Thursday, June 18, 2009

Father's Day and the U.S. Open

The year before Father’s Day 1994, my father came back to work at my place of employment. He had worked there nearly 30 years before. The twists and turns of life had brought him there. For the next year, we ate lunch together every day – sometimes with a regular crew of guys, sometimes just the two of us. I can’t describe the joy of spending time sharing stories, jokes, complaints and the like with Dad over that year.

Six weeks before Father’s Day, we had made a lunch date for our usual time of 11:30. I was waiting for him in the lobby of the second floor near the stairs, when he hurried walked up to me and grabbed my arm, pulling me close.

“I can’t go to lunch,” he said, quickly. “I just passed straight blood.”

I knew it wasn’t good … I just didn’t know how bad it was. To shorten the story, a trip to the doctor, two tests later, and it was quickly determined that Dad had bladder cancer. The first strategy was to remove the tumor by laser. While the outside of the tumor was removed, it had invaded the bladder wall. That meant his bladder would have to be removed, and prostate as well. He would live his remaining days as an ostomate, one who uses a bag for certain bodily functions.

The bladder removal surgery was a disaster. His intestines were in such poor shape that a second surgeon was called into help try to make heads and tails out of them. Within days, Dad had a bowel obstruction, and another emergency surgery was scheduled. We were told that there was no guarantee that Dad would survive. If his insides didn’t respond, then in short order he would poison himself to death.

The man who came out of that second surgery looked like no one I had ever seen. Worse than death. We spent the next 48 hours, praying that the surgery would work. Thankfully, our prayers were answered. But it would be a long, arduous road back. It would take weeks to recover, and only then could he start chemotherapy.

Father’s Day weekend arrived a few days after his second surgery. He had just begun to regain some sense of awareness and the abillity to communicate. Because he loved watching golf, we turned the television onto the U.S. Open, hoping it would provide him some sense of comfort and normalcy.

That year, Colin Montgomerie, Loren Roberts and Ernie Els ended up in an 18-hole playoff on Monday. Late in the playoff, Dad became incredibly agitated. He was near the point of yelling, which was creating pain that the IV drips couldn’t cover. He was trying to point to the television.

“He’s cheating! He’s cheating!” Dad yelled. “Can’t you see? Ernie Els is cheating! He’s got a lawnmower!”

Dad was convinced that he had seen a man on a lawnmower carve out a path for Ernie Els to putt onto the green when he had previously been buried in rough and had nothing but thick stuff between him and the green.

“Dad, there’s no lawnmower,” I said.

“You’re lying to me!” he said. “Why is he cheating? Why don’t they stop him?”

Finally, Dad got so angry, he quit talking and drifted off. Later when he woke up, he maintained his story that Ernie Els cheated and won the U.S. Open. Of course, he was hallucinating from the narcotics. But Dad still thinks Ernie cheated. And Dad thinks his surgeon stole his 1974 Lemans and sold it to a used car lot in Sylacauga (never mind he hadn't had the car in 10 years) – another drug-induced vision.

It was a Father’s Day to remember for what happened – and what Dad thought happened.

A footnote: I saw the surgeon for the first time in the 15 years since that weekend this past spring. I told him who I was.

“You know, every surgeron has a surgery and a patient they will take with them forever,” he said. “For me, it’s your dad. It was the two most difficult surgeries I’ve ever performed, and he was the most unusual patient I’ve ever had.”

On U.S. Open/Father’s Day Weekend, that’s par for the course.