Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Adoption”

The Toughest Part Of My Heart Surgery

A post from a fellow Hodgkin’s Lymphoma survivor triggered an emotional flashback for me recently.  A young parent themselves, one of their main concerns, is for their young children, and this will be the first time that this friend will be apart from their children for any amount of time.  Even more relatable, are two main factors, this fellow survivor is having open heart surgery, and their children are the same ages as my daughters were back in 2008.

My daughters were three and five years old, and had never been apart from me.  I went from just telling them, I had to go stay overnight somewhere for something special, but would see them the next day, to the horror 24 hours later of thinking I would never see them again.

A blockage had been discovered that was believed correctable with a simple stent being placed.  I would be up and going in just a week, an overnight stay in the hospital.  No big deal.  I was still coming out of the anesthesia that day, when the doctor was informing my family, my situation was more grave than thought, and instead I would need to have open heart surgery the next morning.  You can read the story “CABG – Not Just A Green Leafy Vegetable” for that whole situation.

But as I came out of the fog from the anesthesia, and began to understand the severity of what I was facing, there was even a more daunting concern for me.  If anything bad happened to me during this surgery, I never got to see or hold my daughters again, especially before the surgery.

I am a firm believer in not discussing things with children that are not age appropriate, and this was something that was not going to be discussed with them in great detail.  But that did not make my heartbreak any less.  Even if the surgery was successful, I would be in the hospital, expected to be about a week in length.  I had never been apart from them at all, even until the day before for the stent process.  I got to talk to them on the telephone that night before, and that was going to have to be good enough.  In less than eight hours, I would be taken down to the operating room.

Three days following the surgery, out of the ICU and in a private room, I still had some tubes and wires, but not nearly as many as when I first came out of the surgery.  At that point, it was decided to bring my daughters to visit me, a surprise visit, because they were all I could think about.  My older daughter was curious about all the equipment that I was hooked up to.  And the joke, er… concern, was that she would not do to me what she did to her mechanical horse Butterscotch, when we were not looking and she started pulling the horse’s wiring apart.  My younger daughter on the other hand, sat on the foot of my bed.  This was the first either of them had seen me in this type of condition, and clearly she was scared.

The picture above, was taken a couple days after we got home, no worse for the wear.  In fact, my younger daughter had resumed her playfulness with me, forgetting the fragile area of my chest, starting from across the room, running full tilt at me, unsuspecting, planting her head into my chest like a battering ram.  That was when that “heart” pillow came in handy besides my coughs and sneezes.

My daughters would witness another event, just as severe, and probably more scary, because they watched it happen in real time.  After just celebrating my older daughter’s birthday  that day, an ambulance crew was rolling me out of our house on a stretcher, again facing a dire situation, septic shock, due to a specific type of bacterial pneumonia I was unaware that I had.  One of the only memories I have of that early 4am event, was the look on my daughters faces as I was rolled by.

As I talked to my fellow survivor, one of the things I wanted to do, as I do with others in our situation, is to share our experiences, as to offer some sort of comfort to the stressful event soon to take place.  I encouraged her to focus on the surgery.

I had spoken with both of my daughters this evening, to gather their perspective on what happened those two time periods, the second time period they were five and seven years older.  Neither really remembers anything from my heart surgery.  And all either of them really remember of the second episode, was all the policemen and paramedics in the house.  It was never a thought to them that I would not come back home, though it was unusual for me not to be home.

For the second time, I had been apart from my daughters.  And this would happen again several times.  It never got easier.  Just as my fellow survivor feels I am sure, our children mean everything to us.  Fortunately they were at an age, where they really did not need to know or understand how serious everything was.  All that mattered to me, was that they knew I would come home.  And with every time something happened, this was how I handled it.  Each time, they believed I would come home.

Late in their teenage years now, they are learning more about my health history, and the origin, my battle with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and the treatments used to save my life.  They can handle the details as I have given them in small amounts, and not in vivid detail.  As adults, they will learn the seriousness of the things I face, because as they will be my medical proxies, it will be important that they know all the details.

