Thursday, September 11, 2008

Telung Chang: 1941-2008

After the computer fiasco yesterday, I called Dad last night after work to see if he wanted the computer then. I don't remember who answered the phone, but they said no, then yes, then no, that it could wait til the next day. Ok, then, I said. Marci went to a school board meeting (teachers STILL on strike!) and I took the kids out to mow the back 9.

An hour later, I came inside to the home phone and my cell phone ringing. I was a sweaty mess, and, though Marci had bathed the kids earlier, crawling around in freshly cut grass does not make for cleanliness. I grabbed the phone and it was my s-i-l, Shannon, telling me to go get Dad and take him to the ER as he was short of breath.

Right then, it was crisis time. Trouble was, Marci wasn't home, the kids and I were a mess, and I had no plan. Luckily, Knight and Shannon were almost at M&D's house so it afforded me a few minutes. She told me that though Dad had to go, things seemed to be ok for the moment.

I got the kids cleaned up and tried Marci on her cell, but I couldn't reach her. Luckily, my aunt ended up coming over and stayed with the kids while I headed to Overlake Hospital. I figured since K&S drive a 2 door BMW and a little Scion, I'd drive the Pilot so I could get Dad home in comfort after he was discharged.

Shannon was in the lobby when I arrived. I sat and talked with her and found out that Mom and Knight, and Dad's friends John and Rainbow (??) were in the ER with him. I figured that was enough people for now and let them be. Knight came out a little later and gave me the scoop as to why Dad had to go in.

Evidently, Dad had come down the stairs last night and started coughing. He's been having coughing fits recently and this one really knocked him out. He couldn't catch his breath, and since he was having breathing difficulties already, Mom sent up the flare.

Anyway, I went in the ER eventually and saw Dad. He had an oxygen mask on and was covered in sheets. He was sweating profusely and his breathing and heart rate were sky high. I think his heart rate was about 135 to 140. He was alert and speaking to us through the mask and he told us it was hard for him to breathe while laying on his back. A nurse came in and helped him roll a little to his side, which seemed to ease his breathing.

The doctor came over later. He was a giant. Very tall. He said after the initial blood test, that Dad's white blood cell count was 5x normal. Dad's body was fighting hard against infection. His red blood cell count was at about 50% of normal. His left lung was pretty much full of liquid and his right lung wasn't far behind. He was also suffering from congenital heart failure.

Dad had a kind of vicious circle going on. His breathing was labored because of the liquid in his lungs. He was getting less oxygen into his bloodstream as a result. Because of that, his heart was pumping overtime, getting way up into the 130s, trying to get as much oxygenated blood through his body as possible. As his heart pumped away, it was beginning to fail.

All in all, a bad situation.

Throughout the entry to the ER and the initial diagnosis, people were emotional. Knight was very distraught, as was Shannon. John and Rainbow seemed pretty even keeled. Both of them have some sort of medical background. Mom was stoic. She stood next to Dad and made sure he was comfortable as could be and kept him engaged. I was much like Mom. I knew it was happening, but I wasn't upset or emotional.

After the diagnosis, the doctors explained that we could try a blood transfusion, which could help reduce the problems Dad was encountering. Mom agreed to do so, though, internally, I was disagreeing with it. I was pretty sure the transfusion wouldn't have helped anyway. I don't think it was a matter of being negative, but more of being realistic.

Dad was getting to a point where he was there but couldn't respond. It was very strange. He was awake, eyes open, and he tried to respond, but not for a minute did I think he was fading then. I don't know if it was denial or what. I stood there and watched him. I spoke with him. I told him that if he was strong enough to chew me out earlier about the computer that he should be fine now. It didn't occur to me until later that night that Dad's body and brain were shutting down.

Anyway, the nurses continued with the transfusion. They got the blood flowing and we waited. His heart rate and breathing began to slow a little, but Dad was still getting worse. Through it all, Mom was at his side, telling him how brave he was, telling him how he was going to be fine.

(By this time, I think, Marci finally made it to the ER. Her meeting ran long and, though it was informative, it didn't resolve anything. Strike still on.)

At some point in time, we called Dung, my youngest brother, who was with his family in Ireland, working for Microsoft. Marci called him and told him that he needed to get back to the US to see Dad, as he was in the hospital. Needless to say, he was quite upset, but began making arrangements immediately.

As some more time passed, the doctor asked what we wanted to do next. He said if it was his dad, he'd try to make him as comfortable as possible and just be with him. But he also said that our next medical step would be a CAT scan to see what was in Dad's lungs. Again, I was against it, and voiced my opinion this time, but Mom was ready and willing to do just about anything to save him, so I had to go with her wishes.

The medics carted Dad away and we met with a doctor. At this time, Yumei, my Uncle 2 and his wife, Marci, Mom, Knight, Shannon, John and Rainbow were in the room. The doctor asked us about Dad's medical history leading up to today. We filled him in on the details. Dad was diagnosed with colon cancer, stage 3, about a year ago. He made a decision to treat it using alternative means. He changed his diet and started taking herbal medicines. He traveled to China for 30 days for daily treatment.

