Thursday, February 26, 2015

Congestive Heart Failure

My eighty-seven-year-old dad's in the hospital again. I spent the day with him. I'm glad I did because I got to talk to his doctors and nurses. He's going to be fine. They have him on a complex cocktail of medications and minerals and a low-sodium diet and they're shooting oxygen up his nose and doing all these healthful things to keep his heart beating as long as it can.

Dad has congestive heart failure. I was ignorant about what that is, exactly, until today. I thought having heart failure meant certain, sudden death. It does mean certain death--none of us will live forever--but it's not necessarily sudden. If well treated, someone can live quite well with the disease. Well, at least until something else kills ya.

When I'm stressed out and worried about things beyond my control, I enjoy doing research. I'm telling you: being a librarian has kept me out of Osawattomie.

This is a fantastic article that explains what congestive heart failure is in an easy-to-understand way.

All I know is, I chose the salad bar in the hospital cafeteria this afternoon. I always become overly concerned with my own health when my dad is sick. It's so weird. Our aging parents are so goddamn good at reminding us of our own mortality. Jerks. Thanks for giving us life, then making us worry about death.

So I sat there and munched on my lettuce leaves and beets and olives and tomatoes and onions and carrots and chick peas and green peas, and Parmesan cheese while I added "up my walking regimen" to my mental to-do list. After lunch I went on a walk and made a mental grocery list that would read like food porn to the American Heart Association. More kale. More Brussels sprouts. More broccoli, cauliflower, olives, and whatever the-next-big-thing-in-the-produce-section is.

I know kale won't keep me from certain death, but I'm hoping it slows the pace down a bit. I want to prevent the pain and suffering that accompanies disease and death. But life does not exist to give me what I want. Life exists. No reason. And then it ends. Just like that. Without bothering to consult anyone about it. That is so scary. We need each other to get through it.

My dad is eighty-seven years old. I must face the fact that he's not going to live forever. My time with him is limited. It was weird to spend the day with him. It felt strange for him to defer the doctor's and nurse's questions to me, like I was the one in charge. My dad and I had such horrible fights when I was a teenager exactly because I wanted to be in charge of my own life and Dad was such an authoritarian back then. But not now. Today I helped my dad change into pajama pants.

Dad's simmered way down over the years and with the help of sertraline. He's this tiny old man with a huge survival instinct. He pays attention to his body and goes to the doctor when something seems not right. Like when he was gasping for air while sitting in front of the TV, not just while out on the dance floor with his single senior lady friends. Oh yeah, he dances. My eighty-seven-year-old dad is a dance fiend. I should dance more, too.

Dad takes great care of himself. He's been a great role model for me to witness ways to take care of myself. Perhaps I shouldn't see my concern for my own health as selfish. I'm taking care of myself, which teaches my daughter to care for herself. Survival of the family tree, long after individual branches have fallen to the ground.