June 8, 2011!!! What started out to be just an ordinary Wednesday ended up being a day that changed my life as I always knew it. While leaving work on that warm June day my cell rang. It was my mother. My father collapsed and was being taken by ambulance to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Bethpage. That afternoon, my parents were supposed to be driving home from their trailer in Connecticut however they ended up coming home a day early. Since my dad still had the day off from work he went to do some errands. When he arrived home he pulled into the driveway, shut off the ignition, and then the unthinkable happened. He had a seizure while in the car and afterward when he exited the car he stumbled while walking to the house and collapsed on the front lawn. It was a good thing my mother was home at the time.
He was conscious and talking and able to answer questions. My mom’s first thought was dehydration as the temperature was in the 80’s that day and all my dad had to drink was a cup of coffee in the morning I arrived at the hospital around the same time the ambulance did. The EMTs thought he may have had a stroke as when they asked him to hold out his arms, he didn’t hold them at equal heights. I heard the nurses refer to him as the stroke patient when passing the desk on my way to pick my sister up at the local train station. After several tests, we learned he had a small brain tumor on the left side of his brain. Based on its location it was operable and they wanted to do surgery as soon as they could as there was no reason to biopsy before surgery as the tumor would have to be removed anyway. My dad was transferred to Mercy Medical Center in Rockville Centre and surgery was scheduled for that coming Monday.
I couldn’t believe it. I just saw him the day before and he was fine. There were no warning signs there was a tumor in his brain. However I decided that although a tumor was found, it was being removed and I figured he would recover and bounce back to his normal self just after his illness back in 1988. Then June 13 came, the day of the surgery. Surgery went well. We were shocked he was awake and talking when in recovery. As he was laying in recovery he asked us if we saw Harry Potter singing and dancing at the Tony Awards the night before. He wasn’t confused; Daniel Radcliff who played Harry Potter in the movies was in a Broadway show that season. When my sister told him she was taking his car back to Long Beach so she can visit him in the hospital without having to be picked up each time. He told her “Don’t go overboard with my car.”” He reminded my mother about some bills that had to be paid that week. His only complaint was that his head hurt however that was understandable, after all he just had brain surgery.
A few days later we learned about the tumor. Since brain tumors are measured in grades based on how aggressive they are vs. stages like other cancers, his was Grade 4 meaning it was very aggressive. It probably wasn’t in there very long which is why there were practically no warning signs. Although his recovery went fairly well the one side effect was that his right side of the body was weaker than the left side because the left side of the brain which was operated on controls the right side of the body. Since my dad was primarily right handed this meant he had issues cutting his food, tying shoes, and writing (his writing wasn’t always legible before the surgery so you can imagine what this looked like). This weakness also affected his legs which meant he had to rely on a walker, my grandmother’s walker.
Even with physical and occupational therapy my dad still couldn’t do and get around the way he used to. You can see how this frustrated him at times as he couldn’t do the things for himself. He had difficulty dialing a phone and opening his cell phone before missing the call was a chore. Sure he didn’t mind getting out of some of the household chores like scooping the cat box and cleaning, however he was dying to go upstairs for some privacy or to just jump in the car and go to the store by himself. The one saving grace was that he had his trusty three legged cat to keep him company and sane. The next step was chemo and radiation to make sure this pesky tumor didn’t grow back.
That summer my mom drove my dad to Winthrop Hospital for Hyperbaric Radiation in addition to physical and occupational therapy. Everything went well, better than expected. Unfortunately the next rounds of chemo didn’t go as well. He was allergic to it. He would have high fevers and tremors, sometimes resulting in the inability to move. After several attempts, some resulting in visits to hospitals the treatments were stopped. Basically, he was a mystery of science as these side effects weren’t normal for the drug. The downside was that as this was the only chemo drug for his case. All the doctors could do was monitor the brain with frequent MRIs to make sure no growth returned. Knock on wood everything was fine for a few months. Then we saw changes. We saw him having issues walking, even with the walker. We had to constantly have to remind him how to walk with it. Gradually his walking and mobility got worse. Although some of the first MRI’s didn’t show anything, the later MRIs did. Then on Thursday, June 7, almost a year to the day we learned that the tumor returned however this time in the motor part of the brain which meant it was inoperable; if removed it could paralyze him.
Since the first tumor was grade 4 and very aggressive we only assumed so was this one. His walking and mobility gradually worsened so much so that we had to begin wheeling him around the house in kitchen chairs. He was so shaky my mother couldn’t leave the house. She spent her nights sleeping on the living room couch with a baby monitor making sure she could hear my dad when he needed her. On the morning of Saturday, June 30 I called to check in with my mother before doing an errand for her. When I called she told me my father was having a seizure triggered by him falling while getting him dressed. I quickly called my sister as I ran out of my apartment. I don’t think I ever drove from Farmingdale to Wantagh so fast in my entire life. When I arrived at my parent’s Wantagh home the ambulance was there and my dad was still having a seizure. When the ambulance left I went with my mother to the hospital in Bethpage. When the ambulance got there my dad was still tremoring from the seizure. This wasn’t like some of the others he had in the past; this one was much more severe.
They moved him to Mercy Medical Center because of his doctors. He couldn’t fully recover from this and a week later they decided that due to the effects of the tumor that Hospice would be the next step. All I can say am I barely slept that night. My mind kept spinning. How was this even possible? Just a little over a year ago he was normal. We weren’t ready to say goodbye to him as fast as he was only 66 and still had a lot of years left. Seeing my dad just lying there wasn’t easy. He wasn’t the same man I knew my whole life. The only good thing was it brought members of the family together. On July 21, just three days shy of his 67th birthday my dad passed. After a week and a half in Hospice we expected it. In some ways it was a comfort knowing he wasn’t in pain anymore. We knew it was peaceful as we were all there. It was so peaceful that we didn’t realize he had. Although our time with him was cut way too short we know he is with us every day of our lives.