One year and six months ago, my father was at the end of a bicycle ride with a friend when his front tire bumped his friend’s rear tire, and he went over the handlebars and hit his head, cracking his helmet. He was in a daze, but joked with the paramedics who took him to Emanuel Hospital. When my mother and I arrived he was sitting up in the emergency room bed, awake. Soon after that he started deteriorating. He became unresponsive and incoherent. I stood helplessly by his side as the life drained out of his body. After a CAT scan, we learned there was major bleeding in his head which would have to be surgically drained, and were given a moment before he went into surgery to “say our goodbyes.” The doctor asked my mother if she wanted the hospital staff to use every available resource to keep my father alive. She said yes. I said hell yes.
That was April 22nd. He didn’t open his eyes again until July 19th. When he was in the intensive care unit, the doctors had no answers about whether or not he would live. I knew, though. Before the accident he had been an avid cyclist and mountaineer. He’d worked as a graphic designer, and in his free time he painted, drew, took photographs. His intense curiosity manifested itself in a constant exploration of new genres of music, literature, film, and experimental theatre. He had an overwhelming desire to achieve immortality, and he worked toward that end by living so fully that he would never expire. I’d always believed he would live forever. And when I stood by his hospital bed, listening and watching him breathe over the din of the breathing apparatus and EKG machine, I knew my father was in there, in his altered reality, fighting for his life.
After coming out of the coma, despite the fact that his personality was obscured, his spirit and his desire to last were still very much apparent. The one thing that never let up throughout two brain surgeries, three months in a coma, and several months in rehabilitation centers, is his heart. It pumped steadily all along.
Now his right side is paralyzed, he has extreme aphasia, and his concentration on simple tasks lasts only a few minutes at best. But he is still very much alive. With assistance, he can walk up stairs, read the newspaper, and put on a tee-shirt. He just started taking a drawing class, and even with his left hand, he is an extraordinary artist. He has a daily routine of physical and mental exercises, sometimes with therapists, sometimes with the help of my mother and I. Every day he gets stronger, and every day his ability to think becomes more focused and coherent.
More than anything, the last year and a half has confirmed my belief that the human spirit can transcend the limitations of our physical reality. I believe my father will live forever.
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