Two weeks have passed since my life has completely changed.
I thought I was flying to a fun-filled vacation of sand, surf, and sun. I wasn’t.
At 8:15 am, I was boarding my flight for San Diego with a friend. First adult vacation was in motion but I could help but feel a sense of dread as I entered the plane. I thought it was partially because of the fact that I hadn’t flown at all since I was five. I had a feeling that something was going to go mechanically wrong, that the flight was going to be delayed or that the plane was going to have some failure. I kept telling myself that I had nothing to worry about and that we would land safely.
About 10 am west coast time, we did land safely at the San Diego International Airport. I was relieved, but my mind was still in a fog. About two hours later I would understand why I was in such a fog.
I got the text from my mom at 12:58 pm. “Your dad was in a helicopter crash.”
My heart crashed too. Shock set in much quicker than I thought it ever could. I was in denial. My dad is fine, my brother is mistaken about how bad it was, my dad will call me soon telling me that he is fine.
No such luck. His body was burned 92%. I didn’t want to go see him. I couldn’t see my dad, whom I had such anger at for years, like that. I didn’t want to go.
My mom set me up on an Amtrak the next day to go up to Fresno to see him. I got in at 11:48 pm, and after a long day of travel, I didn’t want to go see him. I was set up in a hotel with a cousin I never met before.
We left early the next morning to go to the hospital. The burn unit was cold, but the social worker had us in a private waiting room. My dad’s family was there. My grandmother, my aunt, my stepmom, and a handful of cousins were in a 6 by 6 foot cell of a waiting room.
They told me they couldn’t prepare me enough for when I went in. I knew they couldn’t. I didn’t want to go in.
I finally went in to see him. I could barely look at him. All I could think about was the pain he had been in. At least him laying there meant heavy sedation, heavy pain meds, and hopefully no pain.
I stayed in the room for maybe 10 minutes. I couldn’t be there longer. I didn’t know what to say or do. We stayed at the hospital until around 11pm or so.
The next few days were spent the same. Things were looking up. Dad’s kidneys were doing better, less likely to fail with every day. Monday would be our huge test since it was surgery day. The doctors said they had to excise the burns from his body.
We spent Saturday and Sunday at the hospital. In at 9 am, out at 11 pm. Waiting. No news. Waiting more. Visiting dad. Talking to him. Sitting in the room. Trying not to breath in the smell. Back to the waiting room. Repeat.
Monday’s surgery started at 1:40 pm and didn’t end until almost 9. The director of the burn unit addressed us and told us that while the surgery went well, there would be years of this. Years of pain. Dad could not live like that. We left late again.
We went in at 9 am again and went into the same routine. Waiting, visiting, talking, waiting, repeat. On Tuesday, the decision was made. The director came in again to give us an update and said Dad’s kidneys had a high creatinine level, meaning they were failing. We decided he couldn’t live like that.
Wednesday morning he was taken off the ventilator. He was breathing on his own, but it was difficult. We thought he would pass that morning, he didn’t. His body was extremely healthy for a 51 year old. He kept on until we were all about to leave.
I went in to say goodby to him and those in his room abou 10:45 pm. I told him I would miss him and that I loved him. My cousin went in after me. About 10 minutes later the nurse ran to the waiting room. We knew it was time. We sprinted to his room.
My dad passed away at 11:08 pm. According to official records it was 11:34 pm.
11:08 pm was when my entire life changed. I will never be able to forget how he looked on that hospital bed. I won’t ever be able to get the smell of antiseptics out of my nose. I won’t ever be able to see my dad smile again.
11:08 pm. I will miss him forever. We had our arguments, but we were working through them. That progress was taken from me at 11:08 pm.
One week later I still can’t forget. The images and smells will be forever ingrained. I don’t expect to stop hurting for a long time, I just wish it could be less fresh.
Dad, I love you. I will forever miss you.