Thursday, February 18, 2010

Facing Death and Making It Out Alive

WARNING: If you fear staring death in the face, this post is not for you. If you don't, read on. This can be a very vivid account of death knocking at your door and surviving it.

My father came out of the hospital very recently after being pronounced DOA there a few weeks ago. The doctors in attendance at the time managed to revive him but his brain had been without oxygen for at least 10 minutes and during the first several critical hours he was in a coma. We feared the worst and steeled ourselves for an even worse eventuality that we knew could come anytime. I watched him come and go out of a series of seizures which left me numb. I was mostly alone at the ICU unit with him and watched in the sidelines as a roomful of nurses and doctors would trek in and out of the room trying to manage the seizures as they came and went. I watched in silence as he flatlined twice in the span of a few hours. The code blue team would come rushing in, machine in tow, and they would paddle him and I would see the green line jolt back up in a sudden rush. Then everyone would wait in silence for critical seconds waiting for the green line's next move. The medical staff in the unit would visibly breathe a sigh of relief in unison when the green line would go back to its normal rhythm. I just watched the drama unfold. I was calm and collected through it all. Millions of thoughts darted through my mind but I had to be strong. I knew everyone expected it of me. I just witnessed my father die twice and come out of it fighting! Counting the time his heart just stopped at 8 a.m. earlier that day, he had actually died thrice in a span of six hours that day!!!

Finally the seizures stopped. My youngest brother and my husband were allowed to enter the ICU at this point. We conversed in hushed tones as I updated them with what I had just seen. They could only shake their heads, amazed at how a man of 75 years who had undergone a multiple bypass operation 14 years ago could die three times in six hours and come out of them mockingly shouting: IN YOUR FACE, DEATH! I can only surmise how extremely he must have wanted to go on living. Comatose or not, death was not going to beat him that day-at least not yet.

By 7 p.m. the next day, he came out of the coma. This time, I was not in the room to witness it. While he was fighting for his life, the doctors had allowed me to be with him. Now that he was no longer in critical condition, we could only come in at certain times of the day. Mostly, we just watched him through a small window. When they allowed me to come in, he was already conscious. The doctor in attendance just described to me what had transpired. Apparently, he just opened his eyes and tried to talk. But there was a tube about an inch in diameter hanging out of his mouth so he could not do so. Visibly irritated by the appendage, he pulled out the offending tube and demanded that he be allowed to go home. Family and friends began to arrive soon after because visiting hours were at 7 to 8 p.m. We had a great time talking about how he pulled out the tube and-true to form-demanded to be let out.

Now he is back home-alive, yes, but not quite the same. I don't think he will ever truly recover from his near-death experiences. He faced death squarely and beat death twice but his life will never be the same again. The effects of losing oxygen in the brain for more than 10 minutes can be truly life-changing but that is for another post.