The Broken Heart (Part 2): Mended

What a week it's been.

Last Saturday my parents hosted a little dinner at their house as a well-wishing send off. Kevin and his folks, Gavin and Kalil and I gathered around to break bread and chat. We also had an oddly good time taking each others' blood pressure and listening to each others' heartbeats on the new stethoscope my Ma gave my Dad as a surgery gift. She wanted him to be able to listen to the difference before and after (when the swooshing effect of the inefficient prolapse would be absent).

My brother flew in Sunday morning and the two of us took my Dad to brunch for some special Dadio/Kiddo time and to say some things we'd wanted to say to him. As I wrote last week, we all felt fortunate to have this surgery pre-scheduled and to have time to reflect on the gravity of it before it was upon us.

Monday morning the boys and I roused ourselves at 3am to get to the hospital in SF for my Pa's 5am check-in. There were two hours during which we were allowed to follow him to various waiting rooms and make typical Konrad light of everything. What a weird scene: dozens of sleepy-eyed patients scooting around the floors waiting to be put under and relatives ready to be those awaiting the news that the put-underee had been brought back to.

There was a palpable feeling of unease, of nervous laughter: the odd, rare-in-a-lifetime sensation of putting the entirety of one's trust in a system and a group of people. I tried to imagine what going to work must feel like when your *every day* job is to stop people's hearts for a few hours and fix those hearts while machinery keeps them alive. Not gonna be signing up for that one.

But my GOD, how great that people do. Do you ever wonder (because I always do) who was the first person to volunteer for a pioneering procedure? I mean doctor or patient. Like, who was the first person who said, "yes, I understand this has never been done to a human before, but why don't you go ahead and aim that laser into my EYE and see if that fixes my vision problems?" Crazy.

Anyway, I'm happy there are doctors and patients out there willing to take one (in this case: set of microscopic instruments and a camera to the heart) for the team. A few years of perfecting later and people like my Dad can roll into a San Francisco hospital on a casual Monday morning and roll back out with a heart as good as new.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

As the hours wore by Monday morning and I wondered why the surgery was taking so long, my Mom, Aunt Rose, Brother, Kevin, Kalil and I whiled away the time, in and out of sleep. About 30 seconds before we were able to head up to the ICU upon the news that my Dad had come out of surgery, a magical volunteer appeared to offer us snacks, word puzzle books, beverages, all kinds of creature comforts. Where was SHE all morning?!

No matter, we were on the move anyway.

The ICU is a trippy place. I mean that mostly because many of the people in there are all tripped out on the remnants of powerful anesthesia. When we visited my Dad, he was super sweet to my Mama, telling her how much he loved her and how he'd missed her so much (during the 6 hours he was out, I guess he meant). He told me how he loved Kevin and was so happy I had brought him into our family. He made silly jokes and laughed the goofiest laugh (a slowly delivered HAAAAA followed by a long, eyes-closed pause, following everything he perceived to be funny). All this was uttered in a loopy-time voice of sleepy, altered state, probably mixed in with a good measure of happy-to-be-alive.

That went for all of us. The relief of learning your loved one's heart has started up again just fine and that he is awake and with his wits about him--it's not something that can be measured. And it was an honor to see my father in that state: vulnerable and sincere and with guard all the way down. It was an honor to see the love between my parents following one of strangest/scariest few hours in my family's history.

The days since that day have passed lazily (for all but my Dad, who's been dutifully walking the halls to get on the road to healing). We've hung around the hospital room: iPad-ing and Lego-ing and snacking. 

For all our time in The City we saw little but the hallways and the cafeteria and the inside of the cabs we've taken from Kaiser to the hotel. Kalil got a big kick out of that, the taxi ride portion of the evening. He also became entranced by the late night exercise infomercials that came on the in the hotel room as we were settling in. I can't help but wonder how he'll make sense of this week in his future mind. What will stick out?

With my Dad's return home waylaid by a long two days and my parents finally safely tucked away under their own roof, this is what now sticks out for me:

In the home of my parents' lovely neighbors, Mark and Sharon, this afternoon (Sharon was giving Kevin and me a tour of their beautiful recent renovations), this is what I was thinking about...I was thinking about all the little things that it's so nice to think about my Dad being present for. Sharon pointed out a light fixture my Dad had helped them install (because he's one of the most helpful people I've ever known), and I thought about how many marks of a similar nature he's left on this planet. All week long I would have thoughts like 'when we move the cars, Dad can drive one car down to the hotel...oh wait...Dad can't drive to the hotel,' or 'when we go to Kalil's t-ball game Sunday Dad will want to get a picture with the Monkey...oh wait...Dad won't be there for Kalil's game...'

My Dad is one of life's true participants. He's a joiner-in. A player-along. He is game. He is up for it. Down with it. He says yes--a whole lot of the time. In any way my Dad can be involved, he will be. Happily and enthusiastically. People like that deserve as much time as possible to show the rest of us a thing or two. They deserve decades of loving and learning and laughter and dancing with everybody's great aunt at the wedding just to remind them of their youths.

If you didn't read it through my words by now: I love my Dad. I love him big time. And I am so happy to share that he emerged from the hospital this morning a stronger man than he was went he went in--in more ways than one. His heart has been strengthened and will hopefully give us all numerous decades more. His spirit has been strengthened not only because he now knows he can come through a life event like this with grace, but because it has been fortified with all the love and concern and well-wishes of those whose lives my Dadio's life has touched--people who are better for knowing him, a list of names I am grateful to be among.

Happy healing, Popalo Jones. May you enjoy the well-earned rest.

Kevin's Sketch

Mitral Portal (in progress)

This work in progress is inspired by the amazing mitral valve, and specifically one from an amazing human being named Karl Konrad. I wonder how many times this valve has opened and closed in Karl's big heart so far, and with the aid of technology, how many more times it will now be able to open and close in his lifetime. The mitral valve, being so crucial to life itself, appears so strangely delicate and fragile--it's amazing to me that this organic machinery operates within us every moment we are alive on this Earth, yet we are hardly aware of its existence in our very own bodies! Thank you Karl, and here's to a healthy heart of yours.

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