Scott L Praegitzer | home
Last Days With Dad
[I wrote this as a Narrative Essay while attending AiOnline for Winter Session ]
Last Days with Dad
Have you ever had one of those years where so much has happened that it is hard to believe that not even a year has passed? It has been one of those years for me; it seems like such a blur now. Last year at this time I was still married, my father was still alive, and daily life was routine and unspectacular. But so much can change in the instant of a phone call, like you have been placed into a slingshot pulled back to full extension of the elastic bands and someone is saying, “Better hold on.” Of course no one actually warned me that way, but the words “Dad has lung cancer,” had the same affect.
Being that my father had quit smoking years ago, I scarcely recall a time that he did smoke, and had become such a staunch “anti-smoking” advocate, these words were shocking and unbelievable. But this disease was a different type of cancer; viral, a term I had never heard associated with cancer before. My father down played the cancer when he called to break the news to me himself, stating “the doctors tell me I have a little cancer.” That was just the type of man he was, he didn't seem to complain much about his health issues that had continued to creep up on him over the years.
My father spent winters in the desert of California; a snow bird they call them when I lived back east, I guess they would be “rain birds” in the northwest; and we had planned a spring break vacation that would have us there at the end of March. The diagnosis came just a few weeks before this time and when I finally spoke to my father I offered to postpone the trip. He seemed relieved, I am sure he didn't want to be the one to suggest it. Such a strong willed man and never quick to admit defeat, I am sure this kind of concession would have weighed heavily on his mind in that sense. As our conversation drew to a close I steered the subject to business matters as I often did. As we discussed certain things having to do with property he owned, my mind was strangely eased when my father proclaimed “I can't worry about that now, I have more important things to focus on.” This was somewhat surprising coming from a man so intent on making a success of his businesses, but left me with a sense that he was going to pull through this “minor bump in the road” and things would be back to normal soon.
The next phone call I received from dad was only a week or so later, and he was very up-beat. He had just learned of a new treatment “study” that he had been accepted into and he was very optimistic. The treatment called for fluid to be drawn off the lungs and then sent back east to be used as a “serum” that would be reintroduced into his body in order to fight off the cancer.
At this point my recollections tend to blur as to the exact order of occurrences, but something happened and my father ended up being hospitalized. My father's wife had suggested that the “kids,” as we were always referred to, should come down and spend time with him. My brother, oldest sister, and I all made arrangements to come down and even as my sister was on the way to the airport we were all contacted that we should postpone our plans (at the doctor's suggestion). Well, by this time it was too late and we all kept our travel plans intact. My flight was scheduled the day after my brother and sisters, and when I was picked up at the airport I was informed that I would not be staying at my father's house, instead we would be put up at a resort hotel that was near the hospital. Some other things happened that seemed to put us (the children) on the outside with regard to the care my father was receiving and also communications with his wife. I tried as best I could to remain neutral and not be swept into outside drama, focusing more on helping my father through this most difficult time in his life.
It was during a routine procedure my father accidentally choked and was so near death that he had to be put on a respirator. After his condition stabilized, I was able to visit with him in the hospital. It was the first time in over 30 years I had seen my father in a hospital bed. I was only able to spend relatively short periods of time with him, but now I cherish every minute. There was one particular time that, although my father was struggling with having the vent in his throat and not being able to communicate, we still found some instance of humor. He was trying desperately to communicate by writing notes on scraps of paper and his hand writing was never really all that great when he was well. Needless to say, we were having a difficult time understanding what he was trying to tell us. I remember so vividly the expressiveness of his eyes when he was getting very impatient with our not understanding, and the exuberance he had when he had finally gotten through to us. It was at that time that I truly felt he would pull through and recover fully from the cancer. I never had any doubt, right up until that fateful day in June.
My wife and I had been separated for 2 or 3 weeks and I was staying with my sister while dealing with my impending divorce. On June 2nd we received the information I never truly anticipated hearing from my brother, “Dad passed away about an hour ago.” I was somewhat shocked since the last message we had was that Dad had shown signs of improvement and they were very hopeful that the next round of drug therapy would take hold.
It was at that time that I began to take complete stock of my life and decided I wasn't going to wait around any more for things to happen to me as I had previously. My enrolling in the Art Institute Online to attain a Bachelors of Science degree is a direct result of that decision.