Two years ago today was like any other day, but little did I know things were going to change drastically. Like most days, I woke up to the sound of an alarm, jumped in the shower, and got ready for work.
I remember going through my day of answering emails, meetings, and then heading to my personal training session at the gym. I was in the middle of my fourth IRONMAN training season, this time for the big dance in Kona. After the workout, I checked my phone in the locker room. There was a voicemail from my mom and a text message that said “Khem. I think daddy has stroke. I call ambulance he is going to St Francis now. Bye.”
My hands started to trembled as I called my mom’s cell phone. She answered. My dad was in an ambulance on his way to the hospital and she was getting ready to leave the house to meet him there. I asked her what happened. My mom is an early riser, my dad total opposite night owl. He was sleeping in like usual. After tending to their vegetable garden, my mom noticed he was still in bed. She yelled at him several times to get up like a mom yelling at a teenager. She went into the bedroom to get him going. He finally got up and fell face down on the bed. That’s when she knew something was wrong and called 911.
I asked if she wanted me to come home. No response. I think she was still in shock. So I told her I’d be on the next flight back to Wichita. A few hours after leaving the office and packing for a trip that I had no idea when I’d return, I was at the airport. Right after landing, my mom picked me up and we headed straight to the hospital.
There he was in ICU, with wires and IV lines, lying still and unconscious. My dad had never been hospitalized ever in his life. He was breathing on his own, which was a good sign. After a couple of hours, my mom and I went hope to get some sleep.
When we returned the next morning, he was awake. Responsive and able to communicate. His eyes were off centered and he complained about seeing double. He didn’t remember much of what happened and seemed pretty tired, but nonetheless we were glad he was interacting with us. After various scans, it was determined he had experienced some mini strokes prior to this episode and the latest one was an ischemic (clot) in his occipital lobe, which is your visual processing center.
By the end of the week my dad was up walking around and able to eat normally, which was a good thing. So many friends came to visit…and with each visit they brought food, the universal gesture of love by Asians. We started to accumulate piles of takeout. My brother had arrived from Thailand and we were making preparations to bring our dad back home. His prognosis was good. They projected he would make a full recovery with some therapy. We convinced the doctor to give us one more night at the hospital so we could get their house ready for his arrival.
Later that evening when it was time for dinner, we were unable to wake him up. It was as if he fell into a deep sleep. A CT scan showed there was swelling in his brain, likely the result of trauma caused by the stroke. The doctor delivered the awful news that my dad’s condition had worsened and his recovery would be even more difficult. A few days later, he finally woke up but only able to stay awake for a few seconds at a time.
Since then, it’s been a long road for my parents full of physical and occupational therapists, rehab hospitals and facilities, nursing assistants, trips to the hospital when my dad would pull out his feeding tube. The occasions I’ve been able to visit them when they were still in Kansas, I was always happy to see my dad but also sad to see him in his condition. Living in Thailand, he’s getting better care at a rehab hospital where he will probably stay.
It’s been two years since that day, and in that time my priorities have definitely changed. My patience for trivial things and unnecessary drama have dwindled. My circle of friends have changed because of it. I simply don’t have the bandwidth or interest to waste my energy with it all. No matter how unpopular my choices may be (even with my own family), I feel I have to do what I have to do.
My maternal grandmother died of a massive stroke…and now my dad is living with the effects of a stroke. They were both very healthy and active people. So I guess you could say the likelihood of a stroke in my lifetime is pretty darn high. Will I do what’s needed to prevent that from happening? Absolutely. Afterall, I have no one to take care of me, but me. So I better do a damn good job of it. But I also refuse to live in a bubble as well. If I want to eat that donut, I will. If I get impatient and take off on a trip somewhere by myself, I’m going to do it. If I give you the stink eye because you’re complaining about your first world problem, don’t expect an apology. My days are numbered, my good days are even less, but I plan on living the rest the best way I can…and you should too. I know my dad did.
So this Father’s Day weekend I’ll be spending my time with friends, riding my bike, and whatever else I please…wishing I could be spending it with my dad.