Stop holding your breath, honey, my mom said, squeezing my hand. I was stunned watching the swarm of doctors and nurses and then nurses and then doctors come in and out of the Emergency Room. One took blood pressure, the other started a drip. Another asked how he was feeling for the 100th time.
I wanted to scream at them to just pass along the information so my sick father didn’t have to repeat himself over and over again. I wanted to scream that I didn’t know that my surprise visit to North Carolina would end up in the hospital, trying my best to stomach my panic so my dad wouldn’t see it. I wanted to scream that four surgeries in one year was way too many. I wanted to scream that now, the pressure had broken not only my mother and I’s heart, but my dad’s too. I wanted to scream that this wasn’t fair and this wasn’t what we – the Tigar family – deserve or needed right now.
Not after everything we have been through. Not another medical bill. Not another surgery. Please God, not another surgery.
One hour passed and then another.
I wanted them to turn down these unforgiving, florescent lights and let my dad rest. I stood with the pashima I got in Chinatown last year for $5 wrapped around me, frozen by the air conditioning, while my dad – with a heart rate of 163 and climbing – was sweating. I could have sat down, there were two seats for my mother and I, and the nurse (Angie? Was that her name?), kept motioning for us to relax. You’ll be here a while, she warned. Take a seat.
But I stood anyway – right by the curtain, leading out out to countless other rooms, all filled with people. Filled with strangers with problems and illnesses and worries and fears – the anxiety of the place was so heavy that I felt consumed by it.
I wanted to run.
But I wanted my dad to be able to run with me. Instead, he couldn’t even get out of bed without his heart rate raising so high that he needed oxygen. Where was my father, that just last year, after beating cancer, could bike 10 miles on a hiking trail? Where was my father that was a far better swimmer than I’ve ever been? Where was my brave, unstoppable dad that gave me my sense of adventure and my thirst for jumping head first into everything?
Don’t worry Linds, he said. I’m going to be just fine. Don’t worry about me. He repeated himself every hour of so, the burrow in my forehead growing deeper than I’d like at the ripe ol’ age of 25. I tried to keep him smiling and entertained, telling stories of my New York antics and mishaps until around 1 a.m., when he was finally moved to a regular hospital room.
I have to stay the night, then? He asked the nurse. She just nodded and smiled, promising that we’ll all know more tomorrow. As the two hefty EMTs loaded my dad into the stretcher and into the ambulance to transport him less than a mile away, my mom and I held hands silently while walking to the car in the cold.
After a sleepless night, we arrived back at the hospital with hard candies and sweatpants, putting on our best grins to keep his spirits high. We watched Law & Order: Special Victims Unit because it’s his favorite and then 19 Kids and Counting because it was on.
Would you want 20 kids, Lindsay? he asked. I wondered if the morphine was going to his head or if he sincerely thought I’d want that many children. I made a joke and he laughed, and the sound filled my heart with so much joy that I had to rest my hand on my chest to keep myself steady.
Let’s try to do a few rounds around the hall, okay? The nurse asked, unhooking the colorful cords that were attached seemingly everywhere. The three of us trekked slowly around, passing many open doors with sleeping patients. I tried not to look because I thought it was inappropriate, but I did. I later told my mom that all of the patients on the heart wing seemed elderly and it didn’t make sense that dad would be joining them. Sweetie, he does collect social security now, she had said.
How were my parents aging before me and I had yet to notice?
After lap three, my dad had to rest because he was out of breath. While he sat upright in a chair, thankful to be out of the bed, we all watched more Law and Order, and I held his hand, thinking of all the times he had held mine. Walking into grocery stores and to banks, down the stairs when they were too tough for me to climb, when I was scared of jumping off the high diving board, when my heels for prom were dangerous for my ankles, when the snow was too slippery. I knew I couldn’t support him now, not without a degree in medicine, but I could hold his hand.
We have to get you back on the drip and oxygen, Jim, the nurse rushed in and told us. I didn’t like her, she was too abrupt and not sensitive to my dad’s many questions. A team helped him into bed and got him hooked up to monitors that kept beeping, and then they talked outside. We watched them chatter, unable to make out their words. And then my mom and I looked at my dad.
He looked so scared that I started holding my breath again.
While I sat frozen, straining to hear the secret medical huddle going on outside, my mom raised and hugged my dad and whispered something I couldn’t hear into his ear. They stayed in a hug – or at least as much of one as you can have in that position- for a few minutes, and I watched my dad’s heart rate go down. 10 beats down. Then 15. Then 25. He stopped crying. The fear left his eyes.
And though I’ve never been married and I have never loved someone so unconditionally like my parents feel for each other, when I witnessed their embrace, I couldn’t help but think:
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
The kind of love that’s worth everything, endures. It is not about fancy dates or finding the most attractive person to wed. Instead, it means it when it says for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. It is not about romance and diamond rings. Instead, it doesn’t judge. It is not about having the most spectacular sex or having the highest paycheck. Instead, it is patient and it is kind.
It is the love that my parents have always had.
While I pray for faith in the universe as my father heals, and I hope for better answers and less stress for all of us, I rejoice knowing that even if I can’t always be in North Carolina to help my family, I know we have the greatest truth of all between us.
Love. And even if hearts beat out of their chests, there will be love to steady the rhythm.