Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I looked up the definition of "shell-shocked" and here's what I found: Battle fatigue.

Those two words describe exactly how I've felt this past week. A week ago tonight, I got a call from my Mom telling me that "Something is wrong with Dad." I didn't even recognize her voice it was so choked with grief. Mike and I immediately jumped in the car and tore off down the highway. We are lucky that we live about 3 km from my Mom and Dad...

When we arrived, my Dad was lying on a stretcher with two EMTs reviving him. He looked terrible, my Mom was a wreck. What followed was an epic night of pain and struggle.

My Dad was taken to our local hospital. After 2.5L of IV fluid, his heart rate and blood pressure were still low -- this led the attending physician to think "there was a bleed somewhere." My Dad lay there shivering uncontrollably. He was so cold and couldn't warm up. He could barely open his eyes he was so weak, but when he did, I was startled by their piercing blue clarity.

Phone calls to Lethbridge and Calgary were made, and the EMTs prepared to take my Dad to Lethbridge for a catscan...Things were happening so fast yet so slow at the same time. Mike, me and Mom hovered around the bed. I told my Dad I loved him, and as they moved him to another stretcher for transport, I panicked, realizing that this could be it. I called out to him as they wheeled him away, "I love you Dad! You are a strong man and a good father!"

I was thinking to myself that I wanted him to know these things -- of all the things I need to tell him before the end. The level of severity still hadn't sunk in.

I assumed the role of manager -- it is what I know how to do. I called my sister, drove my Mom home, called the hospital in Lethbridge, then Calgary, drove to my Mom's house at 4:45am to let her know what I found out. I had a couple of moments when I thought I was going to fall apart -- I've watched enough TV shows to know that when you phone the hospital and are put on hold...that the news is often the worst.

But it wasn't. My Dad remained conscious all through his ordeal, but barely. He remembers that the STARS helicopter guys didn't think he was going to make it. That they couldn't find a pulse.

When we learned that my Dad survived and was recovering, my Mom left for Calgary. She was so discobobulated -- I wrote a detailed list of things she would have to bring with her...A list of my Dad's stuff and her stuff. I knew that I had to be strong and keep my head on straight. I showed her how to use my Dad's cell phone (yes I DO know how to use one!) and kept my sister updated on everything. I also wrote a letter to my Dad. Going over in detail all the things I've always wanted to say, but never did. My Mom read it to him when she visited him. I am so lucky to have more time to tell him even more things now. :)

Fast forward to today. Things happened so fast, and I felt so removed. I felt numb, drunk. This past week was a weird haze of complete exhaustion. I had a difficult time speaking -- it sounded like I was drunk. The exhaustion I felt was unlike anything I've ever experienced. Sleep wouldn't touch it.

I'm the type of person who laughs all the time. Especially if I've never met you. I'll say something and then laugh right after. I'm just like that. This week I was not myself. I reached out to total strangers -- a girl I swim with for example. When she said good morning, how are you, I told her about my Dad. She was so gracious and kind offering words of encouragment. I lapped it up like nectar. I needed it.

You know when you are running during Ironman and someone shouts out your name -- a total stranger, but they are offering you support? It was like that -- I fed on it.

I am very lucky and blessed to have very good friends...Friends who offered to drop everything and come and cook, whatever. Friends who shared with me their experiences and what they did to cope. As ridiculous as this might sound, these shared experiences prepared me for the exhaustion and grief. Almost like a manual.

Sara (my coach) gave me carte blanche over my workouts. I chose to stick with everything. I needed the familiarity of routine. This past week of workouts were an odd experience. There was one 90 minute steady run where I turned my mind off completely and just had my body breathing hard and moving forward. Like an animal. Nothing in my head that I was aware of.

But my head was full to the brim and I was too paralyzed by fear, shock, grief to realize it. My cosmic twin Charmaine called at the perfect time and told me in plain language what I was going to experience. That I wasn't even coping yet, that all this stuff was in my subconscious and would trickle down into my consciousness soon, that I would feel selfish for doing my workouts, that when my Dad returned home it would hit me.

