When M was seven months old, in January of ’06, dad had emergency multiple bypass surgery. Afterward, he strode around the hospital telling everyone he was fine until they kicked him out. Three days later, at home, he developed congestive heart failure, known in the medical business as CHF. He couldn't lie down to sleep; his body wouldn't let him, because his lungs were filling up with fluid and he'd have drowned in his own dry bed. At first he refused to go back to the doctor, but when he hadn’t lain down in four days and was afraid to sleep sitting up because he thought he would die, back he went.
I went with him, and M, still compliant and reliably cheerful at 7 months, tagged along. Though dad seemed to be holding his own while sitting there in the office, the doctor wanted him to have more tests in the hospital, so I took him home to get his overnight bag. Then I dropped off baby M with The Prince, got a warmer coat and a cup of coffee, and headed back to pick up dad once again; about two hours had passed.
I called him from the car to say I was ten minutes away, and he answered the phone barely able to push words out, growling, "Where are you?" He gutturally whispered that he couldn't breathe, and that he was having an unstoppable nose bleed, the blood running down the back of his throat. I said, “Hang on, Dad. Hang on.”
I put on some speed and called 911 from the car and paramedics arrived as I did. My father had blood all over his shirt; it was all over the bathroom. His face was a dusky blue. He couldn't finish a sentence. The paramedics slapped an oxygen mask on him and we went lights and sirens to the hospital.
I had never seen that terror in my father’s eyes before.
Amazingly, the color was already coming back to his face just from the little bit of oxygen he’d received on the way to the hospital. And once in a bed, with fluids coming in through and IV, and more oxygen, his voice came back, and the panic began to abate, for both of us.
But for the moment, my father had been a helpless old man. Ragged at the eyes, thin, gray hair wild, and face hollow, this was my lonely father, finally lost without my mother who had herself died of a heart attack five years before. Now he was facing his own mortality and not sure it wasn't a relief to be doing so.
I stayed with him till about 10:30, just until I began to feel the room swim around me from pure exhaustion. My breasts hurt so much, as I hadn’t nursed M in 6 hours at that point; in fact it was the longest time I’d ever been away from M. So I left my father and went back to my baby. There was nothing else I could do.
I took my father's clothes and his jacket and his tall black faux fur hat and his $10 glasses from Riteaid and I left, feeling utterly beaten as I walked up the street, and like my dad, weirdly relieved of my will at the same time.
I climbed the stairs to the elevated N line, and as I stood there, thinking of my baby, aching with menstrual cramps and terribly thirsty, the dry, medicinal taste of the ER air still in my mouth, I started to shake with the hunger to be pregnant again. It seemed to be suddenly revving every cell in my body like the diesel engine of an ambulance, and it made more sense in my mind than anything other than the baby I already had; that the only answer to all this work of not dying, and to the work of dying, too, its inevitability, is to have