This was a hard week. My brain feels foggy and my body feels exhausted. I go through these waves of sadness where all I want is to be in San Diego with my dad. The problem with all this chaos and trauma, is you have to keep living an alternate life of being someones mom, wife, friend and employee. I feel like taking a really long nap and staying under the covers and not doing life.
But that can't be. I have responsibilities and task lists and commitments. I feel like there was this massive thing that went on and maybe it wasn't real because all the people and places that were part of it are absent from my regular life. I don't like to talk about it, it's so big and crazy and words can take me back to those moments. But I need to let it out of my head cause holding all of those pieces in is making me mad.
The phone call came at 3:30 am on Saturday .
I was on a direct flight to San Diego by noon. I rode in the rental car shuttle with a med student and couldn't summon the courage to ask her what she knew about stroke. I focused, something I do well in crisis. Rental car to the border. A 2 hour drive that I finished in 1 1/2. I met my brother and sister at Denny's in a crappy border town I had never been to. They had been there since the 3:30 phone call, opting to drive from LA in the middle of the night instead of fighting with sleep that wouldn't come.
We drove to the hospital from there. Arriving in a Mexican town that was reminiscent of a cartel kidnapping movie. It was dirty and poor and I reminded myself to be on alert. My sister and I are both blond with blue eyes. I am always afraid for her since understanding human trafficking.
We parked at the hospital lot and paid an old man in pesos so out car wouldn't get stolen. There was no waiting room, just this outdoor courtyard where people were camped out. We made our way to the new wife, the one he had moved here for. They remarried after the divorce and I had never met her. We made introductions in Spanish and I could tell by the look in her eyes that she was scared. I tried to gather information and was met with "no se", the Spanish equivalent of I don't know anything.
I wanted so see my dad. My brain needed to register what was wrong so I could fix it. It doesn't work that way in Mexico though. 2 visitors once a day. She went first and stayed 45 minutes. My sister and I waited to see him only to be informed that only 1 of us could go up. I asked her what she wanted to do and she said she wanted to see him. She is barely 18, still in high school. I waited outside and formulated a plan with this new family of his.
I sat for hours the next day waiting to speak with a doctor I was eventually told would only speak to her. I frantically wrote down questions about his condition and translated them on google. I handed her the paper and tried to be both direct and calm, but I needed to know how bad this was and she was the only messenger.
The answers were broken pieces that survived 3 rounds of languages. The just of it being that this was bad. The stroke was left brain and massive. He was paralyzed and his brain was swelling. He had a 10% chance of ever walking or talking again. The plan, wait.
I am not a good wait and see type person. I act fast and think of 3 various options at the same time. My mind was already spinning, but I couldn't take her words as reality, cause this still wasn't real. I needed to see him.
Careful what you ask for. He had been moved from ICU, already. He was laying in a hospital bed that could of been a prop in movie about the wars in Eastern Europe. He was wearing a diaper and had a catheter dangling off the floor. There was no pillows or blankets or IV or machines or nothing. But there 5 other people in the room, all in severe condition. I touched his head and sweat was dripping down his face. His face, same but distorted. The line in his forehead. His lips were swollen together from his saliva being trapped there. There was a Styrofoam cup with brown liquid resting on the table near his bed.
"do you speak English" I asked the 20-ish intern looking nurse.
"No" he replied.
I used my broken Spanish to ask why he was so hot, was he running a fever, did he have an infection?
I asked to see the doctor. He was not there. He was about to leave. He had already left.
I do what I usually do and do something, anything. I walked in to the staff restroom without asking if I could and grabbed wadded up paper towels to wet and cool him off. I rubbed his head with the towels and forced his lips open and used my Victoria's Secret Chapstick.
I held his hand and he squeezed my hand really tight. I told him where he was, what had happened and that I would take care of everything. I told him to fight. I told him I loved him and I left before it was time to go cause I felt like throwing up.
We crossed back in to the states. I needed a working phone, a computer and time to mobilize a plan. I told my mother to come, quickly. She is the ex wife, but I needed her fearless ability to move mountains now.
I didn't sleep and I didn't cry. I listened to my 23 year old brother weep in the dark and all I could think to do was hold him. I was 10 when he was born, so holding and comforting him was natural. But this was big. This was dad. This could be death.
Mom would make her way through the border and hospital chaos and when we finally saw her she was being ushered in from the back door up to see dad. Even in a third world hospital the runs didn't apply to her. I could see it in her eyes when she returned 20 minutes later. This was bad.
We kept mobilizing that day. Asking questions, meeting people from his new life, understanding the rules of this game. We went to his house. I cried in his office. I couldn't let my self miss him yet. So I didn't allow myself to cry much. On to the next, the next border crossing, the next hotel, the next decision.
Somewhere in there Chance, Bianca and I went to eat in a Chinese restaurant. We all ended up crying and it got so bad that I went to the bathroom and threw up.
What about my graduation?
The World Cup?
Do you think Dad knows we are here?
Do you think he's going to die?
That last question would echo in mind during another sleepless night. I found rehab centers and hope stories and forced blind optimism to guide me.
I woke up renewed to fight this. To do anything to fix dad. To fix Che and B. Our first stop was the one hospital in this shitty town that people directed you to when you posed the question "Where do people with money go when they get sick"?
The honed travertine floors and granite counter tops gave me a sense of comfort. Stupid, I know. But if some doctor in a nice hospital with a high priced education could tell me the same news as the dilapidated one was, then maybe I could accept it. I waited outside while mom and Chance started asking questions, The biggest one being how much of course. That's the screwed up part about life, that in the depths of true tragedy, money is usually the only answer.
