Seven years ago I stood in a hospital room and looked down upon my father’s unconscious body. The strongest man I knew had been brought low by a heart attack and some sort of infection.
The docs had hooked him up to a ventilator. I stared at the machines and listened to the clicks, clacks, beeps and whistles. Watched and wondered what would happen if the power went out and the machines that kept dad alive suddenly turned off. Wondered if they had a generator and tried to figure out how it all worked.
It had been whirlwind trip back east. The call came in telling me to get on a plane or risk not seeing dad again. So I did. I bought a ticket. It wasn’t easy. I had to help my mom. I had to get there to help dad but I had responsibilities at home. Back home where I left a 3.5 year-old son behind with a pregnant wife
Spent six hours on a flight not knowing whether he would be dead or alive when the doors opened. Breathed a sigh of relief when I saw him at the hospital. Spent a week there and then repeated the trip in reverse. It was a long haul, but dad made it and so did we.
It is a moment in time that changed me and my life.
Here We Go Again
Four hours ago I was transported back in time. I stood in the hospital room and listened to those beeps and whistles. Watched as the machine helped him breathe, kept him alive except this time it wasn’t my father. This time it was my brother-in-law. This time my little sister looked up at me through tear filled eyes and asked “what happens if he dies.”
No one expects to face these decisions in their thirties but sometimes it happens. I know because I have seen it happen to others and now it is happening to my family.
But the echoes of the past have stayed with me and I am a harder man than I was the last time. I look down at little sister and hug her. A soft rumble comes out of my mouth asking her to take it one day at a time. I tell her not to buy trouble but inside my head the questions pile up.
Most of them surround my five-year-old nephew and how to best take care of him now. He hasn’t seen his father in three days and knows that his mother is nervous. He snuck out of bed and found her crying. He wants to know what made mommy cry and when he can see daddy.
All around me I hear people moaning about the loss of Steve Jobs. Newspapers, television and radio stories talk about how he changed the world. They talk about him as a leader, an innovator and a visionary. He is lauded, praised and beatified but I am ambivalent about it.
I can’t disagree with calling him those things and not because I am listening to music via my iPod now. But I can’t say that I am sad. Maybe I should be. Maybe I should be upset that we won’t get to benefit from his drive and vision any more.
But I just can’t worry about that. Can’t get caught up in what could have been, not now. Not while my nephew is on the verge of losing his father and my sister worries about becoming a widow. Can’t do it while my kids try to understand why I keep getting telephone calls about their uncle. Can’t do it while I call my sister’s office and explain to the office manager why they are going to adjust their hours.
Can’t do it while I juggle chainsaws, bowling balls and flaming torches.
My nephew is five and worried about his father. I understand that. I remember the shock of seeing my father in restraints, a tube in his throat and machines everywhere. The difference is that I was 35. So tomorrow I’ll grab my nephew again and Uncle Jack will do his best to distract him. Tomorrow I’ll make another trip to the hospital and sit with my sister. I’ll remind her to take a deep breath and take it one step at a time.
And somewhere in between it all I’ll help my daughter with homework and run with my son to soccer practice.
But right now I am lost in thought about it all. Right now I am thinking about the first time I saw those machines and how I tried to process it all by figuring out what each machine did and how they worked.
Live now, our hold on life is precarious.