So, the big update is that my dad has prostate cancer. The last week or two have been pretty rough. Because of his paralysis, he was diagnosed fairly late – the tumor is already quite large, and one of the reasons they found it was that he was essentially having some bowel obstruction – which was, of course, the tumor.
In order to fix the immediate problem before starting to address the bigger one, they had to give him a colostomy – where they pull part of your intestine out your side, and you evacuate your bowels that way. Obviously not a trivial surgery, but not an outlandishly difficult one. The operation went well, and he spent the weekend recovering. But Tuesday evening, just as I arrived at the hospital – I’d left work a little early that day – he was looking extremely pale. Literally the moment I walked in the door, the nurses found that he was bleeding severely – which is why he was pale, and his blood pressure was dropping.
This’ll get a little TMI, but I want to write it down so it’s there – basically he was bleeding out of the colostomy, and also out of his rectum. He was basically lying in a pool of blood – but because of the paralysis, he couldn’t feel anything, and the sheets were such that it wasn’t noticeable until you actually looked fairly carefully.
The entire evening, we were convinced he was going to die. The problem wasn’t just the bleeding. There was an infection from the surgery – bacterial – and he was also weak from essentially required malnourishment before the surgery. He’d lost so much blood that the nurses spent 45 minutes trying to give him an IV and failing. He’d wail at the pain when they’d puncture his arm – I imagine it must have been more severe than a normal IV puncture, because it sounded horrifying – and this went on, progressively stressing everyone out, for nearly an hour. They had a vein scanning device, trying to find something to tap into, but there was nothing.
And because of that, no blood transfusion, no liquids, nothing – it was like a progressive downward spiral there was no way out of. They took him to get a CT scan, to see if they could stop the bleeding, but nothing was obvious – and it wasn’t clear whether whatever it was was still bleeding, or whether it had stopped. So we just watched the blood pressure readings going lower and lower, and I did my best to try and stay level-headed.
We called his immediate relatives, and he got a chance to talk to his brother & sister (and my other aunt), but we didn’t get a chance to get in touch with my cousin. My mom was getting more distraught – she was still holding it together in front of him, but she was clearly not going to last any longer.
The bleeding had indeed continued – the doctors had said if it was still going that they’d do another scan and try to embolize the bleed. Oddly, the company I work for makes products that are used in embolisms – they essentially stop the bleeding by going in through the artery (vein? I dunno) in the groin, and finding the bleed from the inside, then injecting a physical blocker to plug the hole. It’s a balance, though, between stopping the bleeding and blocking the bloodflow, so again, not a thing without some risk.
During this operation, which took an hour and some, my mom and I sat in the waiting room & talked. In part about all the things that she hadn’t said to my dad. Things she wanted to say – for forty-plus years – and hadn’t.
My parents haven’t had the greatest relationship. They’re both stoic and reserved to the point of ridiculousness. Affection, physical or otherwise, is … hard to come by. They’re both incredibly critical, perfectionist micromanagers, stubborn as hell, and self-righteous like nobody’s business. It’s amazing they’ve gone as long as they have without killing each other, but they’re also strangely suited for each other in a bizarre sado-masochistic kind of way. I say that with love, but it certainly wasn’t easy growing up as their kid.
So that they’d go their entire relationship and never talk to each other about the good things they feel for one another isn’t the most surprising thing in the world. It filled her with regret.
For my part, I think I’ve said the things I need to. Maybe not everything, maybe not the best way, but I think the important things have been said, and if something sudden happens, I’m okay.
The embolization went well. The bleeding stopped. They gave him a “central line” IV which tapped into something near his collarbone. I assume the “central line”. But they were able to basically give him sufficient blood to get his pressure back up, enough fluids and nutrients to survive, and by 2am, he had stabilized enough that it looked like there was nothing else to do. So we went back to my parents’ house and slept.
When we came back in the morning, he was still looking better. That was last Wednesday – it’s Sunday now, and every day has been a little bit better. He’s starting radiation tomorrow for the tumor. The infection is decreasing but not gone.
Most things are looking as good as they can, but the problem now is that “as good as they can” still isn’t great. The tumor is large. It could start bleeding again at any time. Who knows how hard radiation’s going to be on him, and what the actual odds of that succeeding are? It’s going to be a long, hard road from here forward. As long as he’s up for the fight, I’ll be helping support him.
Oh – and Wednesday morning? My mom and dad had a talk. Not a long one, but the moment I realized they were talking, I stepped out of the room. She walked out a few minutes later, and it was clear that they’d said some of the things they needed to.
Don’t wait. Tell your loved ones you love them. Tell your kids you’re proud of them.