I could tell by the way she said my name that something was really wrong. Her tone, the pitch, the way she drew out the word, it made me feel like I was 5 years old and about to cross the street without looking.
This good hospital had called that bad hospital and the news was somehow worse than it had been until that moment. His brain was swelling so much that his skull was not big enough to contain it. In a matter of hours the swollen brain would force its way down his neck and kill him. The only way to save him was cutting open his skull so the brain could swell outside of his head.
The cost to save his life was decided to be $10,000.00. Deposit. That was where we start from. He would need to be transported from the bad hospital to the good one and immediately have this surgery. The money was the way to make that happen. Leaving him at the bad hospital meant he would die, by dinner time.
I called Justin, my older brother. The only piece of this puzzle that couldn't be there. He was in his own hospital, welcoming his first child to the world. The irony of him loosing the only father we had ever known and becoming one at the same moment in time. Justin is direct, factual and quick. He could hear it in my voice. I needed to hear his at that moment. I needed strength that he some how manages to retain even in the worst moments of life.
$10,000.00? he asked
"to start" I replied
"and if not he dies"
"Send me your account number"
Finally, an ally.
I tried unsuccessfully to have Wells Fargo up my daily limit to $10,000.00 for a transaction in Mexico. They would not give. The ambulances were now waiting. The clock was ticking. I kept asking myself what would dad do?
Then it came to me. I had a business credit card in my wallet. I called my boss and asked to use the card to save his life. She agreed. And with one swipe of a piece of plastic, we were still in this fight.
The last thing I remember was something about him not being able to survive the ride over. The brain trauma and all, the Mexican pot holes, the actual logistics of moving him. Risk it, what else could we do.
The bad hospital needed their bill paid first. COD for his life that was now literally clicking away. More high speed car rides, ATM's, Conversions, Pesos, Hallways, Offices, Spanish, Forms, Signatures, Keys. I was on auto pilot. Do whatever they want, just do it fast.
Chance stayed at the bad hospital to see him off while we waited at the ambulance bay at the new hospital to see if he was still alive. Later, Chance would tell me that they brought a corpse out first in a body bag while he was waiting.
We stood outside and waited for the sound of a siren. Minutes felt like months. They finally whaled in the distance and I braced myself for what might be next. The ambulance pulled in slowly and carefully backed up in to their designated spot. People were still walking around, somehow the world was still going and that felt surreal. The doors opened and I saw dad. He was still there. There was this huge breathing tube covering his face.
The brain surgeon met with us and explained, in more eloquent terms, what we already knew. This was a last ditch effort to save his life. He probably won't ever be the way he was, but without it, he would die.
"If this was your father, what would you do"?
"Have the surgery".
OK then, lets go.
But there is a chance he won't survive the surgery. Great, this again.
Hours and hours go by. I find myself waiting outside the OR doors listening to U2 on my iphone. Praying. Crying.
He makes it out of the surgery. He is moved to ICU. He is stable. We wait now.
When I see him here, in this space, I feel relaxed. Here is has real nurses and tons of machines and tubes and fancy medical equipment. They shaved his face and half his head and even though there are these giant staples the length of his scull, he looks better. I like that he has a pillow and a warm blanket. His lips aren't chapped now.
This man that paid for my private school education, my first car and designer prom dresses. This man that took me on a limo ride through central park and had an ice sculpture at my 16th birthday, deserved at least his dignity back.
We wait around until the bill is due. A nightly occurrence at the nice hospital. You pay the balance each night. $3,600.00. Not bad for the first crucial 24 hours. But this can't last forever. Money does have it's limits.
I leave Mexico alone the next day and head towards the states. I eventually fine my way in to a large conference room with the head of this American hospitals Social Services Department. I tell her the highlights, the concerns and plead her for help. I get a crash course in American Health Care. I ask her finally what she would do. She turns over her badge and swears me to secrecy.
Drive him to the border and call 911. Get him to the states.
Another kind soul at the local ambulance dispatch center tells me not to pre pay for the transport, you can get back logged. Get to the border and call 911.
This seems crazy, all of this. But I am running out of options here. I decide not to tell the new wife. I prefer to deliver this plan in an urgent moment where she doesn't have time to think. She can't cross the border and seems to be more emotional that logical. It's a cultural thing. You wait and pray and hold a vigil. But that won't save him, and I can only operate from the point of view of saving him.
The decision is made the next day when the bill jumps to another $12,000.00. ICU, medication, bullshit. I think it's a shake down. How does $10K get you emergency brain surgery and $12K gets you nursing? Whatever. I puke again. My stomach has replaced my tears and instead of weeping I keep getting sick.
Now the conversation and her decision. She knows it right, but still hates it. I drive to his house and gather his passport, drivers license and anything else that I might need. I tell mom to ride in the ambulance. If anyone can get 2 countries to work together to save someones life, it is her.
More form and signatures about the possibility of him dying again. This concept is beginning to loose its punch. Goodbyes, cash to the wife, promises to the hospital staff and more waiting.
The border is 2 blocks away. My sister and my aunt ride with me. We see the ambulance the whole time as we wait in the line to cross the border. They bang on the trunk, check the passports and ask the questions. I can still see the lights blaring 20 feet away. There is nowhere to stop once you cross, so we pull over and wait at a gas station. We wait to hear the sirens and hear the lights. It is taking longer than an emergency should. I am getting nervous. 10 minutes, then 20. What the hell is going on?
Finally we see ambulance. My dad is now an American soil. A weight is lifted. This is when I cry. This moment of relief and deep sadness all tangled together. Bianca takes my hand and takes over for a minute. I can't be strong right now, I just need a moment.