Dad looked great, for a guy who could only survive on life support. If you managed to block out the breathing tube entering his mouth and descending into his windpipe, he didn’t look bad at all. His cheeks were full, not puffy, and his skin color healthy, as if he had just enjoyed a fine Sunday breakfast.
I can’t really say what I was expecting as I went through the wide halls of the intensive care unit on the 7th floor at Yale-New Haven Hospital, passed the reception desk and zig-zagged around machines and computer screens where the nurses could monitor the different patients, but past experiences had prepared me for the worst. My mom looked dreadful before she had her mitral valve replacement 15 years before. That’s because she was in a dreadful state. But she survived…she still does. Roger Ebert spent his final years looking like a Francis Bacon painting, or perhaps a Munch. Just that awful. Some might find that offensive, but I’d like to think he’d appreciate my candor. You know, as someone who had been frank all his life.
But Dad emanated a restful air about him. He was peaceful. He was always such a calm man, barely ever riled. It took the best we eight children had in us to get him to bark out some kind of angry response. Otherwise, he approached life quietly, unruffled and unbothered. That was the way he was approaching death, from what I could tell, though there was no word from the doctor. He was waiting for me to arrive…not because he was waiting for me in particular, but because I was the only one from out-of-town who was arriving early enough that day. Two other brothers and two sisters, a couple of sister-in-laws and a nephew and niece were already there. We hugged and talked about what had happened, and then spent some time talking about our summers, the way people do when they are in uncharted territory.
The doctor sat us down in a conference room and rolled in a computer on a cart. With this he was going to explain to just what had happened to Brian S. Murdock, esq. But he didn’t stop there. First he gave us a crash course on how the brain works. I happened to have little trouble following him because I had recently become a primary school science teacher based on the qualification that I could speak English, not tell you the difference between an angiosperm and a gymnosperm, but I did brush up on my basics and knew enough about the functions of the brain keep up with the man. stem, which included control over breathing and consciousness, to realize that .
My father had suffered from a stroke, which is a very broad term that refers to afflictions which are almost opposite in meaning. In basic understanding, a stroke can be anything from a brain hemorrhage to a clotted artery which blocks blood from flowing to the brain. In my father’s case, it was the latter, more specifically known as BOA, Basilar Artery Occlusion, not Bank of America. The problem with this type of cerebral “heart attack” is that its effects are often devastating, with brain tissue dying, or necrosis, within minutes from the commencement of the attack, due to lack of oxygen. This is called infarction. The damage is irreversible. Like time itself. It’s a disparaging word, that. Irreversible.
The doctor tried to unclog the the blockage by inserting a very fine wire in the artery to remove whatever it was that was in the way. Had this been the Simpsons, it would have been Homer with a burger stuck inside. But I never found out what had done Dad in. The surgeon told us the obstacle was so large, there was nothing she could do. In fact, most of the neighboring minor arteries around there had been destroyed years ago. Nothing had been going anywhere for a long time.
It was like the Van Wyck Expressway on a bad day.