In late April, I received a message from my sister.
“Hi Rach, can you call me? It’s important.”
Two days and a few phone calls later, I was on a flight back to America. My father, a healthy and active man, was in the hospital and was fighting what appeared to be a losing battle for his life. I could not come to terms with the fact that one of the most stable and dependable people in my life was slipping away, and that I was going to have to try to live and function in a world that did not include him. Just a week earlier, we had been discussing his plans to visit me in Macedonia – his first trip abroad.
The next two weeks passed in a surreal blur, broken up by alternating waves of emotions. Hope and despair followed after each other in a seemingly endless cycle. As a family, we hung on every word spoken by his nurses and doctors, fear filling our hearts when we would hear the words “I’m sorry.”
I remember holding dad’s hand, hoping that he did not notice the tears that streaked my face. He still had a firm grip and would squeeze my hand to communicate. He was subjected to long monologues from all of us, which he seemed to tolerate well enough, even when I ran out of topics and babbled on about mundane, silly matters. We became friends with the other families who spent their hours and days in the trauma ward. In a hospital complex so large that guides were employed, I became a kind of unofficial guide myself, helping others as they attempted to navigate its numerous wards. My niece and nephew, too young to go to the hospital, kept asking about their grandfather “Pa”, and whether he was better yet.
There were moments of desperate humor, such as when my father spelled “Get me out of here” when we asked him if he needed anything. On the worst night, when the doctors had asked us to leave dad’s room and to prepare ourselves for the fact that he was unlikely to live through the night, I felt as though a giant vise had squeezed all emotion and tears out of me; all that was left was an empty hysteria. As we settled into the waiting room, my brother Jason suggested that I rest on the couch. For some reason we thought it necessary to clean the couch first, and used Clorox bleach wipes to wipe it down. I was about to lie down when I realized that the bleach from the wipes would probably bleach my clothes. I have no idea how or why I was capable of even thinking of anything so mundane. After days of sorrow and fear, the ridiculousness of this mundane thought struck Jason and me as hilarious and we smiled a little insanely at each other.
Dad made it through that night, and another, and another. After a number of surgeries and a few days of stable vital signs, dad’s surgeon – a self-declared “realist” – declared that he was realistically optimistic that dad would recover. Perhaps it sounds strange, but my confidence in the surgeon’s words came one day when dad and I watched (well, dad napped a bit) a marathon of Indiana Jones movies – film staples in our family. It felt like a glimmer of normalcy. With each day that passed, we could see progress. Fewer and fewer medications hung around dad’s bed.
Eighteen days after I arrived in America, I boarded my flight back to Macedonia. Doubt about my decision hung heavy in my mind – though the doctors assured us that dad was on the road to recovery- he was being moved to another, less intensive floor and he was about to begin working with a physical therapist; I was worried that something would happen. I had no idea whether I had made the right decision to return to my service.
Thanks to technology (Wifi is abundant in Macedonia). I can regularly check-in on dad – and even to FaceTime with him. A week has passed since I left the U.S., but in terms of dad’s recovery, he has made huge strides (literally – he is able to get up and walk with some assistance) forward. Six months from now, I will return home to America and I am incredibly grateful that I will get to hug my dad, just like I did when I left for this adventure two years ago.