The way I have it reckoned, there's no way my dad just ups and dies one of these days. Something (or someone) will have to sneak up on him and kill him instead. On Friday night, diverticulitis nearly did.
On Thursday he woke up not feeling well. When you are 86, some sort of ailment or pain is an everyday occurrence: no big deal. But what worried my mom was that he was so compliant that day. When she suggested they go to the doctor, he didn't argue. He's not normally that obedient. He finds some way to rebel: arguing, bluffing his way through some story (made up in his own mind as he goes along,) ignoring the issue by schmoozing and charming the people around him, or simply "not hearing" that someone has spoken to him.
And so it was that his passivity landed him in a bed in St. John's hospital in Springfield, Illinois. They quickly gave him a diagnosis of diverticulitis. This is a nasty enemy, aiming to silently tear your gut open and torture you with pain for a few hours before poisoning you to death. Surgery is a pretty good defense, provided you get medical attention soon enough when the hurt begins. The agony is wrenching enough that no one merely dismisses it as being too many beans in that last taco.
Protocol in his case called for antibiotics; he would probably feel better in a day or so and then go home. But on Friday afternoon the bacteria managed to tear open his colon and all hell broke loose inside his abdomen. The surgeon did emergency surgery on Friday night and told us afterward that it was extremely difficult for an old man to survive this type of thing. My dad wouldn't be "out of the woods" for 72 hours. He wouldn't be conscious until sometime the next afternoon.
So after hearing from the surgeon late Friday, we all left for our homes, there being nothing we could do for him at that time. I finally got home and fell asleep about 1 in the morning, cell phone next to my pillow, dreading a ring in the night...or at dawn. But there was no phone call. Finally at 5:30 a.m., I woke up due to my own physical condition (not my dad's. As you get older, your body always finds some way to start aggravating you when you would rather be sleeping.) So I roused myself and phoned the hospital.
At first they couldn't find him. Their computers said he was in surgery, so I thought something had gone wrong during the night. But the surgical nurse said that he wasn't there. But he also wasn't in intensive care where he had been scheduled to recuperate. After about 10 minutes the phone operator finally found in him the "recovery room," awaiting an available bed in for the next stop on his hospital marathon.
I talked to his overnight nurse. She said he woke up at 6 a.m. and asked what time it was. Fortified with the information that he was still alive, he then announced that it was time to get out of bed and go home. She suggested that he just lie there and play with his morphine button instead. And being the ladies' man he is, he grinned and went along. He'll do anything to impress a sweet nurse.
My biggest relief came from hearing that he was awake and talking. Those in the medical hierarchy do all they can to help us. But the story is never 'set' until the spirits have their say: our own spirit and the Holy Spirit. For all the changes in modern medicine, getting well...or dying well...still requires spirit.
The locus of my dad's spirit is his mouth: the runaway stories that come out of it, plus those words that engage others, plus his assertions of independence, plus his bravado declarations, plus his pontifications.
When I heard he had resumed talking, several hours ahead of schedule, I was comforted. He and God are both up to speed and working full force in this crisis. That was yesterday morning. I called this morning and he is still doing well.
Oddly for me, prayer is seldom at comfort. It just feels like I'm doing nothing more than chattering at God. Comfort for me comes instead when God messages me back: whether from the Bible, from the lyrics of a hymn, or from the addled voice of drug saturated old man.
God is mysterious and speaks in mysterious ways. Thanks be to God.