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Monday, November 28, 2011

A Fathers Love

So I wrote a portrait on my dad for my English 4030 class, Creative Non-fiction. I took a few creative liberties, but for the most part this story is completely true. Be prepared: it's long...

Miracle Boy
            I was eighteen the first time I watched the video of my dad, Joe’s surgery. Eight different hands poked at my lifeless father. In a sea of red and blue a tiny hole not much larger then a dime would end his life. That one hole would mean never talking to my best friend again. It would mean no father daughter dance at my wedding and no Grandpa Joe for my niece and nephew— or my very own children. They would never know the dad my sister Lindsay and I grew up idolizing. Instead he would be just a distant memory in stories we told them in a hope his legacy would never die.
November 27, 2004
            An oxygen mask covered his mouth and nose as two defibrillation paddles shocked him back to life. It is said he was complaining about having stomach pains. He thought it was gas, or maybe something he’d eaten that didn’t settle well, but it was much more than an upset stomach. Little did Joe know that inside of him the most important artery in his body was shutting down. Again. A heart monitor was connected to a wire clamped onto his finger. A slow inconsistent beep rang from the machine. He laid still on the gurney, not breathing. When the medical responders reached our home, they told Virginia, his fiancĂ©, she had to take her own car to the hospital because there wasn’t enough room to ride along in the ambulance. She jumped into the driver’s seat threw the Dodge Ram into reverse, and headed toward the hospital. She called me, as she sped up Highway One.
Aortic dissection is an uncommon occurrence. It happens when a tear in the inner wall of the aorta caused by pressure from within the artery allows blood in between the many layers forcing them apart. The aorta is the largest and most important artery in the human body. It’s like an onion. The aorta has layer upon layer of tissue that function as a wall to circulate oxygen and nutrients to the rest of the body. Once it is cut open the layers begin to disassemble because it no longer has support amongst itself. My dad had already been in the hospital to repair this very issue. Eighty percent of dissections resulting in rupture of the aorta are fatal. His had ruptured just two month prior to today. The latest rupture was sure to be fatal. .
September 22, 2004
            It was a cloudy California morning. Not uncommon for living ten minutes from the beach. The ocean brought in a layer of fog and mist that settled in the Lompoc valley of central California. Everyone in our house was just waking up or getting ready when his aorta tore the first time.
Dad was in the shower when a loud thud sounded from the bathroom. I could hear him screaming for help. I was the first one to hear him. I rushed into the bathroom, but was directed back out to wake up Virginia. Virginia got him dressed, and into him the car, and I headed to school. As she drove to the emergency room she called the hospital to make sure medical staff was waiting when he arrived.
She told me later, “It was about 7:00 a.m. when he woke me up screaming for help and to get him to the hospital. I remember he was in a lot of pain, and holding his chest. He said there was no time to call an ambulance and to get him in the car.” Virginia said. “He was not one to go to the hospital, let alone a doctor, so I knew it was serious.”
            I left my house not knowing what to do. My father was stumbling into the truck as I walked to the bus stop a few blocks away. I wanted to go with them. I didn’t want to leave him, but Virginia insisted I go anyway. I watched him grasp his chest as she tried to put him into the car.
His medical records states he was in critical condition from the moment he entered the hospital. Lompoc’s hospital was small; its primary use was delivering babies and treating an occasional gun wound from gang violence. No one knew how to handle his condition, and they didn’t have the equipment to treat it even if they did know what it was. He was transferred to Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital only minutes after being admitted. Before being taken to Cottage Hospital he was diagnosed as only having a heart attack which would require double bypass surgery.
            The symptoms of aortic dissection have similar symptoms to a heart attack. The rare few who survive it describe the pain by using words like, ‘sharp, stabbing, tearing or ripping’ from the center of the chest bone all the way back into the shoulder blades, and down the stomach. My dad was an uncommon candidate for the disease; on the outside he seemed healthy. Two in every ten thousand people in the world die from the occurrence every year. Most often it presents itself in men between the ages of forty and seventy. He was only forty-five when he was diagnosed. The doctors found they were going to need to do much more than perform a double bypass on his heart in order for him to survive. I still wonder if he would have survived if time wasn’t wasted.
His Early Life
Leslie Joseph Bocook was born on July 11, 1959 to Earl Allen Bocook and Margaret Sue Henderson at 6:39 a.m. in Louisville, Kentucky. He weighed in at nine pounds one ounce and was twenty one inches long. He was one of eight children. Five boys and three girls, and he was smack dab in the middle as number three.
“He was a strong boy with a big heart,” Sue, his biological mother, said. “Always getting into things that boy. He was a fighter. When he was passionate he went for it.  Got into lots of fights over girls in high school too. Knew what he wanted that’s for sure”
            His brothers told me countless stories of just how much he fought growing up. He fought over sports, he fought over girls, and he fought over family. It didn’t matter what it was if he cared about it he fought for it. He even beat up his little brother Eddie for throwing a cold bucket of water on him and his girlfriend Sheryl King while they were making out in the backseat of his ’68 Camero.
