It's Friday afternoon and I'm at work (if we are being honest, I'm likely NOT working and was catching up on Breaking Bad). My phone rings and I see Lavonia Georgia on my caller ID and I laugh as I pick up my phone. It has to be my dad calling me to complain that something is wrong with his cell phone. Afterall, I don't know anyone from Lavonia. I press pause on whatever I'm watching and answer my phone with the chipper "Hello" that I reserve for telephone use only.
"Is this Jenny Georgiopoulos," the voice who isn't my father asks me.
"Yes it is, can I help you," I ask thinking that its probably a distributor or sales rep that messed up the extensions again and called my cell phone instead of my desk. I'm annoyed now because who the heck calls you for work related stuff at 4:17pm on a Friday?
"This is Lt. Henderson out in Lavonia Georgia," at this point my mind races. OMG. My dad did something stupid and got arrested. Who could piss off my dad. He's such a laid back character. "There has been a medical emergency with your father and he's been transported to a hospital in South Carolina."
"Are you fucking kidding me," were the first words to tumble out of my mouth in typical Jenny style. "What kind of medical emergency? Is he okay?"
"Your father had a medical emergency and lost consciousness. His heart had stopped but we performed CPR and your dad is on the way to AnMed in South Carolina. Would you like the telephone number there?"
I nodded my head not realizing that Lt. Henderson couldn't see me. I said yes and took down all the information.
At this point my mind is racing. I don't have a passport, well, I do but its expired. It's Friday and now 4:30pm how the hell am I going to get a passport to get to South Carolina to be with my dad? My sister can't go because she just had a baby a few days ago...and her passport is expired...and my mom can't go by herself. Oh my god, my mom. I can't tell my mom. She's a poster child for a stroke. She'll stroke out on me.
"Thanks for the information Lt. Henderson, please, don't call my mom. I'll handle it," I said to him as I had already opened Google on my computer and was looking up how to get a passport issued.
"Jenny, your mom is the one who gave me your telephone number."
"C'mon?! Seriously? You called her first?" Now I wasn't just worried about my father but about my mother because, well you know, she over reacts to everything.
I hang up with him and call AnMed right away. I managed to call them before my father even got there. I spoke to 4 nurses before I finally get ahold of one who would be taking care of my father. I demand to know if he's conscious or not. He's not. I feel my heart drop instantly. I've been down this road before with my mother in law. Heart stopped and unconsciousness means coma. My father was going to be in a coma no matter what anyone told me. I'm not a medical novice. I've watched enough Grey's and ER to know what happens next and I lived through this entire experience 5 years prior.
I hang up the phone with the nurse and yell out to my co-worker who at this point has no idea what has happened because I've managed to remain calm. I haven't cried, screamed, yelled, or thrown anything. I'm just numb and going through the motions.
"Ernesto, you need to find out how I can get to South Carolina tonight or tomorrow morning with no passport. My dad had a heart attack and I don't have a fucking valid passport." This is the moment I broke. This is the moment I started to cry and my co-worker had to hug me and calm me down. He went to his office to find out what can be done. He would call US border patrol and Passport Canada. I had to call my mom, but first my husband.
"George... you need to go get Demi from my mom right now. It's not a good place for Demi to be right now. My dad had a heart attack and isn't conscious right now. I need to get a passport and get to South Carolina. I need you to go get Demi do you understand?"
He threw a barrage of questions my way and I fielded them the best way I knew how. I hung up the phone with him and called my sister. I told her she had to go to my mom's house right away. Mom needed support and I couldn't give it to her because I was just about to become the bitch of the family to get everything done.
I finally called my mom. As soon as she answered the phone I heard her crying and my daughter screaming in the background. I tried to reassure my mom that everything was okay and everything would be okay. I asked her if she had a passport and she said yes. I told her I was working on getting mine and we'd go to South Carolina and take care of dad together. Together we'd bring him home. I explained everything that Lt. Henderson told me as well as what the nurse in the ER told me. I said that everything was "normal" given the situation. I knew that my dad passed out, someone saw him and started CPR while someone else called 9-1-1. I knew that they put the machine on him and the machine told them to shock my dad once. They did. I knew that while in the ambulance they administered a shot of adrenaline directly to his heart. That was when he regained consciousness. That was when they made the decision of taking him to the bigger hospital in South Carolina than the smaller one in Lavonia. A cold feeling washed over me. Things weren't going to be okay. I just know it. I trust my gut, it's never led me astray.
