My brother said it happened just like he thought it would. The news would come by an early morning phone call from me.
About 45 minutes earlier, my phone rang at 3:30 a.m. It stopped before I got to it. I didn’t recognize the number on the caller id.
“Someone drunk dialed,” I thought.
I was almost back to sleep when it rang again. This time the call was coming from my parent’s house. It was my mom.
“Annie, I don’t want you to panic, but the ambulance just took your dad to the hospital.”
I hung up and went for the closet.
“What do you wear at 4’o clock in the morning to the hospital?”
I was panicked, I was scared, and I didn’t know what to wear. I paced back and forth a few times in the closet before I pulled myself together enough to reach for an argyle sweater and pair of jeans.
I started making phone calls in the car on the way to my mom’s to pick her up; my sister in New Castle, first, then my brother. I decided to wait to call my sister in Boston. Not much she could do from there.
Mom was waiting at the door when I got to her house. On the way to hospital she told me that dad woke up with chest pains, numbness in his left arm, and shortness of breath, all the classic signs of a heart attack. He took an aspirin then he woke up my mom.
By the time we got to the cardiac unit, Dad was already wearing a light green hospital gown with tubes and wires as accessories. I’d seen him like this a couple years before in the emergency room, when a dog in the back of a truck reached out and took a chunk out of his arm as he passed it in a parking lot.
My older brother, on the other hand, had never seen my dad looking so vulnerable. I could see it on his face, my brother was scared. I’m sure all the times dad had rescued us ran through his mind. Now it was my dad’s turn to be rescued.
Before 10 a.m., my mom, brother, sister, brother-in-law and I surrounded my dad’s hospital bed. We thought that we were being strong. We thought that we were doing a good job of hiding our fear and concern. I knew it made him uncomfortable to have us all staring at him like that, but-true to form-my dad talked and joked with us to show us that he was going to be okay.
The worst of it seemed to be over by the time he got to the hospital. He felt so much better that he began to regret going. By mid-day it looked as if dad would be staying overnight, just as a precaution.
Mom and I headed home for a nap. I didn’t make it all the way up to my room. I just took off my shoes and lay down on the couch.
Less than an hour later, my tearful mom was on the phone again. The blood tests confirmed that he, indeed, had a heart attack and the doctor wanted to do an angioplasty as soon as possible.
This time I didn’t stop to consider my appearance.
My mom and I didn’t say much on the way back to the hospital. I knew I should talk to her. I knew I should say something. I knew I shouldn’t let her sit there and cry and stew over what could happen, but I didn’t know what to say. I begrudged being the youngest at that moment. My older sister in Boston would be much better suited for supporting my mom when she needed it the most.
I said the only thing I could think of. I told mom that we couldn’t let dad see us scared. He was going to be scared enough without having to worry about us. I said it more for me than for her.
We had just a few minutes to talk to him before they came to take him down for what would be an hour- long procedure.
I wonder if doctors ever get tired of people thanking them. I wonder if saving lives eventually becomes passé. When the doctor came in the waiting room to tell her how the procedure went, my mom thanked him as if he had just given her a hundred Christmas presents with a hundred shiny red bows. My dad - got a brand new stint in the front of his heart to keep his artery open.
Later that night, Mom, Dad, and I watched “Dancing with the Stars” together in his hospital room. That jilted bachelorette turned out to be really good. Dad had to lie really still for the next few hours, some of the longest of his life.
His life. Dad’s life.
My dad didn’t die on March 16th.
The time for fear is over. Now, it’s just a time for gratitude. So, to celebrate my dad’s life, we had a barbeque. We called it the “Barbeque-not-a-Funeral-Barbeque.”
Dad had chicken.