Saturday, January 9, 2010

Crash Into Me

I mentioned in an earlier post that I grew up in a home with an alcoholic father. I am sure there are many of those, and I bet a lot of those homes are filled with turmoil. As I remember it, my childhood was pretty close to ideal. My father was a kind, smart, loving man. He wasn't consistent in his drinking. He was one of those alcoholics that would go years without drinking and then something would hit and he would go all out until he had created as much chaos as possible, then spend the next few days hungover and castigating himself while we as a family worked to create a sense of normalcy so that when he walked into the family room with his head hung low, ready to apologize, we could all act as though nothing had happened and no harm was done. We then spent the next years living the life of the perfect American family.

So much credit goes to my mother who went above and beyond to shield my brother and I from the intermittent craziness. Despite the misery of her situation she always put on a smiling face and took us out on adventures while Dad recovered so we wouldn't have to hear his dry heaves in the bathroom. My brother is two years older than I and he must have seen and known more than me because, to this day, his relationship with my father is very strained, to the point of being inexistent. I remember one afternoon when we came home from school and "good times Dad" was there. He was cheery and chatty and told us that he was taking us all to the circus that night. My brother and I cheered, basking in his great mood and stories of lions and trapeze artists. But then there was a muted argument between my mother and him and she took his keys. Dad got belligerent, stormed off to their bedroom and slammed the door. Mom had to follow up on his drunken promise that got us kids all excited. Like a trooper she took us to the circus that night. When we came home there was a pool of vomit in the hallway and Dad was passed out on the bathroom floor. My brother made a game out of it for me where we hopped over the puke pile until Mom could get it cleaned up. I thought my brother was as clueless as I to the turmoil but years later he told me that it was all he could think to do to make the situation less stressful for me. He was in agony for my mother and knew all along what was really happening to our family. He became the little man of the family. I was eight then and I don't remember Dad drinking again until my senior year, when I was 18.

Dad is a high-functioning alcoholic. He has lived a long life filled with success, provided a comfortable life for all of us. He was very involved in church because that was the addiction he turned to when he needed to get away from the alcohol. But around ten years ago when work was stressful he got his first DUI. When I got married, something Dad was not a big fan of, he drank again. The instances started getting closer together. The night before I started my new job at a prestigious accounting firm Mom got a call from a nurse in a tiny town two hours away. She and her husband had found Dad on the side of the road on his hands and knees confused and scraped up. We drove until 3am to get him and bring him home. Then almost three years ago he got his second DUI on his way back from a little road trip with an old drinking buddy and they both spent a night in jail. He was ordered to go to an alcohol awareness class that seemed to really make a difference. This last summer he was laid off after more than 30 years with the same company. Usually something like that would set him into a tailspin accompanied by a liter of Jack Daniels and a case of Coors Light. He started in that direction, Mom came home to find him drinking out of a hidden case of beer in his bedroom. I went over spent that afternoon pleading with him to stop the cycle, to walk away from the alcohol before he did damage that he couldn't undo. Mom was breaking down in her bedroom and I shifted between the two of them trying to comfort each in whatever way they needed. After telling my father that he had a chance at that point to make up to Mom for what he had put her through for decades he allowed me to take the beer and search his room for any remaining alcohol. He spent the next month and a half on his best behavior and we all thought that we had narrowly escaped what could have been the end of our happy family, since Mom was poised to leave him.

Then, the first week of October, Mom had a business trip. Leaving Dad alone is never good but we really thought that he had worked out his demons and would behave. During the course of her second day away we tried to contact Dad. I called, she called. It got to be late and we both knew what it meant. She asked me to drive by the house, then took it back because neither of us really wanted to know if he wasn't home. I told her that I would check in the morning, hoping that he would be home by then and even if he had been drunk he wouldn't be a jerk by that time. I would see "morning after Dad". He was a lot more tolerable.

But at 10:19 p.m. my phone rang, which I knew was a bad sign. It was Mom, telling me that she had found Dad. The inflight paramedics had called and he was on a Careflight on his way to the trauma ER here in town. There had been an accident on a steep mountainside a couple of hours south of here, in my Dad's old stomping ground of Ft. Davis. It's where he always heads when he drinks. He went to college around there and apparently it reminds him of better days. Mom had given them my number and they were to call me when they arrived in town. I got dressed, let my husband know, and headed to the hospital to wait. There was no information on how Dad was because Mom didn't ask. The only question she had for the paramedics was, "how is my car?". Dad was driving her new Lexus RX 330 and she was more worried about losing that than Dad, understandably so. Over the last several years he had been more hindrance than helper or mate and she had been tested to her limit.

After a long wait I finally was called back to the ER when Dad arrived but there was a flurry of activity around his room and I wasn't allowed in. Eventually the swarm of doctors and nurses called me back and let me speak with Dad, who was conscious and speaking clearly. He looked terrible. His nose was noticeably broken and there was dried blood all over his face as well as a pretty nice head injury on his forehead. He looked...broken. He was my daddy, my big invincible hero and he was laying on this gurney with tears in his eyes, scared and confused. I tried to smell for alcohol, holding out hope that he had just gone for a short day trip, no alcohol involved. I didn't smell any and he was pretty lucid. We were constantly interrupted by the beeping of machines, by the nurses trying to stabilize him. I rubbed his soft hair, trying to make him feel some sense of calm and love. We talked football, because that's what we do. My love of football came from him and we have a strong connection because of it. He kept cringing in pain and then the trauma surgeon finally came to talk to us. He had severe internal injuries and bleeding and they needed to stabilize him as soon as possible so they could get him into surgery. His blood pressure was extremely low but they continued to work to prep him for surgery. I kept asking Dad about what happened and he wasn't quite sure. As he remembered it he had been driving down the mountain when he reached down to grab something in the passenger seat. Then he woke up and saw that he was bleeding all over Mom's light leather seats and knew he was in big trouble. He said that he tried to open his door but saw that he was hanging off the side of the mountain and couldn't climb out. He kept crawling back and forth across the front seat, blood pouring down his face, trying to find a way out. Then, an off-duty firefighter just magically appeared and helped him out of the car. Dad sat on the side of the road crying and shivering in the cold until a plane pulled up on the road and flew him to me in the ER two hours away. He said that he had never seen a police officer. I asked him if he had been drinking and he said that he had hardly drank at all. Since he was pretty sober at that point I figured we were good. No one had accompanied him from Careflight and there was no information or anyone to tell us the circumstances of his accident. I kept waiting to see a police officer, someone to come and say that this was his third strike, that when he was better they were taking him to jail for good.

Dad started to go downhill, the pain was worsening and radiating through his stomach. They rushed him, with me by his side, upstairs to the OR. As they prepared him further I stood talking to the surgeon about the plan. The surgeon said that he had seen a mess inside my father on the x-rays and couldn't make any promises. They would go in and try to fix what seemed to be a ruptured spleen, among other things. He asked me where the rest of our family was and I let him know that they were all out of town, I was it. He asked if I had anyone to be there with me and I let him know that I did not. So he walked me to the waiting room, showed me around, told me to get comfortable and that he would be out to see me as soon as he was done, though he had no idea how long that would be. I gave my Dad one last hug and kiss then watched them wheel him off to surgery.

I'll tell the rest of the story, and what came today that spurred me to relay it to you all tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment