Monday, June 17, 2013

Father's Day

Even by PDT standards, it's no longer Father's Day, but I'll pretend for the moment that I'm in Hawaii, which doesn't observe Daylight Savings Time, and is therefore three hours behind us.  It's 10:26 p.m. in Hawaii as I begin this post, and Father's Day is still going strong.  There's still plenty of time for my tribute to my dad.

If you watched House, M.D.,you know that this  is a picture of the character Wilson, as played by Robert Sean Leonard, and not a picture of my dad. I've posted it because I don't have permission to post a picture of my dad, and all the girls at The Loony Bin, my name for the in-house facility where I was treated for PTSD, insisted that my dad is a doppleganger for Dr. Wilson. I should note that my dad's eyes are not brown, as are Robert Sean Leonard's, but are dark blue. 

I'll try to avoid telling the story of the birth of my twin and me, as it's a story that has probably been recounted more than enough in this blog already, but I can't start any tribute to my dad as a father without again mentioning that his hands were the first human hands to touch me. He was scrubbed up, gloved and in the operating room for our Caesarean delivery.  The decision was made to take the tiny baby first if I was accessible -- and I was -- because I would need the most immediate treatment.  So my dad reached for me, while almost immediately after, my Uncle Jerry removed Matthew. Matthew  and I have an ongoing argument as to which of us is older. He was conceived in an earlier cycle. He says that makes him older. I was the first one out of the womb. I say that makes me older. While we both have identical times denoted on our birth certificates -- Dad and Uncle Jerry worked fast and got us both out in under sixty seconds -- also noted on the long form of the birth certificate is that I was the first of the twins delivered. I'm older. End of discussion.

Getting back to my original point, though, there's a special significance to my father's hands being the first to touch me. The story goes that I was initially suctioned, and immediately began wailing as loudly as the average three-month old baby with a serious mad-on is capable. Uncle Jerry remarked, as he was removing Matthew,  that I was going to be a singer just like my mommy. Once I was screaming and breathing, my dad held me so that my mom could see me. She sort of recoiled, as I was tiny, with the transparent skin early preemies have that allows many of their veins to be seen. "She's going to make it, Erin," my dad reassured my mom, who had, less than two years earlier, lost twin micro-preemies. He turned to the neonatologist -- the one of the two who had been present for the births of our older twin brother who didn't survive because they were born too early. At the point Nicholas' and Christopher's births were imminent, it was known that the odds were heavily stacked against them.  When Christopher, the firstborn, was delivered, my dad whispered to the neonatologist, "No extreme measures." He didn't even have to say the same for Nicholas, the second twin, as he didn't even survive the second Apgar scoring. He was allowed to go quietly.

When my dad handed me off to the neonatologist for suctioning, Apgar testing, and whatever else it is that they do, he quietly said to him, "I want extreme measures for this one."

Though the neonatologist replied over my screams, "We won't even need'em, John. This one's a strong baby."  It is significant to me that my father, in addition to being possessor of the first human hands ever  to touch me, was also my very first advocate in my entire life. Even though it hasn't always seemed that way to me in my very biased eyes, he's probably continued to be my greatest advocate throughout my life.

My relationship with my dad hasn't been entirely one of sweetness and sunlight. I was not the easiest child to raise, and my dad has always dealt with a highly demanding profession and, for several years of his marriage, with a very sick wife.  My mom had her first kidney stone on their honeymoon. He said he should have taken that as an omen.  Then there was the tragedy of Christopher and Nicholas.  We were born and, despite early issues with my premature birth, everything worked out. Then my mother became very high-strung almost to the point of being manic.