She gave me two wonderful pieces of advice: That whatever I do/say/think -- to accept it and move on. And this is what she sent in an email yesterday: "Take strength in your determination and use this hiccup to push yourself even further. Look, if your Dad can do what he just did, you had better step up another level here girl." Can you see why Charmaine means so much to me?

This has changed everything for my family. Already we are closer than before. External crap has been stripped away to leave honesty, understanding, and total love. When I saw my Dad yesterday at home, I hugged him, kissed him, kept touching his face and arms, and cried and cried. I told him again how much I loved him.

During a bike session this week, I was listening to one song over and over again by Christina Aguilera: Fighter. While the lyrics refer to an entirely different situation, I heard them through my own experience. Through the eyes of a father's daughter....This was for you, Dad:

'Cause it makes me that much stronger
Makes me work a little but harder
It makes me that much wiser
So thanks for making a fighter

Made me learn a little bit faster
Made my skin a little bit thicker
Makes me that much smarter
So thanks for making me a fighter

My Dad IS a FIGHTER. :) :)


Jenna said...

Well - not much to say thru my snot bubbles - having been in your shoes a year ago after my dad's accident - i heard everything you said. Hang in there!! Luv ya!

Keith said...

Well, I'm all verklempt now. I'm so glad your dad is at home.

Cath said...

Absolutely! Well, you had me in tears too. WHen Mum had her cancer with 5% chance, I thought we might lose her on more than one occasion - but we didn't! And boy, oh boy, does it change how you see the world. You wouldn't wish it upon anybody, but when it happens, you cherish absolutely everything so much more - even when they're being divils! Cos they're still here to be divils, and that's what matters!

You will feel it in the next couple of weeks for sure, but when Dad was sick with cancer this year too, I used to imagine that every pedal stroke, every run of foot and every pull in that pool was me shoving another cancer cell out of my Dad's body! It helped me. So, you keep at it for gorgeous girl, take strength from your Dad and then give that strength back as well by showing him that there's EVEN MORE inside Julie AndersON.....yikes, world, watch out....:) You're Dad is kicking, and kicking strong, and he'll be shouting louder than ever at your next race when your kick ass big time!

Anyhow, let's try and get together next week when things are a little calmer - I was thinking perhaps a little massage for you and your Mum?? Not safe for your Dad right now! WHat do you think?

Lots of love
Me and Jase xxx

Kelly B. said...

Wow. Good for you for taking charge, Julie! A tower of strength for your family...all of a sudden we become the grown ups, how does that happen? I remember a very long time ago I was staying with my mom and she was a nurse at one of the local hospitals. She got a phone call to come right away as a kid was on his way in on the ambulance with the last name "bannister" and it wasn't looking good...that was the LOOONGEST drive to the hospital...in total silence...I don't even remember the night, really...I just remember the look on my mom's face...turns out it was my cousin (who didn't make it) but I also remember thinking "no matter what happens tonight, my mom really, really needs me to be strong..." Good for you for stepping up!!

Darin Hunter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amber Dawn said...

I don't know what to say either, but I am so happy your dad is home. It really is a miracle- as a nurse the words Ruptured Aorta generally refer to a cause of death. Your dad obviously has more to do here on earth! Thank God for that.
I can't even imagine what you and your family have been through over the last week. I wish I could be of more support to you!
Take care and be gentle with yourself. Lots of love to you!! AD

Amy said...

Whew. Tears are streaming down my face right now and it is NOT that time of the month. JULIE - I am so glad your dad is ok. The part where you called out to him on the stretcher started my crying fit and it hasn't ended yet. I just want to give everyone in my family a hug. And you too. XOXO

Beth said...

I have been wondering how you were doing. I am so glad your dad is home. I am wishing he gets his strength back really quickly. I know how scary it is to have a sick parent.

runningman said...

Take care Julie, I wish your dad a speedy recovery.

Runner Leana said...

Julie, I am so glad to hear that your dad is home recovering now. It sounds like he was incredibly lucky. Hugs for you Julie my friend.

Susi said...

both veklempt and snot bubbles...

love and hugs!

KK said...

Oh, Julie, I am so sorry to read this. I am glad that your dad is at home and that you are such a strong person. You were instrumental in getting your family through this. I hope you are back to laughing and smiling again soon and that your dad has a speedy, full recovery.