Thursday, November 17, 2005

In my father's house

Published November 17, 2005

I want to thank the readers who responded to the last column I wrote regarding my Dad’s major surgery, which took place November 3. Unfortunately, he is still in the ICU after two weeks and has had some serious complications including blood clots showered during surgery and renal failure after surgery. There have been some tense moments in the last two weeks where we thought we were losing him. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers and will respond to your emails when I return home. I haven’t left his side in two weeks. Mom and I walked a seemingly healthy man into the hospital and now we are fighting for the best possible treatment plan for a critically ill patient. I have to say this has been an unexpected turn of events.

In the midst of ICU burn out, I spend the nights in the house I grew up in, my father’s house. I sleep in my sister, Tricia’s old bedroom. I’m trying to watch over my mom, who has had one emotional trauma after the next while getting ready for my Dad’s surgery, during and after. We were jolted awake a week ago Monday, to a middle of the night phone call from the hospital saying that my Dad was back on life support because he was getting pneumonia on top of all the other complications he had. It was a sheer panic to hear the phone ring that early, one that shot me out of bed immediately and in doing so, I cracked open my hand on the dresser next to the bed. I could hear the sense of urgency in my mother’s voice and we immediately left for the hospital. My husband summoned our family priest and he came from Sacramento and administered the sacraments of the Church. It was a dark day; Dad was comatose and we weren’t sure if he was going to come out of it.

The day Dad woke up was four days ago. As suddenly as he slipped away from us, he woke up and within the hour was brushing his teeth. His neurological status seemed to improve in response to kidney dialysis which he desperately needed. As he continues to remain in grave condition, we stay at his bedside to advocate for him as shifts change, charts get larger and those taking care of him tend to write rather than read what’s been going on. One thing I have learned from all this, is that people in the hospital need someone to be there for them, to speak for them, to testify for them and protect them. There have been so many patently untrue statements made about my father in my presence from staff who think they have good history, but in fact, have had historically inaccurate information relayed from one shift change to the next, and like gossip, rumors start, even in the ICU. “Your dad was a diabetic”. “Your dad has been in and out of hospital”. “Your dad has been sick for a long time”. No. No. Again No. My dad is healthy, an avid golfer, softball and tennis enthusiast. He loves his football pool, his grandkids, his daughters and his garden. He likes to carve things, and take walks. I heard every preposterous thing coming from well meaning health professionals.

Listen people; get your powers of attorney done, so that people who know you and love you can direct your medical care. We had to call conferences with the team of doctors because a lot of communication gets lost between us and them. As of this writing, we’ve had to be either on the telephone making sure orders are followed up on, or in conference with “higher ups”.

This hospital is a top notch trauma center and I am glad my father is in a hospital with a good reputation. However, every day, is different. The doctors’ differing perspectives, nursing staff shortages and personality conflicts can all affect the continuity of a patient’s care. No one loves your family member as much as you do. One needs to be there for everything. I’ve waited two weeks for a list of drugs. I have power of attorney. I will probably have to call another family conference to get them.

Before we drove to the hospital November 3, I was showing my Dad a book I picked up at the library “In My Father’s House” by Boede Thoene. It’s a great work of historical fiction, well written and researched. As I read about the battles of WWI and WWII and the eternal bonds of family, I see the correlation of the battle we are waging to save my Dad’s life right now as he lies in the ICU. There is nothing more singularly important than family. Nothing more precious than love and the bonds between husband, wife, parent and child. I have spent a lot of time sleeping in my father’s house, waiting for him to come back to us. As I continue to hold vigil, I pray in my Father’s House, going to daily Mass and reciting the rosary with my family, knowing that my father is in His hands, and but for faith, there would be nothing.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Joe's Deli on Hiatus

Published November 3, 2005

I’ve written before about my Pop’s sense of humor and what he has meant to my life. A daughter needs her Dad’s assurances as much as she needs her husband’s love.