Between Ernesto and myself we managed to find an emergency passport number. They were going to open the passport office just for me for the low low price of $500.00, but I had to go to Ottawa. It's 2 hours away. I still needed to get my expired passport, new passport pictures, and a completed passport application. Oddly enough, I had it all on me minus the passport pictures (I was waiting to get my hair blown out and THEN go take the passport pictures). I show up at my mom's house. I hug her and tell her everything will be okay. I call the doctor numerous times letting him know that we would be there tomorrow morning. I gave my cell number, my sister's cell number, my parents home number but insisted that I be their first line of defense. Call me. Don't call them. Call me. I'm the level headed one.
My best friend shows up at my mom's house. She drives me to Ottawa. I must have called the hospital numerous times that night. My dad had the sweetest nurse in the Coronary Care Unit. Her name was Janet and Janet was soothing. I asked her how my dad looked, how things were going, how many days should I pack for? Were we looking at a few days or a few weeks? She told me to pack for a couple of weeks.
I finish with my passport. Come home and pack, and go to my mom's house. While driving to Ottawa Nicole's husband booked the plane tickets for my mother and myself. I ended up scheduling play dates for my daughter and making sure she was well taken care of as well as informing my boss that I was leaving and had no idea when I'd be back. Lucky for me, I won the boss lottery of the life time. He was okay with me leaving and told me to call him if I needed anything.
I go to sleep at 3am and am up at 5am for a 7am flight. We check in. We board. We talk. I finally tell my mom that we might be there for a couple of weeks. Dad would probably need some sort of rehabilitation and that could take a while. Once he's okay to leave the hospital Canada would be better for the rehab part. We need to get special permission to transport him. I don't want him flying. I will drive across the country...it wouldn't be the first time.
As the plane is landing my mom tells me she heard that the Carolina's have nice beaches and she'd like to go to one once my dad is okay. I tell her its not a problem. My brain tells me that my dad isn't coming home with us. I want to cry because I'm thinking negatively. I need to think good thoughts. I need to send my dad the most positive thoughts and strength. I need to make this okay.
We exit the terminal and find the nearest Avis counter. I get a car and put the hospital address in the GPS. We get to the hospital and march straight to the front desk asking how to get to the CCU. She tells us. We get up there and walk into my dad's room. That wasn't my dad. I've never seen my dad with tubes in him. I've never seen my dad look...so peaceful? I instantly tear up. I start to cry. I don't want to see my dad like this. My dad is the strongest person I know. My mom breaks down. The day nurse comes to see us and explains everything that has happened and what procedures the hospital has taken. We are told that my dad is under heavy sedation because they have lowered his body temperature a lot in order to preserve brain function. They would start warming him up after being at their desired temperature for 24 hours. We understand and we just sit in the room and watch.
I have no idea how many phone calls we made to Montreal and Ottawa to keep our family in the loop. I must have gotten 100 Facebook messages from friends from Texas as well as the people I've met across the global. Funny but when you aren't in a situation like this the words "We'll be praying for you" or "He's in our thoughts" don't mean much to you. It actually sounds funny. When you are in this type of situation those words are like a warm blanket comforting you.
My mom went outside to smoke and I got up and sat next to my dad. I started talking to him and I told him I was sorry for what he was going through. I was sorry that this happened while he was alone in South Carolina. I was sorry it took me so long to get here. At that exact moment I knew that my dad wasn't coming home with us. I had felt it from the night before but at that exact moment it was a matter of fact. Looking at my dad in a hospital bed hooked up to monitors, with a feed tube, and oxygen I knew that my dad wasn't leaving South Carolina the way my mom and I imagined he'd be leaving.