My daughters do not recall anything from my heart surgery, and have very few memories of the second event.  And I am glad for that.  They have witnessed enough with me in the hospital.  They know my situation is serious.

More importantly, they know that they are the reason that I keep fighting when faced with these challenges.  My divorce has caused quite a bit of separation, and while I do miss every moment I wish I could have with them, it pales in comparison to the emotional pain I felt back in 2008 when I thought I would never see them again.

Yet, here I am.  Another year closer to seeing them graduate, hopefully go to college, and perhaps start a family of their own.  Something back in 2008, I never thought I would see.

A Reason To Celebrate Labor Day

It is odd.  We celebrate this weekend for all the wrong reasons.  We recognize it as the “unofficial end to Summer,” the last hoorah to go to the beach or Summer party before schools begin.  Only a select few actually understand what the holiday is about.  Politically speaking, for many, it is not something that is wanted to be talked about.

We know why we celebrated Veterans on Veteran’s Day.  We know why we honor and memorialize our fallen on Memorial Day.  But Labor Day is not just a day off or a long weekend.

Labor Day recognizes the advances of the Labor Movement, as well as those who have contributed to the advances and achievements.  In 1887, Oregon became the first state to recognize Labor Day as a holiday.  By the time the United States recognized it as a national holiday in 1894, thirty states had already recognized this annual recognition (Wikipedia).

The key is what brought us to this day.  It begins with the “evil” trade unions and the labor movement.  The whole idea of this movement was to create a better and safer working environment, and to be able to negotiate for better wages and benefits.  The concept is simple.  It is more successful to negotiate as a group, than individually.  Someone asks for something individually, it is very easy to tell that one person “no.”  But if an employer risks a work interruption, a “strike,” where workers refuse to work until the company and union comes to an agreement, the employer is likely to not opt for the work stoppage and risk profits.  It should be noted, union workers do not earn their pay while on strike, and unless the union is financially prepared, even health benefits are at risk by a “strike.”  It is not really an option that neither side wants.

You can thank the Labor Movement for the “8 hour work day” which became effective in 1886.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have an employer require you to work sixteen hour days?  You can be thankful for breaks during the work day.  You can be thankful for the establishment of OSHA requiring workplace protections.

Labor Unions came into the picture in 1935 with the signing of the National Labor Relations Act.  This allowed workers to organize into unions and engage in collective bargaining (negotiate a contract) to earn better wages, safer working conditions, benefits, and job security.

In the beginning, unions had a major impact on such dangerous jobs as coal mining (a separate story deserving its own post), and many other large industrial jobs.  Eventually other public sector jobs would also join into the labor union representation such as teachers and police.

Over the years, unions have been portrayed as both evil and necessary.  Evil, because to provide a better work environment means it costs a company more profit to provide such.  Politically, as companies lobby the government for assistance against labor unions.  Obviously, if a company can pay someone less, they will make more profit.  But the question is, at what cost to the employee?  The answer, a company owner only cares about the profit, not who earns it for them.

If you have never belonged to a union, it is very easy to be jaded against them.  Chances are, all you have ever witnessed, are news stories about strikes.  Whether they be transport workers, nurses, airline pilots, teachers, or whoever, if you do not belong in a union, the immediate warcry is “greedy bastards” when the workers are shown on strike, asking for better conditions and more pay.  And why that warcry?  Because it is likely, that person does not have that representation, and thereby deems it unfair since they do not have the opportunity to have the same negotiating power.  But you do.  You choose not to.

Unions have typically been portrayed as thugs in Hollywood (both of these were great movies by the way, “Fist” starring Sylvester Stallone, and “Norma Rae” starring Sally Field).  There is no doubt that there have been issues of violence associated with labor negotiations.  But I would argue, that for the most part, the benefits of being represented far outweigh the benefits of not being represented.