He adopted me after marrying my mother when I was three years old. He has been my father in every way imaginable and sometimes the biological is hard to decipher from the environmental. I think his influence has had a protracted infusion in my personality which some might mistake for biological, but I know it’s the product of his love.

The reason I am writing about him today, especially this particular Thursday, is because he is under anesthesia this morning in an operating room, undergoing a prolonged surgery to save his life from a life threatening aneurysm on his aorta which he has known about for the last two years, which has doubled in size over the last couple months. I am there with my mother in a waiting room, not too far from the coronary care unit, waiting for the surgeon to work a miracle, remove and rebuild a section of his life preserving artery, one deep in his abdomen. The incision will be long from sternum to thigh. He will be swollen and pale and unable to talk afterward. How will my mother cope with seeing him like this today? He will look frail, small and wounded. My father, our rock. Today, I will find out what it really means to put my own emotions aside. I am scared but I must not allow it to show. She needs me to be strong and he does too, because he is scared and instead of showing it, he buries it because he doesn’t want us to worry about him. He doesn’t want us to be scared. He is courageous when I know his mind must be racing. What I really want to do is cry. I am worried sick.

We saw each other last Sunday. I said, “You know, you’re going to be OK. It’s really great that this is going to be fixed and you don’t have to worry about it anymore”. He reassured me and himself. “I’ll be golfing next Wednesday,” he chortles. He was worried about how he was going to get out of bed once he got back home. (Good, I thought, he’s talking about getting home again…he’s looking ahead. He’s talking about his golf game, walking the dogs, rolling out of bed onto his knees so he can stand without hurting that long zipper of an incision). I talk about the food, which is what I know. “I’m going to make meals for you and freeze them so when you get home, you’ll have something better than hospital food to eat”. He tells me not to make them too fancy. “Just soup…Tam”. “Tell me if anything hurts Dad, I’ll get you drugs, I promise, whatever you need”. He keeps reassuring me. How can I reassure him?

“God, please help him. I pray…”Please get him through this. Guide the surgeon’s hand.” We don’t talk about death. My mom and dad give me two powers of attorney medical directive documents last Sunday. I read them over. How did I get to this place? How many of us get here and we are never ready for it. How many of us see our parents as completely and totally invincible in a moment, and the next, we are waiting for the surgeon to come out of the operating room with good news, any news. Why does it take so long? Where is she? What are they doing in there? Why is it taking so long? I can’t stop pacing. My mom will not say much today. We’ll say the rosary together. I remember the grandkids praying for him last Sunday. They asked me questions in the car coming home “Is Pop Pop going to be home soon. Can we come see him in the hospital? What’s an aneurysm?”

The parent who has raised you, disciplined you, congratulated you, celebrated with you, stayed up late talking to you, is now unconscious, on a breathing apparatus, in an intensive care unit, needing life support and one-to-one nursing. Helplessness and faith must take over because my heart is worried beyond explanation. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want”…

He has been a wonderful provider, hard worker and instilled a sense of duty and responsibility into our character. I think of him when I am disciplining my children, not because of the manner in which he disciplined, but because I know it wasn’t easy for him growing up. I hear him when I am teaching my kids something, or showing them something new. My father has given us gifts beyond treasure and measure. I love my Dad. He is a life force in our family. I hold my vigil at the hospital because I can’t be anywhere else.

When I left home I couldn’t wait to get on with my life. It was during those times when I needed to hear my father’s voice because of the anchor it was for me as I was sailing away. I’d call home or his office, and he’d answer (knowing it was one of his daughters calling) and he’d answer jokingly “Joe’s Deli”. His name is Bob. He’s never owned a deli. His sense of humor has always made me laugh. Today, I wait. Today I will pray and try to be a rock for my mother. Today I will wait to get a glimpse of him just to know that he is alive and will be well. Joe’s deli is temporarily on hiatus. God willing, I can’t wait for it to reopen.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at