Saturday, April 11, 2009

Big Changes Begin Again

On Monday October 4 David had an early class and had already left for the 55 mile trip to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he was teaching. As usual, having given up alarm clocks in 1999, I was sleeping in until I felt like getting out of bed. The telephone rang about 8:45 startling me awake.

“He’s having a heart attack or something.” the unrecognized voice said over a crackly line. My heart stopped. David must be on the side of the road somewhere and a passerby stopped and called the emergency number on his cell phone, a phone he had only recently agreed to carry at my insistence just in case something such as this should happen. When he bough the phone David had jokingly told his closest friend who lives 100 miles away in Asheville, that if he called and all that was heard was a gurgling sound, please dial 911. It didn’t seem so funny now.

“I’ve called an ambulance and Suzette is on the way.” Suddenly I recognized the voice as my brother. I could hear a siren in the distance. He was talking about my father whom he had met that morning at the site where Daddy and Mom were building a smaller house in which to spend the rest of their retirement. He hung up. I phoned my sister. She was on her way and would call as soon as she knew anything.

I began to panic. David and I owned only one car and he was on his way to Charlotte. I called the hated cell phone. No answer; it was turned off. I left a message to call me and then called the history department office to ask that David call me as soon as he returned from class. How would I get to the hospital? Where was Mom? She and Daddy were living with my sister after selling their home while they were building the new place. Mom was in the early stages of dementia and required near constant care, which Daddy was providing.

I needed transportation. I called Dad’s sister knowing she would want to know what was happening and hoping she could give me drive me the 25 miles to the hospital. She called my uncle who was working out at the Y and asked him to meet her at my house. I quickly bathed and dressed and was ready to leave when she arrived. My uncle, however, not understanding the panic and urgency I felt, took his time showering and changing at the gym and finally arrived about a half-hour later.

By that time, I had spoken with my sister, Suzette, and knew that the paramedics thought Daddy had a stroke. He was confused but talking when they loaded him into the ambulance. Suzette had gone home to get Mom and all were headed to the hospital.
When my uncle, aunt and I finally arrived at the hospital the waiting room was filled with relatives. Hadn’t we all just spent the previous afternoon talking with Dale and he seemed fine. Mom was seated in a wheel chair in the midst of everyone smiling. Either things were not as bad as I had expected or she was oblivious to what was going on. Unfortunately, it was the latter.
I passed through the emergency room doors and found my sister, brother and brother-in-law standing outside an empty room filled with equipment. Daddy had stopped breathing and had been entubated. I knew only too well what that was from our experience at Tavish’s birth. He was now having an MRI performed, His doctor was on the telephone nearby arranging for transport by helicopter to the nearest university hospital. This was not good.

As they wheeled Daddy back to the treatment room he was pale and unconscious. I was terrified. This was our patriarch, the glue that kept our family together. His influence extended well beyond my sister, brother, and I to our children, my aunts, uncles, cousins and friends. He was smart, organized, disciplined, successful, supportive and so opinionated that he could argue with a wall. We all loved him and he drove us all crazy. My boys thought he was the center of the universe.

The doctor returned from looking at the MRI results and consulting with neurologists at the university hospital. The conclusion: irreparable brain damage due to a ruptured aneurysm at the base of his brain so severe that the university refused to accept him. My father was going to die.
I immediately called Tavish at Davidson and suggested that he drive to the hospital, less than an hour away as soon as his classes were over for the day. Shaken, he agreed but I expected him to cut whatever classes remained and I worried that he would drive too fast.

The doctor asked that we get my Mom and meet him in a small conference room down the hall. My sister, brother-in-law, their children, my brother, sister-in-law and I waited in the small cramped room. Where was David? The doctor arrived and explained as plainly as he could how grave the situation was. My father was brain-dead and only the machines to which he was attached were keeping him alive. Always prepared, Daddy had given my sister enduring medical power of attorney just in case we should ever be faced with such a situation. We all knew what he would want. Loss of control was one of his greatest fears. Once the breathing apparatus was removed how long would he survive? “In some cases a few days,” the doctor said. “”In this case, I think just a matter of hours.” The thought of my Daddy functioning, yet not, was beyond my comprehension. Why couldn’t it just be over as soon as the tube was removed? Wasn’t it over already? Why did he and we have to endure this anguish? The doctor assured us that he was in no pain.

Suzette signed the necessary paper work. Even Mom, although in a daze, seemed to fully understand what was happening. Daddy was moved to a private room down the hall and all our friends and relatives who had gathered were invited in. We rolled Mom up next to him and as she held Daddy’s hand a nurse removed the breathing tube. His mouth was contorted to one side and he began to make a slight, soft, gasping sound. A nurse stood nearby to monitor his condition.

David arrived and only then did I begin to cry. We stepped into the hall and through the tears I explained all that had happened in the past few hours. We walked slowly back into the room, his arm around me and stood at the foot of the bed to watch my Daddy die.

I don’t even know how long it took. It could have been a half-hour or three. Time wasn’t moving. I could hear the quiet sobs of my cousins behind me. My uncle kept annoyingly checking for a pulse. How could this experience be so loving and so morose at the same time.
Then the nurse pronounced him dead.

As I walked out into the hall I met Tavish running in.. When I told him the news he collapsed crying against the wall. He had tried so hard to get there to say goodbye. We talked about how we had said goodbye the day before and how grateful we were to have had that special time.

We all slowly left the hospital knowing our lives, once again, had changed forever.

Dinner in San Miguel -
It may seem odd to post a recipe after such a difficult personal post but in some way my life is always about food. Food is a constant - palnning, preparing, making reservations, consuming. Every event in my life, even death, has a food component.

One of the nearby restaurants, Posada Carmina, is known for the Chicken Pie it serves for Comida Corrida (Fixed price lunch), always preceded with a soup, usually poblano crema or crema de zanahoria, and a wedge of lechuga topped with queso dressing.

Chicken and vegetable pot pie
(Pay de Pollo con Verduras)
Serves 6
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 white onions, chopped
4 carrots, diced
3 Tbsp all purpose flour
½ cup dry white wine
1 10 oz pkg frozen peas
1 Tbsp fresh thyme
Salt and balck pepper
1 - 9 inch pie crust - your favorite recipe or store-bought
Heat over to 400
Cook chicken in pot of simmering water until cooked through - 10-12 minutes; let cool and shred
While chicken is cooking, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and cook until they begin to soften, 6-8 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the vegetables and cook, stirring for 1 minute
Add the wine and cook until evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add the milk and simmer until the sauce thickens, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the chicken, thyme, salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a shallow 1 ½ or 2 quart baking dish.
Lay the crust on top, pressing to seal the edges. Cut several vents in the crust. Place the pie on a baking sheet and bake until bubbling and crust is golden, 30- 35 minutes.
11 Abril 2009

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