“J, I’m at the hospital now with your dad. He’s going into surgery tomorrow. Bypass surgery! I’ll call you back later!”
And with these words from my mother, I entered into a new episode of my life, which I call, “My Father’s Triple Bypass.”
If you’re not in the know, a bypass surgery is an intense operation that’s one of medical science’s last resorts in the fight against one of humanity’s deadliest killers: heart disease.
For whatever reason, the arteries that actually supply blood to the heart are highly susceptible to cholesterol and plaque build-up. When these vessels narrow, less blood feeds the heart, and that’s a big problem. A less invasive procedure exists called angioplasty. That’s when a doctor threads a balloon-like tube, called a stent, into the artery walls and expands the vessel so more blood can get through.
My father was set to receive his second-ever stent that day mom called. But his heart was much worse than the doctors had imagined – so bad, in fact, that they wanted to keep my dad overnight and attempt a quadruple bypass the next morning.
This brings us to the bypass. The surgeon will actually take a healthy vessel from a different part of the body, like the leg for example, and graft it from the main blood supply to the part of the heart needing blood, thereby “bypassing” the vessel that is blocked. A double bypass means they are attempting to bridge two main arteries in the heart. A quadruple means dad has some majorly messed up arteries. This kind of operation calls for a whole slew of amazing surgical feats, including opening up the chest cavity, the use of a heart/lung machine, and some incredible scalpel skills.
That evening, I hopped on the next plane headed to Phoenix, Ariz., updating my Facebook and Twitter with the news, and researched the hell out of bypass surgeries, from reading first-person stories to reading article after article about the latest advances in bypass technology.
Hearing my friends’ stories of their fathers’ bypass operations proved to be the most helpful in calming my nerves. That is, until talking to my mom on the trip from the airport back to their subdivision. She saved the worst news for last.
The doctors weren’t giving my father very good odds of surviving the operation.
This episode of my life titled, “My Father’s Triple Bypass” has a rather lengthy prologue called, “My Father’s Fast Living.”
Joaquin Uy grew up in a Chinese family in the city of Bacolod, located in the Visayas region of the Philippines – that’s the cluster of islands between the big island on top (Luzon) and the big one of the bottom (Mindanao).
My uncles and aunties always described my father as “the black sheep” of the family. He was always the one getting into fights in school. In fact, he barely graduated high school because he was such a troublemaker. Thus, it came as no surprise to many in the Uy clan that my dad became a cop, not just any cop, but a hard-drinking, hard-smoking, roughneck cop of Manila’s Western Police District.
When my family eventually moved to the U.S., dad eventually gave up the smoking, but not so much the drinking or the eating of very sugary, greasy, and salty foods.
Making matters worse was my dad’s very sedentary lifestyle, which consisted of walking from the home to his car, from his car to his office, his office to home Lay-Z-Boy, and then the living room back to bed. Repeat.
In his 50s, Dad had his first stent for an obstructed heart blood vessel. He also had a mini stroke, blocking a small part of his vision. He soon developed Type 2 diabetes in his 60s, which was the beginning of a quick decline. The diabetes should be no surprise, especially to Filipinos and Pacific Islanders.
According to a 2012 study by the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research and the University of California, San Francisco, Pacific Islanders, South Asians and Filipinos had the highest diabetes prevalence among all racial ethnic groups. Our rates were even higher than other minorities traditionally considered high risk, including African Americans and Latinos.
But the diagnosis actually was a surprise to many of us, as diabetes didn’t really run in my dad’s side of the family. This is probably why it appeared so relatively late in his life. Diabetes does run in my mom’s side of the family. As a result I have a few aunties and uncles on her side who have developed diabetes in their mid-to-late 40s.
The diagnosis should have been a signal to my dad to change his diet, maybe drink a little less alcohol. But my father kept on going with the foods that reminded him of the home he had left over 30 years ago. The diabetes quickly led to renal failure.
The kidneys’ job is to filter waste out of the blood. Excess sugar production ends up overtaxing the kidneys. It’s hard for them to keep up. If the sugar keeps coming, the kidneys eventually give up. My father lost his ability to pee.
This brings us to my dad’s poor odds for his bypass surgery.
If you are keeping track, my father has diabetes, renal failure, a past stroke and a past stent.
“The doctor also said that your dad may have had a mini-heart attack. What the heck is a mini-heart attack? His heart is only at 30 percent of its strength. How do you have a heart attack and not know? So maybe he needs a pacemaker too.”
Mom, confused and afraid, shared the worst of the grim news as we sat in the car parked in the garage.
A heaviness came over both of us, mixing in with the immense heat of the Arizona night. At that point, for the first time in this chapter of my life, I realized that my father might actually die from this operation. And that tomorrow may be the last time I see him alive.