BY ASHLEY MUÑOZ
My initial goal for this piece was to have students with stories similar to mine come forward and feel comfortable being interviewed about their personal experiences. Although that didn’t happen, I still want this story to be told.
Growing up with an ill parent, or having a newly ill parent, is something many people go through but not many talk about. It’s a difficult and terrifyingly overwhelming situation that provides no directions, no answers and no certainty. It’s all taken one day at a time.
This is the first time I’ve been able to talk about my dad and, let me tell you, it’s hard as hell. But I realized that speaking out might help people in similar situations.
No, not everyone has ill parents. Some people’s issues only go as far as a shattered iPhone screen, but some of us do have to go through this. And for those people, hello! You are not alone.
DIAGNOSIS: BRAIN TUMOR
When I was 18, my dad was diagnosed with a rare type of brain tumor called ependymoma. I think that was the last time my life was ever normal and simple.
My dad was taken into surgery the day after my family rushed him to the emergency room.There was no time to process information because everything happened so suddenly.
I specifically remember sitting in that ER comforting my younger sister, telling her everything was going to be OK. What else could I say to a 15-year-old?
After that night, the rest of my family started pouring in. Aunts and uncles showed up to the waiting room, crying and asking for my dad.
I thought I was the one who was supposed to be acting that way. But I immediately had to be the rock for everyone. I couldn’t cry.
I couldn’t be angry. I couldn’t ask my mom questions.
I had to remain calm and hide whenever I felt like it was all too much.
Every night my dad was at the hospital, my mom was there with him. She never wanted him to be alone. She slept there every night, went to work in the morning, and came back to keep him company in the evening. She kept that routine for the entirety of my dad’s stay.
Since my dad was diagnosed, he’s gotten the tumor removed in a 50/50 risky operation that went anything but smoothly.
I thought the hardest part of all of this was going to be the surgery, but I was wrong. If you have been in my position, you know that is only the beginning.
FACING RISKY SURGERY
The strongest man in my life was suddenly unconscious, unable to move. He had tubes coming out of his head and needed to be taken care of instead of him taking care of us.
After 16 hours of surgery and many complications, my dad was out and transferred to the Intensive Care Unit. Seeing him made me feel some peace because, hey, my dad is alive. But seeing him in that state was also heartbreaking.
I cannot begin to tell you how many moments I spent in the hospital bathroom crying and collecting myself. Breathing in and out. Throwing cold water on my face, hoping everything going on was just a sick joke.
After my dad’s surgery, he lost mobility on his left side. He was barely able to speak or comprehend what was going on. I never thought the last time I would really speak to my dad was while they were prepping him for surgery.
Once my dad was released from ICU, he was transferred to Tucson Medical Center’s rehabilitation facility and then released four weeks after.
I was put in charge of my sister and keeping the house in order while my parents were away. I would wake up early, make breakfast for my sister and get her to school before taking care of myself.
Being a freshman college student and having an ill parent is literally a nightmare.
I had to grow up overnight. I had no time to worry about friends or my social life. My life became college and daily visits to the hospital.
A NEW REALITY
My dad came home, but that didn’t mean things were back to normal. My dad was no longer able to care for himself.
I had to help him shower, walk, put on his clothes, brush his teeth. Everyday tasks suddenly became so difficult.
On top of such a dramatic lifestyle change, my family had to prepare for the possibility of seizures arising with no notice.
If you’ve ever witnessed someone having a seizure, you know how terrifying it is. When it’s a parent, it’s even scarier.
My dad is 6-feet, 2-inches and weighs 200-plus pounds. Can you imagine how difficult it is to nurse such a large man?
When he is seizing up, we have to try to keep him still. We have to talk to him and look at him, because he can still hear us.
We have to put a pillow under him, pin his arms to his side, and pray to some higher power that he won’t rip up his tongue. We have to put him on his side so he doesn’t choke. It’s a difficult situation to be in.
My mom, my sister and I were the ones who helped him through all his episodes, which each led him back to the hospital.
Every seizure prompted a phone call to 911, telling emergency workers to get an ambulance to my house.
I always had to repeat myself because apparently it’s hard to decipher what someone is saying while they are crying and screaming.
Brain surgery completely changes a person. Their personality is gone. The person they were isn’t there anymore.
He was my dad, but he wasn’t the dad I grew up with.
Some of his memories were erased, and some things he once knew the answers to were suddenly forgotten. In exchange for conversation, I settled for receiving a strange look.
Even now, in 2017, my dad is extremely quiet and keeps to himself. However, there are days when I’m with him and feel like he’s still completely there.
He’s able to walk again and he’s regaining function of his upper left side. He cracks jokes once in a while, he loves to go outside and walk, he likes to water his flowers and he LOVES to do the laundry.
And although he doesn’t say a lot, I know he’s happy.