Yesterday, 16 April 2016, was the scariest day of my life. I saw my father have a stroke. It was a violent affair. Things moved quickly, it was hard to tell what was happening, and timelines were not linear.
Our entire family was in South Lake Tahoe on a vacation to celebrate my father-in-law's 75th birthday. My parents were sleeping in the room next to ours on the bottom floor.
At about 7AM, my mother shouted for me while I was in the bathroom. After the third yell, I knew something was wrong, and I jumped out and ran over to my parents room. I found my father on the floor between the two beds, face down, convulsing. His right hand was pinned behind him as he was trying hard to push with his left to flip around. He didn't have the strength or motor control to do so. His head was bruised from the fall with two large burns on his right forehead.
I tugged to turn him around, but he was too heavy. He was trying to say something, but I was focused on flipping him. His words did not register. Somehow, I pulled him up by hugging him from behind and lifting. Someone else may have helped; I cannot remember. I turned him around and layed him down on some pillows.
At first, I thought it was a heart attack. His right side was paralyzed from face down. He was mumbling at best. I yelled to have someone call the paramedics. Nupur, my wife, did. My mother was hysterical. Maya, my daughter, was alert and helpful. All I could remember to do is give aspirin, so I asked for it, and I think Maya gave it to me -- even against the recommendation of the paramedics over the phone. My dad swallowed the pill and barely washed it down with water.
The paramedics arrived around 7:15AM, and I moved out of the way. I gave them the information they needed. They gathered as much as they could from observing my father. They carried him out on a carry cloth and onto the stretcher. They put him in the ambulance and I rode in front. The driver told me that it was a stroke.
Sitting in the ambulance, I was terrified. I was completely unprepared for my father to leave us now. My father is my hero. He is my superman. How could someone so calm, so sure, so strong, and so alive, now be so completely helpless? The week before, he had helped me move furniture. The day before, he enjoyed a full day with his family, grandkids and all.
I called my sister and told her. I prayed.
We arrived at the hospital around 8AM. The driver had told me that because of the stroke's recent onset, they could provide a medicine to help, tPA. They took my father in, took a CAT scan, and settled him into a bed. The scan showed a clot in the left brain. The ER doctor observed him and asked me many questions. Most importantly, he was trying to assess wether to give him tPA.
It's a dangerous medicine. It could lead to a hemmorage further exacerbating the damage, especially if given too late after onset. If given early, however, it is supposed to improve recovery. I told him that I was almost certain that the stroke had just happened. The ER doctor was unconvinced and warned me of the failure (~ 1/10) and success (~ 1/10) statistics. He did not think the trade-off was worth it.
I did not protest.
I got a sense that his position was largely to "cover his butt" rather than in the best interest of my father. He was looking for reasons to not administer the tPA. I could have pushed him harder. I could have convinced him to take the risk.
But, I was selfish.
I thought that it was better for my father to be incapacitated and alive rather than dead. I wanted him around for me, not necessarily considering the life that he wanted to live. This decision may haunt me forever.
My father was airlifted by helicopter to a nearby hospital in Reno. It left South Lake Tahoe around 9:45 AM. The nearest hospital with a stroke center, the ER doctor believed that they might do more for him than he could. I got a call that they had admitted him around 10:30AM.
For some reason, my sense of urgency was suspended for a short time. My mother and I didn't get to the hospital in Reno until around 11:30AM. At that point, the stroke had already set in. The doctors in Reno had opted to not administer the tPA; it is unclear exactly why. Moreover, we found out that the clot was in one of the main arteries in the brain causing extensive damage. There was no possibility of surgery to save any tissue. He probably lost about 40% of his total overall gray matter, all concentrated in the left half of his brain.
My father is no longer the same. The regions that were affected controlled motor skills, speech and language, personality, reasoning, and more. He cannot talk or swallow. He cannot urinate. His motor control on the left side is limited, and nonexistent on the right. He is also not through the woods yet; the days immediately after a stroke are quite precarious with potential swelling, bleeding, and other complications. Nonetheless, he is alive.
Although my father has aged and changed over the years, right now, I know that I have lost the father that I once knew. My extended family has lost their beloved Doctor. We have lost the greatest orthopedic surgeon in DC. I have lost my safety net and original protector. This terrifies me.
It's going to be tough road ahead for all of us. Recovery will be tedious and many times disappointing work. The choices that were made give him the best chances to live. I am certain this is not the way he wanted to live -- he is alive for us, not for him. Still, this same certainty gives me hope that he will not settle for a life without independence. He will fight for it relentlessly. After all, he is my superman.