At sixteen he and his sister Kim, who was fifteen at the time, were adopted by their grandparents, Earl and Marjorie Henderson. The family has two stories about the adoption. Kim, Joe, and several other siblings claimed the only reason his biological grandparents adopted the two was because the government had offered several scholarships for college to students who had been adopted. They wanted to succeed, and Dad thought going to college would be the only way to do so. His biological parents didn’t like the idea of their children being adopted, and thought they chose to be adopted because they no longer wanted to affiliate with their family who didn’t have the money to send them to college, but their parents agreed to the adoption anyway. This caused a lot of contention amongst the family, but my dad continued to see them throughout the years. The family was always close no matter whose parents were whose.
“He was family oriented,” Eddie, his younger brother said, “but don’t get me wrong, he did what he needed to do to get where he needed to be; even if that meant stepping on some toes to get there. He didn’t really care who he hurt, as long as it wasn’t family. He was always a fighter.”
            He never out grew this trait. He ended up in a job where he fought to gain higher positions, and later would fight for his life. The FBI would push him much harder than he had ever been pushed in anything else.
September 22, 2004
            Hours passed as family and friends gathered in the waiting room of the Intensive Care Unit. Every so often an update would come from a doctor or nurse who was working on him. The first update came just after his first MRI.  Doctor Westerman walked through the double doors, his hands held up and wet from just being sterilized.
            “We found something. We have to act fast. He is being prepped for surgery. Mr. Henderson has suffered from a heart attack which means he will go into open heart surgery right away. The MRI shows his aorta has burst. If we don’t fix it now, he will die, and even if we do fix it he still has a high percentage of not making it after the surgery.”
            The doctor rushes back through the double doors, leaving Virginia and I scared. We were unsure what to do with the information so in a panic we began calling family and told them he wasn’t going to make it. If they wanted to see him the better come now. The words, ‘he’s dying’, ‘he probably won’t make it’ and ‘come before it’s too late’ were flying around the waiting room in rapid succession. Kim and Eddie flew in to see him before he passed. My sister, Lindsay, also flew in from Ohio as soon as she heard the news.
            The doctors removed a large artery from his left leg to replace the torn section of his aorta.  They replaced the artery in the leg with a synthetic stint. He would have a scar running up the entirety of his calf and another on from the middle of his breast bone past his belly button after the first surgery. The aorta was properly grafted together and stable, but surgery wasn’t over yet.  Lindsay spent three days in California hoping our dad would wake up, but he never did. She never got to see him conscious before he passed away.
Early Life
             Joe was very active growing up. He loved to play basketball. In high school Joe was a tri-athlete in football, basketball, and baseball. His name is still printed on ‘State Champion’ banners in the West Carter gym in Kentucky.
            “He was two to three inches shorter than everyone, but worked two or three times harder.” Eddie said. “He pushed himself so hard he would make himself sick, didn’t matter what sport he was playing.”
            My family had no idea this characteristic would be the one that led to his death. Each year the bureau required each of their staff members to undergo a routine physical. The turn your head and cough kind, not the extensive type. This was the only time he went to a doctor appointment all year. His activities outside of work began to die down as he got older. He put on some weight, and continued to eat as he pleased. It made sense that his blood pressure would shoot through the roof over the short year between his physical and his death. He took on some added stress at work, a new love life, and three more women in the house. His life was moving much faster than normal, and his body took the brunt of it. He started playing too hard at the game of life.
September 22, 2004
            Hours had passed, and not one doctor or nurse had been out to give the family updates. Each time someone entered the waiting room the Virginia, Eddie, Kim, Lindsay and myself  would shoot our eyes toward the door then look down in disappointment when it wasn’t someone with more information. The doors to the waiting room swung open again. Dr. Westerman stood in the doorway.
            “The first surgery is over, and Joe is going in for another MRI.”
            Half an hour later the doctor came in again.
            “He needs another surgery. During the last seven hours Joe has not had blood flow to some of his major organs, and has lost a lot of blood. This caused a few organs to shut down. He needs to have several inches of his large and small intestine removed and his entire colon. We will place him on a colostomy bag so he can still perform regular bowel movements. I have also noticed the valve leading from his aorta to his heart is not working properly. We are going to replace the valve with a pig’s heart valve because it works similar to the way his would. Any questions?”
            The family looked at him dumb founded. Their minds had the words ‘remove’, ‘failed’, and ‘pig’ floating through them. After a brief moment of silence he left the waiting room again.
            Fourteen hours worth of surgeries and seven complete operations later my dad was placed into recovery in the ICU. Monitors and machines were hooked up to his fingers, chest, and back. He was naked except for a small cover over his penis which was hooked up to a catheter. For a while he was hooked up to a machine to help him breath and pump blood until his heart and lungs could work by themselves. The machine forced him to breath. He looked like something out of a science fiction movie with all the electronics hooked up to him. He was a little robot lying there helpless hoping someone could put him back together. Family was only allowed to visit him between the hours of six and eight. Most nights we would sleep on the chairs in the waiting rooms. I would get up, and make the hour drive to school then come back as soon as it was over.