A few moments later, they brought Dad back from the CAT scan and it quickly became clear that he was not breathing. After a check, we were told his heart had stopped beating as well.

The doctor said we had a decision to make. Either say yes to CPR and what he called a "heroic" effort to save Dad's life, or to let him expire as is. With the CPR, he said it would most likely fracture or break Dad's ribs, as well as traumatize his body further. If it was to save Dad, he'd be alive, yes, but in a lot of pain, and it was possible he could just die anyway. The alternative was to let him go. You know how I felt.

Both Knight and Mom were very upset and wanting to continue with the CPR but I finally said to Mom that it was over. I said that Dad wouldn't want to go through with it and, if he was able to be revived, who were we doing it for? Him or us? He was gone, and we should leave it that way.

Well, they finally agreed with me and I told the doctor to just leave Dad be and they went about undoing all the tubes and IVs and such from Dad. They were then able to leave us with him as we stayed in the room with him.

Mom, again, was the rock. She stood at his side and spoke with him. Knight stood with Mom, devastated. I stood at the foot of the bed and was at odds with myself. I wanted to cry, but I couldn't. I didn't know what the issue was. The tears were close, but they wouldn't come. Everyone else was pretty much a lost cause too, though it was on and off.

After spending a few minutes with Dad and everyone else, we thought we needed to contact Dung again to fill him in. I wasn't so keen on that idea initially; I thought he wouldn't want to suffer with the knowledge on the plane over. But, it was brought to my attention that if he wanted to get his family over, he needed to know that Dad had passed. Marci took that job while Mom, Knight and I stayed with Dad.

When Dung answered the phone, Marci broke the news to him about Dad and Dung just let out a heart-wrenching scream. Marci was able to get Dung's wife Ruby on the phone and relay the news. Marci said it was one of the worst things she's ever had to do.

Being that my parents are practicing Buddhists, Mom wanted to observe Dad's passing in a traditional manner (Here's where I'll probably botch everything, so please forgive my ignorance). Evidenly when someone passes, that person's body is to be left alone for 8 hours or so to allow the body's inhabitant a safe passage. We left Dad on the hospital bed and basically stayed with him. We talked to him. But for the most part, we just sat with him. The whole time, Mom was very strong and hadn't yet cracked.

A bit later, Mom and Yumei excused themselves for the restroom. Marci and I headed that way too and soon we heard heartbreaking screams and wailing from the restroom. Mom had finally broken. I stood outside the restroom with Marci. I wanted to go in and comfort Mom, but I also wanted her to be able to cry. I have NEVER heard her like that and I never want to again. I got a little weepy then, but I didn't want her to see me cry either, so I shut it off and waited for her. When she emerged, she had stopped crying and I just held her for a few minutes.

Night moved into morning and at about 1:30, Marci and I left. The plan was to have the funeral director pick Dad up in the morning for transport to the funeral home. We got home and slept a few hours, then got up at 6 to head back to the hospital.

In his room, we sat a bit longer as we waited. Knight, Uncle 2 and Auntie, Yumei and Mom made it through the night with Dad. Rainbow and John showed up again, as did Marci and I. We were able to be with Dad as he made the transition from the hospital to the hearse. From there, it was time to leave the hospital and get on with our grieving.

Yumei ended up taking Mom home. Knight went with Dad to the funeral home. I forget what Marci went to do. I went up to Mom (and Dad's) house to be with her. When I got there, Mom and Yumei were at the table holding hands. Mom looked a wreck. She was having some water when she lost it again, wailing away at the table. Yumei and I tried to comfort her, and finally we just held her while she let it out. Yumei started to lose it and I got a little moist as well, but we finally calmed it down.

I sent Yumei home to rest and stayed with Mom. She tried to rest upstairs while I stayed downstairs. Hearing her wailing throughout the house was heartbreaking.

Marci came over soon with some breakfast and Mom came down soon after. We hung out and Mom was able to mellow out a little. Knight came over after awhile and, once he and Mom got together, it was all over. I held both of them and told them that Dad did not want to see them like this, that they had to pull it together.

So, throughout the day, some friends stopped by, my Uncle Bob made it back from Houston, we brought the kids to see Mom, and we were just at the house. Talking. Greiving. Laughing, just a little. Loving. It was beautiful and horrible all at the same time.

Now we're making plans for Dad. Funeral service. Where he'll be kept afterwards. The business side of death, I suppose.

Me? I'm wanting to chronicle everything. I have a Word document started at work with memories about Dad. Most of it is so I can remember. Having a horrible memory SUCKS. Having a horrible memory when your dad has died will suck in the future. As I get old and the kids grow up, I hope they can see these blogs about Dad and them as a way to remember both the good and bad (though it seems like it's all bad now).

To everyone that has sent positive vibes, we all thank you. It's helpful and comforting to know people care. I think I'm spent now...