Tomorrow my father’s chest will be sliced open. His chest bone will be sawed apart with a very loud drilling machine. He will be hooked up to a heart and lung machine that will live for him for the three to five hours that it takes for the surgeons to sew four ‘new’ veins to the right side of his constricted, cholestorol-laden heart.Bypassing his clogged, falling apart heart supply.
My father is 72 years old. I am afraid for him.
My father doesnt drink or smoke. He has maintained a healthy weight for all the time that Ive been his daughter. He has better exercise habits than I do. He is not diabetic. He does not have high blood pressure. This should not be happening to my father. I am angry. Bitter. Afraid. Horribly, breathlessly sad. But I am also grateful. Because it is a minor miracle that my father is even having this operation at all.
You see, he is a very strong, very stubborn man. The blood supply to over two thirds of his heart is severely restricted. He could have had a major, no-second-chances heart attack at any moment. But he has very determinedly, very carefully, gone to great lengths to conceal his worsening condition from everyone. For over three years he has taken medication, hopeful that would cure him. He has carried with him everywhere, a bottle of nitro glycerin stuff to take when his heart seized up. Which he would take very discreetly to jump start his heart again. If he had chest pains, he would keep it to himself. If he got dizzy and faint, he sat down and kept it to himself. If he passed out and collapsed, he told us it was because he was ‘very tired’….Yeah right. And now, finally, he can hide it no longer.From us. From the doctors, From himself.
My father’s heart may be letting him down, finally and ferociously. But it has never let me down.
He has always been the listener. The father you could go to. With crazy harebrained schemes and ideas – and he would nod encouragingly, give advice, tell you to go for it. The father you could go to with every complaint under the sun. And he would listen. Concerned and captivated. There has never been any doubt of his love for me. For all of his children. He believes great things of all of us. He hopes for great things for all of us. He is my father, and I have always known of my place in his heart.
If the operation works, the surgeon tells us that my father will be ‘twenty years younger’. He will have buckets of energy and optimism that he hasnt had for many tired, slow, hard-to-breathe, years. My father tells his grandson that he will race him in the 200m when hes fully recovered. He wants to mow the lawn. And trim the trees in my sister’s overgrown backyard. He wants to paint the house and redo the roof. Oh yes, and he wants to translate my tsunami book into Samoan. He confides that his dream is to get a camper van and travel around NZ. Picking fruit. Working odd farm jobs. Seeing the sights. Living the slow fascinating life of the endless traveller. ( Ha…good luck getting my mum to buy into that one dad!) My father has many fleeting hopes that yesterdays impossibles, can be possible. After tomorrow. After his open heart quadruple bypass surgery. After his months of painful and tiring recovery.
Yet, although his voice speaks of tomorrows, in my father’s eyes I glimpse fear. Mirrored in my own.
Bringing us to this moment. As night falls on the last day my father will have on this earth – with a very tired, very choked up heart.
As our family draws closer (still with the sibling squabbling and scuffling that adorns EVERY family gathering!) – we will pray. We will fast. We will laugh and joke and tease. We will entrust tomorrows hopes in a very skilled cardio -thoracic surgeon and his team.
And in the strength of my father’s heart.