Trauma, Patience, & Processing: My Year Of Hiatus
A year ago my Dad went missing. He'd been on his way home from the Hospital; he'd not been feeling well the day before, his bladder cancer and adjunct catheter were creating a lot of discomfort, so he'd gone to the nearest Emergency Room, a half hour from where he lived. There he waited 9 hours to be looked after--only to be deemed serious enough to get shipped, via ambulance, to the nearest city, where he would be kept over night...and given narcotic painkillers.
A lot of narcotic painkillers.
The next morning he was discharged without fanfare and with no clear solution to his presenting problem in the first place.
It's funny how I have since mentally blocked the reason the medical team had to delay treatment. I used to be able to recite the complicated medical terms (and understand them) with an acuity that surprised even me as I said them. Now I cannot remember certain things. They have been pruned away by a brain that would find itself bombarded by its reflex to take flight, via selective (and seemingly random), amnesia from some of the horror.
All I do remember is that Dad was discharged by an indifferent staff after having been given yet another wallop of narcotics for his pain, then sent, via ambulance, back to the little emergency room where he'd gone in the first place.
Did anyone call ahead to the staff there to let personnel at that hospital know he was coming back? What about the paramedics? Didn't they know that their patient was under heavy influence of narcotics when they arrived, back at the original hospital, and had to have seen him get out of the ambulance...and walk to his car? Didn't they know? How could they not know?
Dad didn't know. A product of his generation, he obeyed the city doctor who discharged him and said he could 'go home'.
Except he never made it home.
The first call I got from my Mom was around one in the afternoon. Dad had called her right before leaving the hospital, she said, but an hour had gone by, and he should have been home thirty minutes ago.
That, in and of itself, should not have been scary. There were a million reasons why he might not be home yet. Maybe he went to the pharmacy. Perhaps he remembered that maybe they'd needed milk or bread.
Nonetheless, the first bite of alarm chewed a nearly indiscernible hole deep in my belly. So small I barely felt it, yet there it was, burning there. I don't know how we know what we know sometimes. Perhaps the full breadth of human intuition will forever be a mystery. Maybe it is somehow supposed to be. All I do recall, with five-senses-alert vivid clarity, is hanging up with Mom and calling Dad's cell.
Calling Dad's cell.
Hours crawled by and I opened my windows. It was a beautiful spring day, and I began cleaning my house, trying to keep from looking at the clock as that alarm in my belly took bigger, more fiery bites. Finally, I called Mom.
Dad still wasn't home. She'd called neighbors to have them please go look. My brother, alerted as well, had called the RCMP who had, in turn, traveled up and down the highway, covering the entire route Dad had gone.
It was as if he--and his vehicle--had simply disintegrated.
There is a taste that invades your mouth when fear explodes in your body. It is a crackly taste, a breathless taste. Today I keep tasting that memory again and again. I called some neighbors way down south (I live 8 hrs away) that maybe Mom hadn't thought of. "Please go look for my Dad?" Where was my Dad?! If he was okay he would have picked up the phone. He never, ever, ignored my calls.
I paced mindlessly. Helplessly. How could I look from 8 hours away? The fresh air from the windows I'd tossed open felt cold and I was shivering. I recall that with tremendous distinction.
I called my brother. He had not found Dad. I called the neighbor. She had not found Dad. I stared at the phone. The screen did not light up from my Dad.
Those minutes are a segment of time I can still recall, for I learned it is true that time is elastic, and therefore relative. Years went by as I stared at my phone.
Then the screen lit up. My brother, not Dad. They found him, he said. A sharp-eyed young constable, peering deep down the gorge, spotted Dad's car in the Belly River. Now the ambulance and its attendants (today I wonder...the same ones who'd let him go home that morning?) were easing him out of his vehicle. Dad was coherent, my brother told me. He knew what had happened.
What he knew was that he'd been on the road--and then airborne over the embankment. He knew the door on the car was stuck. He could not get out. He also knew we had been calling and texting him--his phone had registered these messages, but he had landed in a cellular dead-zone and could not call us back (though he tried; I retrieved his cell records after. He'd called 911. Seeing it there on a black-and-white bill mysteriously made me crumble into pieces and cry for hours. I am still not fully certain why).
It was the young cop who strung the rest of the pieces together as he rapidly performed his investigation. It was him who found out how much narcotic was in Dad's system when he'd blithely been released to 'go home' from the hospital. Him who discovered that no one had called next of kin and suggested they come give Dad a ride. Him who determined that Dad, a competent, responsible driver with a clean record for all of his 76 years, had lost consciousness from the painkillers...only to be jolted awake when his car became airborne.
My Dad would sit--near hypothermia, and having had at least one major heart attack, for five hours before that young law enforcement officer would find him.
And of course, the misery by no means ended there.
A year ago today, as we then barreled east on Highway 16, then south on The QEII, I would take and make phone call after phone call.
We were at the Stony Plain Tim Horton's when one of the calls was, again, information that foretold things in that way by which we just know what we know will be true: Dad's back was broken too.
So now I was no longer headed to Calgary to meet Dad at the Foothills Hospital to make sure he was okay. Now I was going to Calgary to watch my Dad die.
The panic I felt was monstrous. The tidal wave of dread, even remembered, takes my breath away. The near insurmountable inclination to run, to hide, to avoid, to not face it in any way...though it makes me feel cowardly and ashamed and weak, this too I remember with technicolor clarity.
There would be glimmers of hope here and there throughout the week that would follow. Threads of 'maybes' and 'mights' that I'd pretend to cling to even though I knew with 1000% assurance that they could not bear any weight.
As I write this, I am cold and my skin is a landscape of goosebumps. And even though I am right *here*, in my house, a fresh basket of laundry to be folded beside me, and another waiting because my dryer just beeped...I nonetheless feel like I should really be....where?
I don't know.
The displacement I feel is such in the truest sense of the word. I don't know where I am supposed to be today. I don't know what I am supposed to be doing. And while I am trying, I still can't quite get a bead on figuring it out--like a hook-and-eye you can almost latch, I nearly pull it together, then it slips from my fingers, and I am lost yet again.
Is this trauma? I teach about trauma. Ironically, I was just cobbling together the courage to form my own consulting business when Dad went missing, then died. I could (and now, finally can again) recite the sequence of reactions the brain and body exhibit when faced with threat, shock, and horror. When I teach them now, I hope it is with an even stronger measure of compassion, for those feelings are still so close I need only reach backward, a handspan in my memory, and feel them there.
This past year I have learned so much yet still know so little. I know so much more, yet still have so much to learn. This paradox alone has (particularly in the first six months) left me unmoored at times, and goalless. The re-emergence of ambition and drive--even though they were small at first, seedlings barely poked from the ground--simultaneously scared me ("You mean life has to start again?!" and flooded me with so much relief I'd collapse: "You mean life can start again? That it's safe?"
Life is never safe. This is something I've learned. Life is also never long, not even when you are old.
A year ago today my Dad went missing, and ever since I have been trying to find myself.
I keep gathering pieces, one tear, one smile, one memory, one new goal, at a time.
- Bonnie on
March 23, 2019