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.

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