremely easy to access. Combine this with equally easy access to white rice and sweets, and you have what can be a lethal dietary combination.
I remember every dinner, dad always had a separate meal. The kids had veggies and meat. Dad always had the huge steak with rice. And not just a small portion of rice, but a heaping one. A 2012 Harvard School of Public Health study found that people who eat a lot of white rice may significantly raise their risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
In addition, the Philippines is not a very exercise-conscious country and rightly so. Just walking from your home to the nearest bus stop in 100-plus degree weather is in and of itself quite a workout! Who’d want to jog in the humidity of equatorial South Pacific? As a result, watching television and wandering around giant air-conditioned malls is an extremely popular pastime in the Philippines. I have semi-fond memories of visiting relatives in Manila and watching television in an air-conditioned room half the day and then walking around inside a gigantic mall for the other half. Cut to my father here in the U.S. The image of him watching television in his recliner is the first one I conjure whenever anyone says the word, “dad.”
My father doesn’t even have a history of diabetes in his family. The doctors all concluded that his sedentary lifestyle and poor eating were huge contributors to the development of his diabetes. And the diabetes was a huge contributor to his triple bypass. And his triple bypass was now a huge contributor to the agonizing wait in the hospital lobby.
But what else did my father know? He, like many others, came to the U.S. with the hope of making their lives better and improving situations for their sons and daughters. He knew working his nine-to-five, as well as his weekend job, was the pathway to that reality, all this at the cost of his health.
Looking back, I wish he could have realized this a little bit more.
Deeply, lost in my thoughts, I suddenly found myself staring at my dad’s surgeon. The operation was complete, and he had pulled through! They had wanted to do a quadruple bypass. But they were only able to accomplish a triple. They had also found a leaky heart valve. They fixed that, too.
He was in the intensive care unit on a ventilator, standard for these type of intense surgeries. The next step for dad is to wake up and breathe on his own. These next 24 to 48 hours would be crucial. The surgery was a thin, treacherous road on the side of a tall cliff. This next day or two would be a rickety, run-down wooden bridge across a long chasm.
This chapter, “My Father’s Triple Bypass” was now complete. Next is the chapter titled, “My Father’s Recuperation.”
To be continued…