I’d been traveling for 20 hours: from Shinjuku to Narita, Narita to San Francisco, San Francisco to San Diego, and finally, the short cab ride home. Once I’d dropped my suitcase in my bedroom, I began shedding my stale travel clothes with one arm – first a sweatshirt, then shoes – while phoning my father with the other. “I just got home,” I said. “I’m going to hop in the shower, and then I want to come see you, okay?”
Dad had been out of the ICU for a full day, and was now in a recovery area at the hospital. My sister Jane had been giving me updates, which had become fewer and farther between as family and friends caught wind of what happened and flocked like seagulls to her cell phone for any morsel of information they could get. The story was always the same – Dad had gone in for two robotic laparoscopic surgeries to remove a mass from each of his kidneys. The left side was textbook – a small incision, in and out, mass removed and ready to be biopsied.
It was on the right side that things went wrong. Jane didn’t have all the details, but she knew a major artery called the vena cava had been torn, that Dad lost more units of blood than a body holds, that he received transfusions, nearly died, lost a kidney, and woke up from what he’d assumed would be a simple procedure to find three fraught daughters by his side and an 18-inch gash from his belly to his back on the right side.
When I entered the recovery ward, I was surprised to see Dad on his feet. His body, from fingers to feet, was swollen from all of the liquid that had been pumped into him. Aside from that, and the shroud of fatigue that relaxed his face and seemed to weigh him down all over, he looked way better than I’d expected.
I was still in the middle of a gingerly administered hug when he said, “Come here, I want to introduce you to someone.” Dad led me out of his room to a Japanese woman seated in an office I’d passed on my way to see him. “This is my daughter, she just got back from Tokyo.” I wasn’t surprised that he’d only been conscious for a day and still managed to meet nearly everyone on his floor.
I exchanged pleasantries with the woman -- where I’d been, why I’d gone. Just after we said sayonara, a young man in a white coat appeared at Dad’s side. “How would you like to go home tonight, Sir?” Dad’s face lit up in a way that reminded me of a photograph taken of him when he was 10. “Well, we’re working on the paperwork right now,” said the doctor. It shouldn’t be long.”
Back in his room – “It’s like an apartment, really,” I’d said upon seeing the giant space in which he’d been recovering – Dad told me how he couldn’t wait to get out of there, even though he admitted to loving the food.
Machines and IV stands surrounded the bed, leaking wires and tubes toward the floor. “Was all that in you?” In answer, Dad lifted his arms, flaunting the mottled blackish purple coloring from wrists to elbows. “What was it, exactly, that happened? I mean, I know the gist, but do you know what went wrong?’
“I don’t know,” Dad said, the words seeming to deplete his energy reserve. “And I don’t want to -- not yet.” For a millisecond, his eyes widened; in that flash of white I detected terror, and tried to imagine what it would be like to awake from an anesthetized nightmare.
“The way I’m looking at it right now, is that I’ve been in an accident,” Dad explained. “Like someone hit by a truck. Out of the blue. Totally unexpected. I’ve been in an accident, and I need to get better.”
A young woman, one of the nurses who’d been caring after my father, came in to go over the release paperwork and care instructions. In the matter-of-fact manner of someone accustomed to dealing with such things, she said, “Go ahead and take off your gown so I can show your daughter how to change these bandages.”
Dad hesitated. “I don’t want to traumatize my daughter, she doesn’t need to see her old man. Just show me how to do it, and--”
“You’re not going to be able to change these yourself,” said the nurse, polite but firm.
“Dad, it’s no big deal, I’m going to be hanging out with you this week and I’m happy to help out. If you try to do this yourself, it’s just going to take longer to heal.”
Dad pulled the gown away, and I got my first glimpse of the slash, crudely held together with 26 staples. They were huge, industrial, like the kind I once used for the thicker packets of paper back in my office days. They were so Home Depot, more suited to two-by-fours; it was surreal to see them there, holding my father together like a weekend warrior project.
The nurse demonstrated how to change the bandages on one side and then, to prove I’d followed along, I changed them on the other side, right under a wounded patch from where doctors had ripped off tape that had taken a section of Dad’s skin along with it. From the look of his wounds, it became clear that my father was in even more pain than I’d noticed, or that he’d let on.
“You know, in a sick way, I’m sort of glad this happened,” I said once Dad was dressed and slowly walking with me back to my car. Dad raised his brows wearily, and wary. “No, not that, not the accident, that’s not what I mean,” I rushed to clarify. “It’s just that… I’m looking forward to spending time with you. And I’m just so happy you’re still here, to spend time with me.”