My father -- more, I'm told, than the average physician, which is probably one of the attributes that makes him the outstanding researcher that he is -- has the ability to step back and look at things relatively objectively even when his own family is concerned. While most doctors, or even most husbands in general, would be phoning the first psychiatrist  whose number they could locate, my dad knew that physical causes needed to be ruled out first.  It was a wise decision on his part. My mom had become extremely hyperthyroid. Symptoms were controlled through drugs while an endocrinologist waited for long enough to ensure it was not thyroiditis and would not soon burn itself out. It didn't, and the diagnosis of Graves' Disease was given.  That was taken care of easily enough with Radioactive Iodine therapy, but she then developed thyroid eye disease. She had radiation at one point, in addition to steroids, to reduce the swelling of her optic nerve. The measures were not enough, and to relieve the severe bulging of her eyes and to preserve her vision, she had done an extremely invasive surgery known as orbital decompression, whereby through means of which I'll spare you the details, the eyeballs were removed from their sockets, tissue and bone were removed, and the eyeballs were replaced.  this surgery was successful.

Then, about three years later, She began to lose weight, and she was thin before experiencing any symptoms. She also was having unexplained nosebleeds. She fainted a few times at work and once at home when just Matthew and I were there with her. We called 9-1-1, which angered her somewhat once she regained consciousness, but ended up being the very best thing that could have happened, because it started the chain of testing that revealed her leukemia.

She had chemotherapy, which slowed the progression, but was in need of a bone marrow transplant.  Every living adult relative - siblings, aunts, uncles -- was tested. No one was a close enough match.  She insisted that she did not want bone marrow from either Matthew or me -- that it was too hazardous a procedure through which to put five-year-old children. Now it's quite a bit simpler, but back then, it involved an overnight hospital stay even for the donor, and the site would be painful for quite some time. My father weighed his options and had us tested without her knowledge. I, as he had predicted, was a near-perfect match.

My father lied to my mother about whose bone marrow she was receiving. I can't recall whether he told her it was an aunt or whether he said it was a random donor match.  Regardless, the procedure was undergone, and it took. She underwent an additional round of chemo that took a heavy toll on her, and I  became ill for a variety of reasons, but I recovered and so did she.   My part in the procedure was to be kept a secret from my mom, but I blurted it out on Christmas morning of that year when I felt slighted because my mother appeared to like the Christmas present my brother had made for her at school  more than she liked the one I had made.. My mom was mad at my dad, my dad was mad at me, and Christmas was essentially ruined, but the bottom line is that nearly thirteen years later, she's cancer free. Other than still having kidney stones and not being terribly energetic, she's as healthy as she's ever been in her life. My dad had made the right call.  He said the rationale was that no amount of pain from a procedure could be as harmful to a child as losing her mother. He was 100% correct, as he is more often than not.

My father, eminent oncologist and hematologist and esteemed researcher that he is, is not without flaws.  His work is never very far from his mind. he can be mid-conversation with one of us about something fairly significant, and his eyes will get this look that they always get when a revelation of some sort comes to him. He walks away and goes immediately to his computer, types in information, does whatever it is he does with his data, and comes back half an hour or so later, having forgotten that an important conversation was ever taking place. He does the same thing in social settings, although under those circumstances he does politely excuse himself mid-conversation before walking away.  People who know him well have come to expect this of him. It makes the behavior no less irritating, but we know it will happen.

The funny thing about this is that he hates all medical TV shows, and has a particular loathing for House, MD, which is still around in reruns.  (It's not unusual for people of a particular profession to find flaws with any TV show relate to their field. My cousin who is a District Attorney hates  Law and Order and all its spinoffs. Another cousin who's a firefighter hates Chicago Fire. These programs supposedly have actual people from the field advising them on technical aspects of the profession, but those expert consultants  apparently are not allowed enough input, as it's practically a law of nature that doctors detest medical dramas in particular.) Anyway, my dad said House  jumped the shark with the very first episode: that the whole premise of having a diagnostics department with several highly paid doctors, who collectively deal with only one patient at a time, would bankrupt a hospital in a matter of months. He's probably right about that part. Additionally, he was fond of screaming stuff like, "A protozoa is not a fungus, you moron! Who writes this garbage, anyway? Someone with a sixth-grade education?"

