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Friday, March 23, 2012

Bicycle Ode to Dad III: Don't go there!

The first time I was a real patient in a hospital was to have my tonsils removed. But that was a short-lived stay when I was maybe five or six years old. Then it got serious. I had double hernia surgery the summer I graduated from High School.

But that experience was far more memorable for the way it grew my spiritual faith than for it's repair to my torn tissues. What I mean by that is I was a relatively new Christian and the "down" time gave me a really special in-the-hospital opportunity to read and reflect; it actually helped set the course of my life through the ensuing 20 years. I actually came away from the hospital stay with a sense that its environment was friendly, nurturing, and a resource providing multiple types of revitalization! I have had my share of hospital visits since that post-high school graduation event. Sadly, the hospital environment has become a scarier place to find oneself--or one's loved ones.

Immediately following my dad's bicycle accident on January 9th he was transported to the hospital for x-rays and a MRI. Their findings told him that the impact of the accident fractured three vertebrae in his lower back--and before he left the hospital he was feeling them!

Right after he was hit by the car he had jumped up from the pavement feeling pretty good and declared he was "...jus' gonna go back home."
(It was the Adrenalin talking.) But the ambulance staff reasoned with him and he changed his mind. So sure enough, once he got to the hospital he could feel the swelling in his hips and lower back--and he knew he'd been "Bumped!"--that's how he referred to it. Then, because he was having great difficulty walking, he was more agreeable to a stay in the rehab facility for a while. He was prescribed a steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and encouraged to remain in the rehab wing for a few days so his doc could observe him and the rehab staff could teach him how to use a walker, etc. He expected to be discharged by the end of the week. But then...

Bacterial pneumonia! It was diagnosed late in that first week--Thursday or Friday. It was Friday night when my family called to let me know what all was going on...and the pneumonia really hit him hard and fast, so that by the early part of the next week he had lost a lot of strength. Ugh. Late that second week he was also diagnosed with MRSA--a blood born hospital acquired staff infection (probably from the IV's). And this was a HUGE sucker punch to an 87 year-old guy. He was put on some strong antibiotic medications and quarantined.

So he went into his third long week in the hospital fighting these two KILLER infections! That's when I flew to the Northwest to be with Dad--and Mom and my very concerned family members. And by the end of that third week, with the help of the meds--and lots of prayer, he had beaten back the infections. All that "bed rest" and those infections had impacted him physically and emotionally; he was physically weak and experienced some "hospital psychosis." Then, suddenly, he got the pneumonia again.

Here, above right, we're all gathered in his room the night of the Super Bowl. Dad had really hoped to watch the game with us, but as you can see he fell asleep just before it ended. I was scheduled to fly home the following day, Monday. I was encouraged because Dad was lucid, in good humor, was doing well with his daily physical therapy--strong, but he tired easily.We had every reason to believe he would be able beat down the pneumonia again despite his little stamina. Dad was facing his fifth consecutive week in the hospital and I would follow his progress following my return to Colorado. Everyone remained optimistic.

You already know the rest of the story. I awoke to an early Valentine's Day text from my niece telling me that Dad, "our Valentine," had quietly passed away early that morning. I was smitten. I wondered, in retrospective disbelief, how all this had happened? Sure he was elderly (but in excellent mental and physical health and athletically strong!), and sure he was hit by a car (--but his injuries were thankfully minor and uncomplicated). Actually, he died from hospital-related complications. The environment that "...was friendly, nurturing, and a resource providing multiple types of revitalization" to me as a kid in the 1960's had become dad's enemy (--click on that)!

We're planning a Memorial Service for dad, Dr. Wm. G. Brown, on the West Coast, in Corvallis, yet this Spring.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My Bycycle Ode to Dad...continued

It was a trip I really didn't want to make to the Pacific Northwest! My "I don't want to" felt so strangely unusual...even foreboding...since I'm always exuberant making this flight to Portland. I'm generally filled with wonderful anticipation at even the thought of getting close to the Northwest's sensual embrace--but not this time. I was very aware that Dad and my family really needed me there--for all the wrong reasons. Then finally walking into his hospital room, in Corvallis, I saw the quick light of recognition in his face,...and gradually I observed how he appeared close to giving up. (Right, below, my sister, Suzie, talking to Dad in his hospital room just before Valentines Day.)

That's a place I've really never seen him go to. Dad has always been a quiet but doggedly persevering guy. He always hated getting attention--anyone could see it was uncomfortable for him; very shy. So, just tricking him to look into a camera's lens and a smile was very difficult--well, it almost never happened! But despite his shyness and general social hesitancy he was very well accomplished!

Dad was "hard core." By that I mean he was an athlete and a quiet competitor. He was an honor student throughout his school years; he won a full ride scholarship as an AAU Champion Wrestler at Kansas State; he pursued and was awarded a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics at Iowa State before he moved us all to the Northwest and Oregon State College (1955). At OSU he was a teacher-researcher-scientist. Soon he became a full professor. His humble, scholarly style was punctuated by a dry, clever humor and his blue-eyed mischievous "twinkle." It won the hearts of many student "mentees" from all over the world, and they recommended him for "best teacher" awards. When he received these, albeit reluctantly, he suggested--"...but this is my job."

Tennis was one of Dad's big passions. As I understand it he began playing when he was in college at Kansas State. Later he taught us all how to play--including my mom. He played long into his 50's before his knees and an old back injury began "talking" to him. Before he stopped playing (actually he never really "gave it up") he ranked near the top of the Corvallis Tennis Club ladder having won singles and doubles championships multiple times. (See, left, my youngest sister, Suzie, and my dad, in the fuzzy pic, accepting his Corvallis Singles Tennis Trophy @ Summer, 1968.) And I never could beat Dad. Even after he could no longer physically "out-play" me he would still "out-think" my use of the court! That was always frustrating for me--but oh such great fun!!

So, perhaps you can understand when I say Dad just wasn't one to give-up. Nevertheless, as we talked there in his room, with the friendly hospital staff going in and out and friends also coming and going, I slowly grew concerned. He was really tired.

Yes, there is still more to this story.......in my next blog.

Dick