My mom kept talking to my dad and I told her that was a good thing. He could hear us and to make sure that any words she said aloud were positive and uplifting. My dad didn't need to hear bad things. She kept telling me, "I'm not afraid that he's going to die here. I know he isn't going to die. I'm afraid of the condition he'll leave here. Will he have brain damage and how much?" My heart broke for my mom. I felt like a double agent, a traitor if you will. One one hand I'm telling my mom to only think good things but then I'd convinced myself my dad was dying.
The 24 hours passed and they started to warm up my dad. His body temperature was rising on its own and that was a good thing. They made us go home. The next day we came to the hospital and my dad was at a toast 98.7 degrees and his color was back. They had even shaved him and brushed his hair. He looked good and he started opening his eyes. The nurses and doctors told us this was normal. They had started to decrease the sedation medications. It could take 48-72 hours to see real results but in the mean time they would do another CT scan of his head as well as an EEG.
My noticed that my father would open his eyes and always look up and down. I went up to him and told him, "Hey daddy, podiko (his nickname for me) is here. Mommy and I are here for you so take your time...we'll wait." My dad opened his eyes and looked left to right as if he was looking for me and my mom. I smiled and started to tear because in my head my dad knew we were there. He knew he wasn't alone in a strange place. Later on the same day I went to talk to my dad and the strangest thing happened. He lifted his shoulder off the bed as if he was trying to get up or lean forward. It was the weirdest thing and I'm happy my mom and nurse were there to see it otherwise they'd think it was wishful thinking.
Visiting hours were over for a bit while the nurses changed shifts and updated the next nurse as to what had happened and what was happening. Not only that but they were taking my dad for his CT scan. When we returned to the hospital my dad's eyes were wide open but just staring up at the ceiling. That was exactly what had happened with my mother in law before we got the news we had to pull the plug. All the progress I was convinced we had made was just ripped from me.
The head neurologist came to speak with my mom and me about the situation. He told us that we did have some time to wait but that we should consider our options regarding my dad. My mom broke. I asked questions about how much neurological function my dad had, what physical tests had they done on him. Had they run a pencil hard down his foot to see if his toes curl upwards or downwards? How was his pupil dilation? What made the doctor think we had to consider our options NOW when they told us we had 48-72 hours?
At this point I had to leave the hospital to take a driver to my father's 18 wheeler to have it driven back to Montreal. While I was gone a nurse spoke out of place, in my opinion, to my mother. My mom had asked the nurse what she thought. In my opinion the nurse should have just stated the facts and told my mom to direct her questions to the resident. Not this nurse. She told my mother that things don't look good and that she needs to make a decision about taking off the life support. When I got back to the hospital my mom was ballistic. I was furious. I wanted to rip the head off of the nurse and feed it to her grandchildren. I just took my mom and left the hospital. I told my mom to go into the hotel room and I was going to call George to talk to both him and Demi.
As soon as George answered the phone I broke down. I told him that my dad was dying. I told him my dad was leaving South Carolina in a box instead of in a seat on a plane or a car. I lost my mind and started hyperventilating. I composed myself and went into the hotel room and told my mom that the nurse had no right to give a diagnosis and that the doctors specifically asked us to give them time. Don't take that time away from dad and don't give up hope. We then spent some time thinking about IF we had to take off life support would we? My mom called some of my dad's family and we all made a joint decision. My mom felt a lot of guilt and I reminded her of a conversation we had as a family when I lost my mother in law. My husband and his brother were fighting regarding pulling their mother off of life support. I never wanted to have that fight with my sister.
I'll never forget that day. We were on a 3 way telephone call with my parents in Texas, my sister in St. Dorthee, and me in Laval. I asked my parents what they wanted and I wanted my sister to hear. My dad said that he'd never want to be kept alive by machines and if he ever got to that point we needed to let him go. My mom agreed. We all remember that conversation. However, my mom wasn't thinking logically. I told her over and over again, we have time. The doctors said 72 hours, this is all hypothetical but to think LOGICALLY and not emotionally. I knew what my father wanted and I was lucky enough that when we came into the hospital the first day they asked who had medical power of attorney and my mom said me. I would never want to over ride my mom but I would never disrespect my father's wishes.