The one thing that House got right, though, at least as comparing Dr. House himself to my dad, was the way House would be talking to someone -- usually Wilson or Cuddy -- and something they said would trigger something in his mind. He'd get that weird look in his eyes, he'd walk away, and then he'd immediately cure the patient of the mystery illness. In my dad's case, it's not quite so dramatic; he walks away, types something into his computer, re-configures data, and maybe somewhere two years down the road someone will be saved as a result of his inspiration. Still, it's a similarity, and acquaintances outside the family have even pointed it out.

Another manifestation of my dad's humanity is his vocabulary. By this, I don't mean that he speaks in monosyllabic words or sounds like a hillbilly. What I do mean is that words most of us would consider profanities are far from foreign to him. He managed to restrain himself reasonably well until my brother and I were about six. He considered that, for some arbitrary justification, to be the age of reason.That was the age, he decided, that Matthew and I could hear naughty words on a regular basis and understand that just because he said them did not give us license to use the words ourselves. For the most part, it worked. My mother, who was still pretty sick at the time, didn't have the energy to fight it. She merely told us, "I know Daddy says those words, but they're adult words, and if I catch you or hear of you saying them, you'll have your mouth washed out with soap." That was all it took to keep us from turning into the verbal equivalent of miniature sailors. By the time we were in high school he even unleashed his full vocabulary in front of our friends. They thought he was absolutely hilarious and wanted to hang out at our house all the time.

Up to this point, I've mostly illustrated what a flawed human being my father is. There is far more to him than just his flaws, though.  When I had multiple fractures from a freak hurdling accident about three years ago, he was at my bedside all night every night until I was released from the hospital. He even had me moved into a larger room so he could set up a miniature work station in my hospital room and be there most of the daytime as well. When a nurse mistreated me during that hospital stay, he used his influence (which was unusual for him; he doesn't take his influence terribly seriously and doesn't like to throw his weight around) to have her censured and transferred to another floor.  When I had an auto accident last year (THAT WAS NOT MY FAULT!!!), he made other relatives and near-relatives promise to provide round-the-clock coverage at the hospital and not trust the staff to look after me until he and my mom could make it back from Australia.  When I was in third grade and lost a math textbook (to this day I have no clue as to where it could have gone) and my teacher was making my life miserable over it, he personally went to the school office, asked the price of the textbook, forked over the cash, and asked the principal to guarantee that the teacher would stop giving me nightmares about a stupid missing math textbook. When 9-11 happened, he drove nine hours through  heavy traffic from San Diego to the Sacramento area to be at home with his family. When CPS showed up at our house because (it's along story recounted elsewhere) I had strange bruises on my bottom from sitting on my brother's Mardi Gras beads all the way from Las Vegas to  a place near Fresno. and a junior pervert girl looking over the bathroom stall saw them  and reported it to the office,  he first tried to bribe me to show the CPS worker my body, then, even after he had to restrain me so that she could look, gave me the money he had offered anyway, and let me stay home from school that day and watch videos and eat pizza for lunch because he knew I was traumatized by having a stranger who was not a medical professional look at my nude body. When the thugs propelled the rock and brick through my window with a high-powered slingshot the night after I was attacked, he was on a plane from New York  two hours later and was home before the sun was up even though the conference for which he had paid thousands of dollars to attend still had two remaining days.

My dad has been there for me when I needed him most. Though I don't even like to think about it, as my father right now to me seems ageless-- someone who will never grow old -- I hope I can do the same for him when he needs me.

It was past  Father's Day in Hawaii when I finished this, but, if my understanding is correct, it's still June 16 @ 11:14 in Pago Pago, Samoa, so I made my deadline.

Happy Father's Day, Daddy.


  1. What a sweet post. You are both lucky to have each other.

  2. Even with his quirks you're very lucky to have a father like him.