I lost my father on this day last year. Well, I consider June 24 as his actual day of death, but we didn’t disconnect his machines until June 25, and that is when he was pronounced deceased.
My father went to dinner last June 24, just a routine affair for the doctors at his hospital, hosted by local drug reps. He almost didn’t go, but then decided “what the hell.” Something different to do on an uneventful Tuesday night.
And then he choked to death.
He’d always prepared us for using a tracheotomy needle in case our little brother ever started choking – I still remember it taped inside his red felt-lined box on his dressing counter. How ironic that all the prior preparedness didn’t matter at all in the end. At least not for him.
He ran outside when he knew the food was lodged, and was followed out by my mother and the doctors at his table – quite a relief for my mother that the restaurant was full of people who knew what they were doing. She stood to the side, and watched in her personal horror as the heimlich didn’t work on him, as he lost consciousness, as they caught him when he fell and laid him gently on the ground. As her husband of 46 years turned pale and gray from lack of oxygen. The passing minutes were agonizingly slow, ticking by while waiting for the ambulance. They were in a rural area, so it took some time.
Time he didn’t have.
After almost an hour and twenty minutes, they finally made it to the hospital, and after another ten minutes, the ER doctor finally dislodged the food from my father’s throat. The color came back to his pallid skin. The heart was working but the brain was not.
They took him to ICU, and connected him to a number of machines, one of which was a ventilator. He couldn’t breath by himself; he had no reflexes whatsoever. The machines were keeping him alive.
Our family knew there was no way he’d want to lay helpless in a hospital bed. My sister felt almost like an intruder, invading his privacy by just sitting beside him and watching him in his dependency. I held his hand and whispered in his hear, begging him to visit me from beyond, because I wasn’t ready to lose him yet. But I knew I would. I really already had.
The doctors came in and again tested his reflexes. But there were none. None at all.
I am a person who is always filled with hope and faith and determination. Never give up. Never.
But I had known he was gone the night before – there was no question in my mind. There was no longer room for hope; there was no question. He had passed the point from which he couldn’t return. And I knew it.
He had been with us one minute, and the next he was gone. No time for goodbyes, or confessed regrets, or last affections shared.
We all sat beside him and watched the numbers flicker back and forth on the machines; watched his chest rise and fall as the ventilator sucked and whooshed while it did its work; heard the air enter and then escape his lungs – a mesmerizing sequence. My mother all the while making sure his feet stayed covered, gently tucking the blankets around him, as if it made a difference. Just like she’d always covered him for a nap, when he was alive to care about such things. She said he didn’t like his feet to get cold.
But my dad was already gone. We all knew it, and finally gave the word to proceed; after it had been determined that his organs had not survived the trauma – they were not to be harvested as he had always wished.
The nurse unplugged the machines and the ventilator stopped. There were no beeps, no drawn-out squeal when the heart stopped beating, like in the movies. Nothing that dramatic. Only the cold and total silence of knowing that someone you loved had left and was never coming back.
That’s what Pulling the Plug means to me. The final act which ends one chapter and begins another. Both for those who pass and for those left behind. The act which ends the life as we’d known it, and begins another for us, like it or not.
I miss you dad.