Thursday, January 1, 2009

the functional family

If you'd asked me about my family, oh, say twenty years ago, I probably would've said we were a dysfunctional family... My parents divorced, my Dad remarried (but not my Mom), I acquired two step-sisters and a step-brother, whom I had known before they became part of my family... And there were issues, the usual ones that such families have...

So this is the family that I came to visit, to be part of, this Christmas. We are at this point: my Dad and stepmom, Ginger; my brother (it's too tiring to keep typing step) Steve and his wife, Saihan, and their two daughters; my sister Pam (the photographer) and her husband Jed; and my sister Leslie. It's a lot of people in a small apartment. My Dad is permanently in a wheelchair and has been for six years. He has one of those electric ones and can get around their retirement village just fine.

We decided to do our unorthodox Christmas on Tuesday. I'm calling it that because we're not religious people, mostly. I was raised Unitarian, and I'm a lapsed one, at that. My sibs didn't really go to church, but said prayers every now and again... Anyway holding xmas on Tuesday would give us time to cook the turkey and eat it on unorthodox Christmas Eve - which was Monday - which is what is done in this part of my family. (My Mom's family are the ones that do lasagne on xmas Eve, and we're not even Italian...) On unorthodox Christmas, Jed prepares a kringle, which is a delicious pastry slathered with jam and sprinkled with almonds. We eat it while we open our stockings.

Now I, personally, am not very big on presents at xmas. I don't know why, I just don't really like the whole present exchange/stocking thing. A present from one person to another, yes, but several? Wads of wrapping paper? Hours of unwrapping? Uhh, no. But that's what the family does, and it's one of the reasons I don't usually come home for xmas. (The other is that up until last year, or really, since it's a new year, the year before that, they always did xmas on xmas day, and I'd rather be in Texas with my kids and grandkids.) Anyhoo... this year unorthodox xmas was after traditional xmas and I could come so here I am and you get this post...

So there we were opening stockings and eating kringle, except for Dad, who went to his spanish 'tertulia,' which is where a bunch of residents get together and speak spanish to each other. Dad got back in time for opening presents and as that was all winding down, he ate his kringle, and choked.

Since my Dad is in the wheelchair and he's not small, it took two people to Heimlich him, my sisters. Then he vomited, sort of interiorly and aspirated it. Then he started to turn blue. This all happened really, really quickly. And just as quickly, Jed ran into the bathroom to pull the cord to summon the retirement village emergency crew, and I was screaming "Call 911, call 911 NOW!" while trying to keep the bacon I was cooking from catching fire. Steve and Saihan lifted Dad out of his chair - no mean feat as he's 200+ lbs of dead weight - and Pam started CPR.

Jed took the little ones outside, Leslie and I moved furniture so EMS could get in, Steve went down to the parking lot to get ready for the ambulance/fire truck and Pam kept on with the CPR with the folks from the retirement village. EMS got there with suction and suctioned Dad's airway and got him stable and pink again and took him and Ginger to the emergency room. Pam and I followed in a car very sedately.

Leslie followed with food, water and books. You don't want to drink from emergency room fountains, really. You don't want to breathe the air. When your sister tells you to put a mask over your mouth you do so. Yes you look silly, but you're less likely to get sick.

It turned out that in suctioning my Dad (or in the compressing, or really anytime, but prob'ly during suctioning), Dad's stomach had been perforated and air was getting into his abdomen from the GI tract. This is unhealthy and can lead rather quickly to peritonitis. We lucked out in that the ER surgeon was Dr Charles, who is a whiz on GI surgery. Dad appeared to us to be cognizant of the world and us, but not able to talk because they'd taken his teeth and shoved a tube down his throat, so we made the decision to do the surgery...

He came through that and is now in ICU. If he can get rid of the stuff in his lungs he stands a good chance of recovery. But that's not what I wanted to write about...

What I wanted to write about was how functional my family was in an emergency. Without talking or ordering or anything, each of us chose something to do, something useful to do, and did it. The EMS people told all of us as they left that we had done it perfectly. Maybe they do this to everyone. Maybe not. I hope to hell I never have to find out by going through this again.

But it remains. We functioned, as a unit, and we functioned well. Shoot, I can't really write about it without crying.

We didn't really have much of a New Year's Eve, of course. Gone were the plans for the fabulous dinner at the Angus Barn. We were all asleep by midnight last night. But I do have a resolution for 02009 (I'm Y10k compliant and urge you to be too). I'm going to take CPR again... 'Cos what happened is that they've changed the compression to breath ratio since I took it from 5-7 compressions to one breath, to 30 compressions. Now that's a BIG difference.

And if you haven't recertified your CPR - or certified - I urge you to do so this year, too. It can save someone's life. Really.


Amy in Austin said...

Wow Wendy! I am so sorry to hear about your Dad. I am extremely grateful that everything worked out ok, so far and will hope and pray he fully recovers. Let me know when you get back to Austin.


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