            My fatherwas in the hospital just shy of two months. He hit milestones none of the doctors or nurses thought he would be able to make. After a week his heart was beating steady on its own. Two weeks passed, and he was able to talk. His sentences were at times incomprehensible, and every time he saw a nurse he yelled rude comments and called her Jacqui, his first wife’s name. At three weeks he realized none of the nurses were Jacqui, and on occasion he would flirt with them. By the one month mark he began to eat soft foods, and the doctors and nurses began explaining to him what had happened.
“Each time he heard something about the surgery he got frustrated and complained that he didn’t want to be in the hospital, and wanted to go back to work,” Wendy, his ex wife said. “A few times he tried to pull out the IV’s and tubes connected to him and leave.”
During week five Joe had a setback in recovery. The cut made in his calf during surgery wouldn’t heal. By now it should have started to mend itself, but instead it had developed gangrene; a staph infection that festers in open wounds and it began eating away at the surrounding skin and tissue on his leg. The doctor placed a suction cup resembling crinkled saran wrap connected to a large tube over the wound. This would suck out the infection, and keep it from spreading any farther. For a while they were worried they would have to amputate. Over the next two weeks Joe made more progress, and the nurses started calling him “Miracle Boy”. He was walking on his own with the help of a walker, and the doctor said he was free to go home under intense supervision and care.
November 27, 2004: 10 p.m.
            The paramedics pulled my dad out of the ambulance. Virginia cried ‘I love you’ as they rushed him into the building. He said nothing. I ran with them into the Emergency Room. He looked up at me and said the last words he would ever say ‘I love you,’ and disappeared behind two doors with a sign that said, “NO VISITORS BEYOND THIS POINT.”
            “The night drug on for hours.” Virginia said. “We waited until four in the morning to hear word from a man they hoped to never see again. Dr. Westerman.”
            “I need to talk to his next of kin?” the doctor asked.
            I stood up from my cold waiting room chair. Since my sister was in Ohio I was the one he needed to talk to.
I left the room and entered the hallway with the doctor.
            “Your dad isn’t going to make it. I want to explain to you what is going on.”
            He led me into the operating room. Two chest x-rays hung on an illuminated board.
            “These are your dad’s lungs. Right here is the aorta,” he said. “This dark spot is where it has torn again. This time we cannot fix it.”
            “Why?” I asked. I knew the answer, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to accept it.
            “The aorta is too weak to go under an extensive surgery like that again, it won’t sustain itself even if we tried. His lungs have filled with fluid. At this point he is drowning inside of himself.”
            Just as the doctor said this, my dad let out one loud gurgling breath. I could hear the fluid bubbling in his lungs.
            “Right now your father is in cardiac arrest, and his heart won’t be able to pump blood as soon as we take him off of it. Watch that monitor.”
The line spiked and dropped rapidly, and then would flat line for a while. His heart rate would peak at highs over three-hundred beats per minute, and lows near five in a matter of seconds.
“What would you like for us to do?”
            I ran to the waiting room already knowing what I needed to do. I talked it over with my mother and called Lindsay to ask for advice. For the first time I realized my father was going to die. He made a promise to me when I was four that he would live forever, and forever had come. After about an hour I went back to the doctor. It was time to let go.
            “Take him off life support.”
            “Would you like to have a prayer first?”
            “Yes.” This would be the hardest word I would ever have to say.
            “Joe wasn’t a religious person,” Virginia said later as we discussed those last moments with my father, “The only person they could find was a Jewish rabbi. So we all gathered around his bed, and said our last thoughts. The rabbi said a prayer as they staff started to unhook him from the machines. After the prayer he took one last breath and passed away.”
            Joe died at 5:40 a.m. on November 28, 2004. He was buried in Olive Hill, Kentucky where he grew up; right next to his adoptive parents on his family’s property.
            I look back on those last moments with my dad and can’t help but think about his life. To me he was so much more than a father. He was my best friend. Dad was the one who got me out of trouble, and sometimes got me into it. I loved the secrets we hid from my mother, but I wonder if he had ever hid anything from me. Did he know he was sick? Did he know he was dying? It all happened so fast there was no time for questions. I will forever remember sitting with him night after night praying he would make it so I could ask him how he got here.
            For a long time I thought his death was my fault. What if I would have waited just one more minute before talking to the doctor?

1 comment:

  1. Wow, this is extremely well written and clearly from your heart Kasi. Thank you for sharing it. I only met your Dad once for Lindsay's high school graduation. He made a very kind yet strong "type of Dad" impression on me, and I could tell he was a very genuine person...who obviously loved his daughters a ton! One of which I was dating at the time :) Wish I would have gotten to know him more. He certainly has two great daughters to carry on his legacy.