The moment it hit me that my Dad was going to pass away from obesity was when I had to go over to his house to fetch the mail and bring out the trash. He was unable to walk to end of the driveway and back. The trash I brought to curb was pizza boxes and beer containers. This was instead of balanced meals I had delivered to him only days prior. Every time this happened I felt more hopeless. Was he ever going to change?
In March 2013 I called 911 for my Dad. I felt bad for the paramedics that would have to carry him out of the house. At 400 pounds and over 6 feet tall, he was a big guy. Seeing a parent put into the back of a ambulance is the worst feeling. Felt like knives jabbed into my stomach. This would be the last full day he would spend in his home.
At the Emergency Room a doctor called him a medical mess. A man who already had a pacemaker and knew which hospitals in the area provided the best service. My Dad in a hospital bed was an all too familiar scene. Years of the same hospital hoedown. Some stays were longer than others, doctors tweaking a buffet of medications that were typically thrown off by my Dad’s own doing. With each hospital stay he left stable, but always still sicker than before. Doctors were no longer willing to perform gastric bypass on him. His obesity related medical mess made it all too risky.
This was the start to a 3 month circus of hospitals, rehab, and nursing home hoping.
At rehab I watched my Dad walk down the hall with a walker. I felt a glimmer of hope that maybe he was having the turn around he needed. He lost weight, a lot of weight actually, 80 pounds to be exact. Progress was progress and I was hopeful. During this time I celebrated my birthday, Easter came and went, and I finished another semester of my bachelors degree. My school was 10 seconds from the rehab center which made for an easy commute.
However short commutes are short lived. Rehab ended so he was moved to a nursing home. He was in transition to moving to a new residence, one level living, and wouldn’t require him navigating stairs. He had convinced everyone that the less obstacles he had to face the more motivated he would be. He told everyone he would be self-sufficient while in the nursing home as well. He was moved 35 minutes away from me to where I only visited once.
One visit was all I needed. I entered to find a man unable to walk across the room to open his window. He didn’t want to do it himself or at a minimum try. He online ordered groceries that made zero sense for weight loss progress. He sighed, “I don’t know what I am doing to myself”. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an answer to his question.
But it all changes so fast.
One evening I received a voicemail that my Dad had suffered a heart attack and was transported to a local hospital. Standing on the curb my reaction wasn’t fear but “Seriously, again? Not another hospital”. At this point I felt I had taken a tour of all Northern Virginia hospitals. The feeling of the yellow paper gown against my skin, I hated those gowns. In the ICU is saw a man who looked weak. Unshaven with gray hair, he wasn’t the Dad I knew. He cried, promising he would change. With a latex glove on I held his hand and cried too. I prayed this would finally be the bottom with no other way but up.
But life continues.
A few days later I packed for a cruise. I remember feeling sick, wondering if he would even be alive when I returned. I felt guilty going on vacation but I needed to get away. For 2 months I had been in this circus and was desperate for escape. I couldn’t trust him anymore. Hope wasn’t enough. Everything just felt like an empty promise. I was angry at him and wanted to hide. The middle of the ocean seemed like a good place to do so.
I couldn’t hide forever though. I came home to my Dad moved to another rehab center. He no longer had the accomplishments of steps with a walker but in bed exercises which he reluctantly performed. He complained about the staff. He complained about everything really. I was annoyed at his attitude. He didn’t want to work. He truly didn’t want to change.
In the span of a week he was admitted to a hospital and discharged to another rehab center. I didn’t visit him at the 3rd rehab center. I was done. I was over following him around to places where he believed he would get better service. I began withdrawing myself and sending his calls to voicemail. Every voicemail was another request for me to visit. The thing is, I wasn’t even sure where he was located anymore.
On Father’s Day, back in the last and ultimately final hospital, I visited my Dad. I spent 4 hours with him and he was in amazingly good spirits. I wondered if my lack of communication with him had pushed him to change his attitude. This was one of the best conversations I had ever had with him. This was my Dad. This is the man I remembered. It ended up being the last conversation we would ever have.
One last visit.
This was it. Waking up to the voicemail that my Dad was being moved from the regular floor to the ICU. I arrived to the hospital to find chaos. My Dad dazed and confused, mumbling incoherent thoughts. I think he said hello to me, but it still is a blur. I was ushered out and told to wait in the lobby. I waited almost an hour to find out what the situation was. The situation that an infection had spread in his body and he was too weak to fight it. There was no more time for him to change.
One by one friends and family were called. We didn’t know how much time he had left but all would make an effort to get there. The beeps and bells keeping my Dad alive echoed throughout the hospital room. The ventilator puffed his chest up and down. By the evening anyone who was anyone had arrived to say goodbye.
As the next morning dawned there was no news. He was still alive but only by the work of machines. There was nothing to be done besides wait. I returned to the hospital. With a latex glove I held my Dad’s hand, excusing myself when we knew it was his time to go. I couldn’t wistness his final breath. I didn’t have the strength. I knew he was gone. When I returned to the room to reunite with my family, I saw my Dad’s reflection in the hospital window. A reflection that it was all over.
Years have passed but the memory is all too present. The what ifs at times are thought consuming and exhausting. I know they can be toxic and unproductive but I still feel the guilt. The guilt that I should have done more, I should have been stronger. I am doing my best with the obesity battle myself so why couldn’t I have helped my own Dad?
This disease is real. Obesity is more than just a number on a scale. It is an emotional, mental, physical bullshit of a battle I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Sometimes it feels like a battle that can’t even be won, questioning if the fight is worth it. I know my Dad questioned his own abilities time and time again. I have the same internal dialogue myself. Behind every blog post or Instagram picture is a woman who will never have all the answers to this healthy living puzzle. All that really matters though, you keep trying to put the puzzle pieces together.