My father called me 2/27/2020. We spoke for an hour and 8 minutes. He wasn’t feeling great but was his usual optimistic self. I listened to him tell me stories and drift off here and there. That has been the way of conversations with him for awhile. But this call alarmed me more. He said something I hadn’t heard before. “They cancelled my appointment.”
He has a lot of them. He has had several surgeries over the years for his knees. He was in a coma for a month at one point. He’s had a very hard time and been through a lot. But always fighting. Always ready for the next thing and willing to work to get better and ultimately visit me here in New York City. He wanted very much to surprise me one day by showing up on my doorstep.
In March I started hearing it from Mom too, “They cancelled your father’s appointments.”
They were cancelling appointments because of the coronavirus. By that time NYC was taking it more seriously. We were seeing the catastrophic impact it was having in Italy. I saw a little before my boyfriend Lou did that we were going to go into a lockdown, that we were going to be wearing masks…that this was REALLY bad. Really, really, really bad. I woke in the middle of the night one night in a panic because I had dreamed my Dad was trying to get to me in NYC and upon waking I had the thought,“ OMG if something happens to my family in CA I won’t be able to get to them right now.” We had been issued a stay home order. Travel was now not only a risk to me because of everyone I could possibly come into contact with along the way but to my family. Try wrapping your head around not being able to be with your loved one when they need you most.
I have felt torn apart in the last month. Like the worst daughter in the world. Powerless. Angry and frustrated at anyone saying idiotic and ignorant things about how viruses don’t spread or how we shouldn’t be shut down. How this is fake or like the flu. That we should just isolate old people or immune compromised people and keep everything else open (because these people were suddenly pandemic experts.) Here in NYC we were hearing several times a day about someone else dying of Covid. Stay the fuck home you selfish assholes I internally screamed. I watched the online fighting. I got messages asking if my Dad had Covid because, “I think it’s just like the flu and no one I know who has it is that sick.” I muted. I blocked. Some I de-friended. I had to for self preservation.
It was impossible to have known a pandemic would happen and that it would contribute to the death of my father. No specific cancelled appointment caused my dad to die. But this virus and how we handled it caused an interruption in his care. It caused an interruption and death to many that didn’t have it.
The combination amounted to too many things failing at once and by the middle of March my Mom had to rush him to the ER. Too low a blood count. Liver failing. Everything failing because there wasn’t enough care when he needed it. There wasn’t enough care for those with Covid19 either. I understand those who are not in places like NYC who just can’t know, they can not grasp the enormity of death that has happened. I understand some do and still don’t care. But when Mom called me I could hear it in her voice. This was not something he was going to cheat death on. Not only was my Dad, my hero now failing, but they would not allow her to see him because of the quarantine. They were both alone. More than my own pain, if I could take hers away I would. Please know that my mother is amazing. She is kind and strong and should not have had to do any of this, especially without me there.
Days went by and a blur of phone calls and at the same time the whole world changed. Everyone was work from home. We started hearing from more friends about people they knew dying suddenly of Covid 19. I started walking the dogs wearing gloves. Then wearing gloves and a mask with my phone as loud as it could be so I would hear if anyone called, if my Daddy would call.
On 4/11/2020 I spoke with my Dad for 28 minutes while he was in his hospital room. He wanted to go home. He was afraid. He was alone. He loved me and wanted to see my step-kids. He wanted to visit me in NYC still. He asked me not to hang up, “please don’t hang up”. I, of course stayed on the line but I did hear when the phone slipped away from his ear and he drifted off. I heard when he awoke. He wept. He cried out for help. He was in pain and every sound he made I held the phone tighter, just in shock and heartbroken that this was happening but I was there with him as much as I could be. They were so short staffed it took a torturous amount of time for me, and for him, for them to get to him. The nurse that came in promptly hung up his phone, assuming no one was there. I was there. I left a part of me on that phone call. At that point all I wanted was for him to be pain free. To be comfortable. And for him to be with my Mom.
My Mom made the decision and then had me give the final go ahead for hospice care at home. After speaking with his doctor and nurse I did so. Another day and a half and he was home. Immediately he was happier. I take some solace in that.
He ate. He wanted all the food. He had my Mom cooking for him all night and my brother getting him food. I had seen this behavior before with Lou’s mom, Kelly when she was in an assisted hospital setting. She ate like a teenager, giant cheese burgers, right before she made the turn for the worse. Bless my Mom and brother and grandmother for making him happy with food at that time.
Once he was home I only spoke to him a couple times. Each time I told him how much I love him and in the last real conversation with him he said, “I could still show up to see in you in NYC” and “I love you” I told him that more than anything I wanted him to come see me here. I told him “I love you more.” He said, “That’s not possible.” That was the last thing my father said to me.
After his feast he slipped away more and more each day. On 4/18 Mom held the phone to his ear and I repeated I loved him over and over. He murmured but couldn’t speak any more.
4/19 his birthday. 71 years old. I had to sit and start to write this. Then I waited. I waited for my phone to ring and I shared stories about my father with you all because he is someone who should be shared. A few days ago I wondered if I had any voicemails from him. I found one he’d left on my birthday this year where he sang to me. I saved it.
The phone call I knew was coming came 4/25/20 at 3:06 PM and I knew before I answered that my Dad was gone. 61 days after that first call. I’m not ok. I have Lou and the dogs but this experience has been brutal pain in the ugliest way the world can be sometimes. I know I will be ok eventually but I needed to get this out while I remember and because each story from each family during this time is important.