My mom closed her eyes for a few minutes and woke up screaming. "Jenny, Jenny, daddy just said bye to me. I just saw him waving at me....he's gone!" I blasted my mom. I told her that shes thinking negatively and that the stupid nurse put ideas into her head and her mind is seeing things. I told my mom to go to sleep and tomorrow was a new day. What I said and what I thought were two completely different things. My mind thought, "Of course he'd tell her bye. He lived for this lady."
My mom woke up before me and went to get a coffee and smoke. I used that time to call a couple of my cousins. My cousin George was debating coming to South Carolina. I told him if he wanted to see his uncle alive he'd have to come today because my dad wasn't leaving. My heart was heavy and broken.
We went to the hospital and they were starting the EEG. They asked us to leave the room while they did this. My mom went out to smoke. I went to the cafeteria. I got a call from my sister telling me that the neurologist wanted to see us. I went upstairs alone since my mom was outside. The neurologist said he wanted us both. I asked him to tell me what was up. Did they have results from the EEG. He insisted on speaking to me with my mom present. I called my mom. She came upstairs.
The doctor showed us my father's CT scan from when he was brought in on Friday and the one they had done on Sunday. The CT scan was just a big gray blob. My father was brain damaged, in fact, he was brain dead. He had no way of coming out of this and they wanted us to take our time but we had to make a decision. Although my mom understood everything I had to translate it to Greek for her. She broke down. We went downstairs solemnly since they were still doing a needless EEG. You know what killed me? The sound of my sister's scream when I told her that our beloved daddy was brain dead. I was cold and empty. My mom couldn't believe it. She called her family in Greece. I called our family in Montreal.
I had to find a Greek priest in South Carolina to read my father his last rites. I had to leave to go to the airport to pick up my cousin. I would not allow the life support to be pulled without having his rites read. I asked questions regarding how long it would take for my father to pass away without life support. The nurse told me that since my father was barely breathing on his own that it would be a short few hours. I liked that. I like the fact that it would be quick and painless versus long and drawn out. I never want my dad to suffer.
I took my mom to the hotel to make her calls while I went to get my cousin. My cousin and I talked a lot and he said he wanted to see my dad before he gave his opinion on life support or not. When he saw my dad he said he couldn't believe that was my father. We decided to call the priest again and again. We went back to the hotel at 11pm and my mom just couldn't keep it together.
The next morning I felt like I was on death row walking to the death chamber. The walk down the hallway...the nurses sad smiles... the priest showed up. He read the prayers in both Greek and English and offered a lot of comfort to my mom. We told the nurses we were ready. They started to disconnect the machines.
They took the machines off of my dad at 11:35am. We stayed with dad the whole time. I couldn't take my eyes off of my father. With each deep breath he took I watched him to see if it would be his last. My heart would stop with each of his breaths. He'd hold them for so long that I thought each breath was his last but he'd exhale. I then yelled out to the nurse, "Why does it look like he's about to cry?" and then my dad took his last breath. 12:40pm on August 27th. But he cried. When he let out his last breath a single tear from each eye fell down his cheek. I freaked out asking the nurse and chaplain what just happened. The nurse grabbed my hand and told me, "We believe that when you see the face of Christ you cry...."
I cried a little. I had tears down my face but I was numb. Oddly, I was comforted in knowing that my dad was in a better place but I was so worried about my mom that I couldn't cry too much.
It's been over 2 months and I still haven't cried the way I feel I should cry. I cry in the shower, I cry while driving, and of course I cried while writing this....but I haven't had a good cry. The type of cry my mom and sister have had, the type of cry my dad's siblings have had. I wonder if I am wired wrong and why I can't cry for my dad and it drives me crazy. It makes me question if that is why my dad hasn't come to me yet.
Since he's passed away my mom and sister have seen him. My daughter has complete conversations with him but my dad eludes me. He doesn't come to me in my sleep, he doesn't come to me in daydreams, I don't feel a sudden warmth and know my dad is hugging me. My dad died two months ago and I haven't really cried yet...and i wonder if he's mad at me and that is why he isn't visiting me.