Tuesday, February 8, 2011

One Slip Away

One Slip Away

Last week, my father was leaving the gym after a workout, when slipped and fell, hitting his head on the ice.

He was spotted quickly, and the first-responder, his trainer, arrived in under 4 minutes. His head in a pool of blood, he had a pulse, but was ghostly white and not breathing.

Within 15 seconds of CPR, he started breathing again.

EMS was dispatched. He was completely unresponsive. A medical helicopter was requested, but not available due to the winter weather. He was taken by squad to the local hospital.

His trainer called me from the ER. He remained comatose, and was not even responding to pain. This lead the emergency physician to suspect that my dad was bleeding into his brain.

600 miles away, I was paralyzed with fear, driving a van with 3 fussy boys. We made an emergency bathroom stop at our church, which was of course locked. While my dad’s trainer informed me of my dad’s critical condition, I had no choice but to let one of my boys pee on a tree in the church parking lot.

For a period of about 2 hours, I prepared myself that my father was going to die—or at least never be himself again. I wore grooves in the floor from pacing. I couldn’t get a flight home that night owing to the recent blizzard.

Then, a phone call to the ER. He was intubated and on a ventilator. Still not moving or responding to pain. But the head CT scan was normal—no bleed.

Normal? Even the emergency physician was baffled.

My dad was “stabilized”, then transported to a nearby trauma center.

The evaluation continued. A second head CT scan was also normal. He had fractured a vertebrae in his back. He started to follow some simple commands, and was moving all extremities.

I talked to my cousin who lives about minutes from the hospital. The forecast was for a “break” in the storm overnight. I booked a medical flight at 5:40 am the next morning. I have to guess about my return—5 days.

Mom-E and I get the boys to bed. They sense my fear and restleness. Big Brother says a sincere prayer for Pa-Pa. Little Brother asks if they can give Pa-Pa a band-aid. Bab-E Brother smiles and babbles. All 3 of my boys are beautifully kind creatures.

I pack for blizzard-like weather. We continue to pray; the black suit stays in the closet. I trust that it won’t be needed. Mom-E prepares mentally—as best as possible given the circumstances—for my absence.

I sleep for 3.5 hours, but it feels like 3.5 minutes. I make my flights without incident. The winter storm tracks just north of my destination.

My cousin and her husband pick me up at the airport. 16 hours later, I’m in the ICU visiting my dad. He’s off the ventilator. He’s sitting up, moving, and talking. He’s trying to piece together what happened. He’s a little loopy from all of the sedative medication. For the first time in my life, I get a glimpse of what my dad is like “drunk”—cheerful, perseverative, and spouting off random phrases like “shoot the juice through me Bruce” when asked if he wants pain medication.

Fast forward 4 more days. Dad has been discharged home from the hospital. He has “escaped” with only a nasty concussion and a non-surgical fracture of one vertebrae in his back. He’ll have to wear a protective brace for about 3 weeks and use a walker for a little while, but that’s it. He’s very sore, and a little dizzy and uncoordinated at times, but otherwise he’s pretty much back to himself.

My mind and heart have run the gamut of emotions over the past week.

It was a very strange feeling to have thought (for at least a few hours) that my father was going to die, only to “get him back”. It is rare in life to get such a “second chance.” I know we will both make the most of this opportunity.

I leave you with several thoughts regarding this “event”. Some are new to me, others were reaffirmed.

--Take nothing in life for granted. We’re all “One Slip Away” from a life-changing event. Be mindful of that, but don’t live in fear.

--Miracles happen every day. My father was found within minutes of his fall, and attended to by someone who knew CPR. His fall didn’t cause him to bleed into his brain, he wasn’t paralyzed, and he suffered no other internal injuries. An inch to the left or right, or a different parking spot hidden from view, and the outcome could’ve been completely different. I was able to get a flight to be with him in between blasts of the winter storms. If God can move mountains and part the sea, he can certainly alter the trajectory of a blizzard.

--Pray. Pray together. Pray every day. Countless people prayed for my father and for my travels. I know that this made a difference for us both.

--In times of crisis, family comes together and your true friends reveal themselves. You’ll be surprised both by who willingly comes to your aid, as well as who doesn’t.

--Trials and tribulations may bear unexpected fruit. The “fruit” can mean many different things to different people. I am grateful for some unexpected bright spots during this ordeal.

--Always end phone calls to family with “I love you”, and visits with hugs. I had talked to my dad just over an hour before his fall. I’m glad this wasn’t our last conversation, but had it been, I’m glad I told him I loved him.

--Life is too short and too fragile to sweat the details. Yeah, yeah, this is much easier said than done. I for one, agree. But it’s true. Many (but not all) things are not worth our time, frustration, and worry. Let them go. They’ll pass. Pray about it and move on. Don’t hold grudges.

--Set priorities for work. Work will always be there—even when you’re hundreds miles away in the midst of a crisis. You’ll never get everything you want to accomplish done in a given day—accept that and move on. When it’s time for family, forget about work. Work can wait.

--Change is possible, at any age. But the desire to change must come from within. Family can pray and plead and encourage change, but it won’t stick until the individual decides to do it for themselves, and make it part of a lifestyle change. My father is in his 70’s. The past 10 years since my mother’s death have been very hard for him. He admits that in many ways he has been “going through the motions” and passively “preparing to die.” Then, six months ago, he finally decided to “live” again. He started decorating the house again for holidays. He started remodeling his house room-by-room. And he decided he wants to live to see all of his grandchildren graduate. He started working out regularly with a trainer. In 6 months, he’s lost about 25 pounds and over 20 total inches, with the help of a personal trainer (who incidentally was the first-responder who performed CPR). He’s a very different person. I feel like I got my “old dad” back (twice now).

--Decide what you want to do in/get out of life, and DO IT. We waste too much time talking, complaining, and Facebook-ing. Set goals and then figure out a plan to accomplish them. Whether it’s kicking a bad habit, something you’d like to learn about/to-do, a personal or professional goal, or a place to visit, DO IT. The time is now. The clock is ticking.

Remember, you’re only “One Slip Away”.

I love you, Pa-Pa,

P.S. The next time you want me to come visit, please just call and ask.


  1. I had no idea! What an ordeal. I'm glad that all worked out well in the end, but I can't imagine what you and your family were going through.

    Thanks for the nice list of life lessons that you pulled from this scary experience.

  2. Very inspiring post. Your Dad-E definitely is a lucky man. When I talked with him on the phone it wasn't just the plans he was telling me about, but the excitement in his voice that tipped me off to his transformation. He had just suffered these injuries and was focusing instead on his recent progress in making healthy changes as well as plans for his professional life. Great story and very moving story!

  3. Very inspiring post. I am happy that everything turned out OK.

    I have been struggling with loosing weight. And by struggling I mean :to lazy to start a workout program and love food too much to diet.

    That changes today.

    Because of this line: "The clock is ticking". It sure the hell is...excuse me...I have to go and get my fatt butt on the treadmill.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. You can do it, O'Shea. If my dad can make up his mind to do it in his 70's, then so can one of NY's finest! Go for it!

  5. I'm glad to hear how God protected and watched out for him. I saw your previous title in my reader but didn't have a chance to click over, I was praying for you and your dad. Hope he continues to do well.

  6. Thank you for sharing such a personal story and the lessons that were inspired by it. I am so glad to hear that he is doing so well. God provides miracles each day....we just have to look for them. Rosi

  7. Very nice post and I'm so happy that everything is looking good for your dad. I'm also so happy that he has decided to 'live' and enjoy the world/people around him! looking forward to hearing great updates...
    love, aunt-e