How many stents does it take to open the center of a tootsie pop?

The valves in my father’s heart keep needing to be opened by doctors. I’m not sure what this means really. If it means his body is closing down or if it means he’s fighting to keep it open? He knows the signs, the pains in the chest. If only my awareness were the same. If only we all had doctors to open our hearts.
My dad has been around hearts for most of his working life. He’s a perfusionist which means he mans the machine in open heart surgery that keeps the heart alive, the lungs too but I’ve always been more interested in the heart aspect of his job. He let me watch once – take your daughter to work day. I remember the tinge of burning flesh when they cut through the chest of an old woman. I remember her old white wet then dried paper hands. I remember the clamps grasping onto her ribs like caged leeches with knived teeth; them bracing open the bones like we are connected with hinges, like our ribs are trunk tops. And then the heart. It sat in a bloody pool in the body, how small and slow it was moving – how unlike a heart it actually looked, molded into the body and covered in layers of fat and skin and blood and muscle. A deep red, raw mess – cooling pudding in a bowl.
My father’s job was to cool the heart, to slow the beating. He let me flip the switch. That’s all it is – a switch – and this machine recycles the blood, pulls it out of the body, cools it and puts it back in. And slower and slower and slower until the heart is breathing like soft rain. I always found it interesting that my father saw hearts all day long and I could never really show him mine. He’d get glimmers at best and then I’d close up. Perhaps I needed stents as a child, perhaps he needed them too.
I found out yesterday that my dad had to get more stents placed into his heart last week. Last May they placed 2, last week the placed 3. 2 to replace the stents from last May that had collapsed, one to open another valve. Since they don’t remove stents – the tissue grows over the foreign objects – he now has a total of 5.
I’ve gone through a slow series of feelings about this. For most of the day yesterday after I had received the news from my cousin (this is how news travels with my dad some of the time) – I wasn’t too worried about it. Dad considers this an oil change and for whatever reason he didn’t think it was a big deal to tell me or my cousin about the procedure. She found out through her boyfriend through another cousin in a chain with quite a few missing links.
I consider my cousin my only sister. We grew up together in my dad’s house. Well she grew up there and I came to visit, but we both “grew” together. We have one of those families that doesn’t really talk very much, at least about feelings and things of hard importance. I found out yesterday as well that when my cousin’s mother died no one even told her her mother was very sick. Without taking her story or trying to tell it – my cousin told me that she asked to see her mom in the hospital not knowing it was going to be the last time she ever saw her. She was barely a teenager. She was the one who had to ask. How often we find ourselves doing so much of the work to keep connected.
Families have secrets and unspoken walls. I know this. And still I wonder why? Protection seems like bullshit. We can’t protect each other from much of anything in this world. So is it fear? Apathy? Is it an inability to open? Do we all get selfish in our own lives, lazy to the people we know will always be there? How much time passes before we all stop knowing each other? Before one of us dies or is lost forever?
I’m not any better. I don’t call. It’s hard to travel, expensive to travel. My family is scattered around the country like seeds. I hear news from all different people, from all different outlets.
I’m confused about my dad most of the time. How to feel, how not to feel, when to feel and what. I almost didn’t want to call him last night because I didn’t want him to hear me crying and after the news had settled – it took about 4 hours for me to feel something about it. Taking 4 hours to feel was an odd feeling for me. I usually feel quick and hot and instantly and then settle- this time it seemed to happen in reverse. But I wasn’t sure calling him if I would be comfortable having him hear me cry. It wasn’t something I wanted to reveal. Mostly what I said was that I was worried about him – which seemed like enough from me. And I cried to my cousin, to a best friend, to my boyfriend – to people I feel comfortable revealing myself to in that way.
My Dad is on a plane to Hawaii today. I know he wouldn’t be able to fly if he were really in trouble. My love for him is love with something attached – love with stents in it, love that needs a little extra help to stay open. And I guess we need as many as it takes to keep it pumping.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to How many stents does it take to open the center of a tootsie pop?

  1. jennifer says:

    i haven’t cried like i just did since my mom passed away. i want you to know i think you are amazing and i am so incredibly thankful that we, together, are on this rollercoaster we call life. Sometimes i feel like i drew the short stickā€¦ like why did all this shit have to happen to me?! but in the end it has only made me stronger and made me realize how i want so much to change the buttoned-up style of our family, for my own family i have one day. i realize how much feeling i have deep down inside that only gets unlocked by you. it’s like one of those hotel rooms with conjoining doors. you open your side and in turn my side is opened. i love you for all that you are and all that you make me.

  2. rachvb says:

    I feel like hugging my computer screen. I don’t think anyone at work would notice.
    I keep writing things and then erasing them like I should say something back and I just don’t know what to say – I love you and you’re much stronger than me. We’ll keep the doors open. Always. I love love love the doors. I love them. And you.

  3. It is no simple, effortless task, writing well and with honest emotion, all at the same time. It would say you have done that and more in this piece.

    In my family, I think people didn’t talk because it required an effort, it was uncomfortable, they didn’t want to look bad, it was a door they were unwilling – or unable – to open. I don’t know what all the reasons are…we never know how much time remains and things left undone are the cause of so much sorrow. That your father is on a plane already says something positive of his physical health…wasn’t he part of the Colorado River trip as well? What an extraordinary “take your daughter to work” experience and how vividly you told it.

    I think too often we are left to fill in missing pieces with whatever we can find, it is part of this assignment. That it may not show does not change that fact that beneath the surface we are all vehicles straight out of MAD MAX. We become quite skilled at welding.

    • rachvb says:

      I love your image of welding. We are certainly made and pieced together by so many different things and parts, twine, steel. I have a sense that I’ve been trying to fill my entire life and I remember saying those exact words to a friend once when she asked me what I fill up with. I told her “anything I can find.”
      I don’t mean to say that I feel as if I’m lacking something and I think you have a sense of what I’m talking about when I say “fill.” It’s a matter of soaking life into all the cracks.
      My step-dad was a part of the river trip – a great dad, but a different one. And yes, it is very positive that my dad dad is flying and moving around and feeling better. thank you.
      I hear that so many families work in similar ways. It’s an interesting theme. We sometimes forget that relationships and maintaining relationships require work and lots of it.
      Someone told me once that in relationships all we can control is ourselves. Seems obvious, but it’s true.

  4. Dear Rachel
    Life, it seems to me, is very like the open-heart surgery process you describe here. We are all things at one time or the other. . . patient, witness, heart surgeon, anesthesiologist, theatre bed, blade, profusionist, gauze, blood, the heart itself. . . I admire your engagement, your curiousity, outrage and compassion. Every one of these has its place and is part of what constitutes recovery and well being. How often our vulnerability and wound sites become our teacher and transformation.

    Here is my hand on your shoulder. You are not alone.
    Take care. Your transparency is a beautiful thing.
    Love, Claire. x

    • rachvb says:

      Thank you, Claire.
      It’s true isn’t it that we take on so many roles in our lives. Even in a day we play so many of them.
      I’m seeing more and more that it’s the things we don’t acknowledge that make us rusty inside. It’s hard at times to apply what we learn internally into our daily lives, but as you say our vulnerability and wound sites become our teacher and the place we ultimately transform.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Valid XHTML Strict and CSS