Lessons from a Mountaintop Experience

Death in the Family

My grandmother died March 30, 2003. It was painful and breathtaking. And then…

Maybe ten days later, my father was rushed to the ER. Blood clots were killing him. By the time I got to the hospital, dad’s heart had stopped and he’d been resuscitated twice.

The doctor working with him asked if we wanted to sign DNR papers. I didn’t want that and I was certain my mom didn’t, but she was so distraught she couldn’t make the decision.

My dad died twice more and was revived without having to crack his chest, before my mom made her decision. In fact, she never made the decision.

My dad stabilized again and this time they were able to move him to the ICU for monitoring. None of his doctors expected him to get better. In defiance of all expectations, he got better. Slowly, steadily, and the doctors just watched. No surgery, just monitoring and maintaining his breathing and blood pressure.

He’ll be Fine

The next day, I was in his hospital room. I’d never seen him waylaid and it was unnerving. At the door, I hesitated to see him with all those tubes coming out of his body, and the ventilator breathing for him. I watched him for a moment longer, adjusting to seeing my dad look so human, so mortal. I touched his foot, then his hand, then his arm. I whispered in his ear, I love you, dad.

My twenty minutes was up and the same hesitation I had entering the room came to me again as I was leaving. At the foot of his bed, I turned to look at him even though it grieved me so, to see him down like this. I knew that if I could, I would have switched places with him. Suddenly, quietly as if a voice whispered in my ear, I heard in my head, no need, he’ll be fine.

I trusted that voice, and told my mom about it. And I was done worrying. I was just waiting for him to get better. I still hated to see him go through all that he had to. He was conscious only infrequently. One Saturday, I went to visit him before a picnic. I talked and he would nod a little. And then my time was up. I said I love you dad and he squeezed my hand. I was so excited that tears escaped my eyes. And he smiled because he knew he got to me. With a lump in my throat, I think I floated out of his room that day.

His Healing Affected Many

Dad had a team of doctors each in the top of his field and no one could explain why he was getting better. One doctor named it the miracle it was. He said they weren’t doing anything for my dad that they hadn’t done for many other patients before him. Most of them didn’t get better–at all. Another of his doctors would stop in, check the machine and vitals and leave shaking his head in dismay. That was the doctor that offered my mom the DNR papers.

Attempts to take him off the ventilator failed until they gave him a bronchoscopy to clear his lungs. That was all it took. He got off the ventilator and never went back.

When my dad left ICU alive, he went on the ward. A very special nurse who cared for him in ICU came up to see him one day. She always talked to my dad in ICU. On this particular visit, my dad talked back. His throat was still sore from the ventilator pipe, so it was a whisper but it was his voice. Her tears flowed. She told him to keep talking and please excuse her; she explained that it was the first time she’d heard him at all.

From the hospital ward, my dad was transferred out to a rehabilitation facility to get his strength and coordination back, so that he could function normally again. You see, he suffered no permanent damage to his motor skills. The day he was leaving the hospital, the ER nurse who took care of him the first day was there. He reached up to my dad in the ambulance and shook his hand. With red, tearing eyes, he hugged my mom, my brother and me one after the other. He explained that in his job he didn’t get to see cases like my dad come to happy conclusions.

Rehabilitation got him to the point where he could go home safely. I drove my dad home from that facility and we never looked back. At home we had to tell him to slow down because he was still recovering. His days were filled with big events, travels and small events too. There were graduations, swearing in’s, weddings, births, Hurricane Katrina, relocation to Houston, fights with insurance companies, trips back and forth. Four years was given to us all.

Time to Go

Then, in April 2007 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. October 25, 2007 my dad died. This time I knew it was coming–not that I ever stopped hoping. I knew that I was strong enough.

My Lessons from the Mountaintops

Erwin Raphael McManus wrote “Gratitude is the healing ointment for brokeness.” And I know it to be true.

What I learned is that gratitude can see me through even the harshest things. Gratitude is how I made it through. It’s a funny thing gratitude. From a little girl, when I tried to be upset or disappointed about something, my mom would say, count your blessings, name them one by one. It was frustrating sometimes but I did it. So, I grew into a habit of gratitude. Still, to experience it in action, on big things, is profound.

Today, I miss my dad–like salt. I have a life time of memories to sustain me. And this: Throughout the time he was ill, I was available to him, helping him, keeping him company, talking to him when he didn’t have strength to talk anymore. And I am grateful beyond words, beyond measure that I was there for him.

I wrote this for the Middle Zone Musings June group writing project, What  I Learned From…a Mountaintop Experience

About Shari Smothers

Welcome to Telling Stories, my creative writing space. My name is Shari Smothers. Poems help me to understand the world and to explain my world to others. They're my premier story telling tools. There's more to come, so please share with me through reading, commenting, emailing. Learn more about Shari here. And do come again!

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