I woke up this morning, November 16, feeling grateful and reflective. But also that terrified feeling you get on the anniversary of something that is hard to relive, even though the outcome ended up being okay.
Two years ago today, actually right as I type, my dad had one heart attack and four cardiac arrests — and clinically died four times. Today, though, he lives.
I remember being at work in San Francisco and finding out through a text from a family friend. It was cryptic, something like “I’m so sorry about your dad but it looks like he’s going to be okay.”
I lost it.
Frantically, I grabbed my phone and ran outside to try to get a hold of my mom. She didn’t answer my calls.
In desperation, I called the family friend’s father, who answered. I found out what happened but that, thankfully, my dad was going to be okay. When I finally got hold of my mom, she was completely shaken up. It’s hard to hear a parent like that when they are always so strong. I remember asking if Dad was going to be okay and her telling me she truthfully didn’t know but that she thought so. I sensed she knew more but didn’t want to worry me.
All the sudden she told me she had to go, that Dad was going into another cardiac arrest. I cried out, grasping for someone to tell me it’s going to be okay. But in tears, she said she couldn’t talk right now. I was afraid my dad would die, hundreds of miles away, before I got to tell him so many things.
It’s in desperate moments like that where your life and that person flash before you. Everything else all feels so meaningless, and you realize what really matters — the people in your life. I started envisioning moving to Santa Fe to help my mom. My mind wandered too far and I didn’t know what any of us would do, how we would survive, if we lost him.
So I was left, standing alone near Market Street in San Francisco with life happening all around me. Buses driving by, cabs whizzing past, and people shuffling to and from their offices. Yet I felt like my life had stopped.
I hung out by the same bench and shrubs for two hours, making phone calls and not knowing what to do with myself. There wasn’t anything I could do and once I got home, I would plan my flight home the next day.
I called my brother, a high school friend, college friends, posted on Facebook. I was desperate for all the prayers in the world to go to my dad. I didn’t post much on Facebook back then, and I was surprised and deeply touched by the outpouring of love and support.
I went back up to my office, got my things, and left. The train ride home was a blur, literally, as I saw everything through a shield of tears. Even though the train was packed, I felt so lonely. People got on and off the train, listened to their iPods, and read books, yet there I was, this young girl who just found out her father was in peril.
After bumping up my Thanksgiving flight to the next morning, I laid on the couch for hours, sick to my stomach with worry, my phone clutched in my hand. I think I sipped on Sprite and munched on Saltines like you do when you’re nauseous.
Later, my friend Sheena came over and made me dinner. She stayed with me too, so I didn’t have to be alone. Calls and texts from my mom told me my dad was doing okay, and that they had to put another stint in his heart. But I wanted to BE there.
Finally, I arrived in Santa Fe. Seeing my dad in the hospital, looking so weak, was hard. I wanted to hug him but all I could do was hold his hand. He could barely speak and he was exhausted. His body had fought for his life, twice. But I wouldn’t learn the details of what he went through until later.
He was mostly stabilized and the only other scare was in the middle of the night, when my mom, brother, and I were all home sleeping, and my dad’s heartbeat sped up to a dangerously high rate. Thank God his machines alerted the nurses, but it was his fourth cardiac arrest and a close call.
It was after I learned that this had happened, when he had been moved from ICU into a room for less-serious patients so we all thought he was in the clear, that I began to live on pins and needles, like something could happen at any time. For a long time after (and sometimes to this day) if I can’t get a hold of him or he doesn’t respond to a text — because he is always available — I would freak out.
He was moved to a heart hospital in Albuquerque and didn’t come home until Thanksgiving Day. I’d never felt so thankful on that holiday before.
But now, two years later, he has been vegan, lost 50 pounds, works out daily, and has a defibrillator/pacemaker that helps keep him alive.
Today, I’m present to how precarious life is. I’d never seen my dad cry the way he did on that Thanksgiving, just over a week after his heart attacks, when he talked about his near death experiences. He talked about the colors and shapes he saw. He told us he could have let go, that he felt so peaceful and calm and it would have been so easy. But he said, and I remember it well, “I fought for you. I chose to live for the three of you.”
My entire life, I was always close to my dad, but experiences like this can change a person and shape relationships. My dad was truly changed and so was our relationship. We talk a lot more than we used to and he is always, always there for me, to give me advice on anything from my career to dating.
He is my hero, and I am so thankful that he fought to live, so that today, I can reflect like this and then give him a call.
My dad has started speaking about his experience to different groups in Santa Fe. You can listen to him speak here in a podcast titled, Dying Changed the Way I Do Business.