My dad almost — and “almost” is even a bit of an understatement — died on a Thursday this month. I didn’t find out until the ensuing Monday afternoon after picking up on a curious context clue in a text from my brother:
… in the wake of Dad almost dying the other day…
Fortunately I didn’t need to dwell in suspense and conjecture because I saw the text at the same time as the one that followed 10 minutes later:
So I called my mom in a bit of a daze, just as she was helping load my dad into the car after checking out of the hospital. This was four-and-a-half days after he flirted so hard with Death they had to use a condom.
He really should have died. Lest you think I’m being a dramatic child of a nuclear family from the suburbs, here’s how close it was:
My 64-year-old dad goes on long bike rides in north Texas with a cycling club. He has a ritual of competing against other riders to the top of steep hills. This time, circa mile 42, his vision went brown to black in 2 seconds, and his heart stopped working. Now I know the reason why I feel compelled before softball every Wednesday to announce I’m putting my heart on the line and willing to die for a victory. This was inherited.
By some measures, cardiac arrest is the No. 3 killer in America, with an out-of-hospital survival rate of 6 percent. Stats vary of course. The fire chief said his team gets five or six patients who die a week, and about one a month survives. So yeah, right around 6 percent or worse in stretches.
An angelic bystander called 911 a minute or two after my dad crashed. Allen Fire Rescue was dispatched in 22 seconds and arrived in 7 minutes flat. This could not have happened earlier, when the cyclists were traversing remote, wooded areas not easily accessible by ambulance.
Meanwhile my dad’s heart wasn’t beating, which seems to me a challenging way to go about living life. Without an oxygen supply to the brain, we’re talking minutes before irreversible damage and death. The paramedics would have been too late, except…
Two cyclists in the group traded off giving CPR. This was like a Curry-Thompson backcourt. Playing on a Pop-A-Shot. They pumped with such incredible volume and effectiveness, my dad was showing signs of gaining consciousness. This is rare. They’re getting the City of Allen’s Mayor Award.
The heroes gave my dad a fighting chance until the professional heroes got there. One shock from the defibrillator restarted his life and kept my family from having to reboot ours. I am still processing that I really should be burying my dad this month rather than talking to him about the stock market.
If he were going into an operation with a 94-percent chance of dying, I would be googling how to plan a funeral. But I found about it all after the fact and didn’t have a chance to feel or think anything in real time.
My parents didn’t see any utility in telling me what happened right away. I was headed to a bachelor party in New Orleans that Thursday, so why worry me. I couldn’t really help, given I’m not the Asian doctor son they still see in their daydreams. My dad seemed fine in the hospital, and emotional support isn’t really a thing in our household.
Do you see why I am the way I am? Check out how my dad technically broke the news before I stumbled on it.
It was Saturday, two days after near death, and my brother sent a pic of a steak he cooked. His unfortunate face is in there because he knows I hate all pictures without people in them. Who cares? I can google your stupid sunsets and foods and skylines and get better images in less than a second.
Anyway, here’s the text thread:
I was flirting with my own kind of blackout at this point, on my way to shirtless chest-bumping up and down Bourbon Street while screaming “Let’s Goooo” ad nauseam. Yet my brother was sober and didn’t pick up on it either.
This might be retrofitting vague memory, but I remember brushing off the cardiac arrest text as a reference to the red meat. Plus my mom followed it up with another comment on the steak.
Who cares about the mother effing steak? Are you guys sociopaths? It’s such a bizarre way to communicate. I had no idea what was going on and responded with my own dinner pic. My dad’s phonetic Chinese response roughly translates to “Gerald is being a class clown,” and that was the end of the conversation.
For those who wonder why I seem emotionally detached and robotic at times, this is your glimpse into nature versus nurture. As my dad recovers, I don’t have to cringe at the next phone call potentially bringing news of a relapse. I can rest easy knowing if he dies, I will be notified via email.
Even before this episode, I thought of my 30s as the age to find peace with losing a parent. The actual death happens much earlier or later for many, but I think it’s a good time to mature and mentally if not logistically prepare.
Here was my terrifying, rude, beautiful, sublime wake-up call. My dad is not going to live forever, and he certainly won’t be threatening any longevity records with that heart.
It’s a reality I accept in increments. For now, my heart is overcome with appreciation for nonsensical texts, no overt emotion, English-Mandarin conversations, memories, lessons, security, presence, cyclists who ride or die together, faceless heroes who put their hearts on the line every day, medical technology, and whatever it is that makes strangers go to bat for each other.
You might notice I dance around using names and curse words in this blog, but let me just say I am so fucking grateful for Joe Falkner and Jim Sanders.
Ron Wallach, Jackie Miller and the rest of Fred Badenhop’s ride group. The neighborhood man and his daughter who called 911.
Daniel Williams, Allen Fire Rescue Division Chief. Jonathan Boyd, Allen Fire Department Assistant Chief. Their teams. Texas Health Allen.
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