Personally speaking, my grandmother belonged to the Electrical Workers Union, and was even a treasurer for her local organization.  I laugh at the thought of my grandmother being a “tough guy” in a union, as she stood only 4 foot 7 inches tall, and was quiet in appearance.  My mother also worked with the Electrical Workers Union.

Then came my turn.  But up until that point, I was one, like many, opposed to unions, for the same reasons as others, misconceptions leading to unfair judgments courtesy of my jealousies.  In 1997, an opportunity came up to work for a major pharmaceutical company, with the entry level position, including union membership.  I would become the third generation belonging to a union, oddly, the Oil, Atomic, Chemical Workers union, yes, in pharmaceutical.  Immediately, I would see the difference and the benefits to me.

In 1988, I was diagnosed with cancer.  This made me uninsurable for health insurance, life insurance.  Hell, employers did not even want to hire me at all, just because I had cancer.   But the first benefit I received following my probationary period?  Guaranteed Health and Life insurances.  You see, the union negotiates this for their workers.  That is why they call it collective bargaining.  Because it benefits their entire group.  Everyone in that group has to have the same thing.  I could not be turned down just because I had cancer.

Sure, the money was also good.  And compared to other pharmaceutical companies that did not have union representations, my counterparts were lucky to make even half of what I was making.

Work environment?  If I felt my work area was unsafe, or equipment was lacking, I could count on my union leadership to demand action.  In industrialized jobs, workers are automatically at a higher risk for injury and death, and deserve all precautions to keep them as safe and protected as possible.

And a big thing with unions, job security.  Do you know anyone who was fired just because a boss did not like the otherwise productive employee?  Have you ever been laid off from work, after working decades, while the company kept someone who just started, simply because they made less money?  Seniority is one of the pillars of the labor movement, job security.

Of course, there are problems within the unions, the slackers who goof off while other good hard workers carry a respective work ethic.  Some of these get into trouble, and seemingly get away with it, unscathed.  That is the benefit of a union, representation to get you out of trouble, by accident, or intentionally.

My experience with the union, I will always support unions.  Besides finally obtaining insurances that I was otherwise denied, my wages allowed me to purchase a home, and allowed me the opportunity to bring the two most important people into my life, my daughters.

And when I needed my union the most, in 2008, following my emergency bypass surgery, for my heart, caused by damage from my cancer treatments nearly twenty years earlier, when my employer threatened to fire me, as my FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) days had expired and demanded me to return to work, even though I had not recovered.  My union fought for me with the Americans With Disabilities Act protections.  You try to do this working for Walmart.   Eventually, I would become a shop steward, a “lawyer” or union representative for my co-workers myself.  And I was a good one.  As one of my co-workers noted, I may not have been well liked by all (I was a stickler for rules, so I could be a pain in the ass), but everyone knew I would support and protect everyone.

I worked for my employer another five years before my disabilities became too much for me, and for my employer to accommodate my health restrictions.

When it came to my early retirement, my union took care of me as well.

The same cannot be said for my peers with other companies who do not have representation, doing the exact same work as me.  But envy should be held against me, because I had representation that I was worth as a human being?  Or should there be displeasure in the fact that someone is either unable or unwilling to establish representation?

As you are out on the beach today, or having a barbecue, be glad for unions and the labor movement.  That is why you are hopefully not being forced to work today.  And if you are being forced to work… I hope you are being compensated properly.

A Wish That Sticks Like Peanut Butter To The Roof Of Your Mouth

I know, this is probably the oddest title I have ever put on a post.  And I will be able to explain without the need of a flowchart.

I was watching the movie, “The Peanut Butter Falcon” starring Zach Gottsagen, Dakota Johnson, and Shia Labeouf.  It is a story about a young man with Down Syndrome, (Gottsagen an actor living with Down Syndrome) who has one wish, to wrestle professionally.  It is an inspirational movie, but that is not the purpose of this post.

There are other appearances in the movie by famous faces, two of which, are professional wrestlers in real life.  And not just wrestlers, but athletes that I grew up watching.  At this time, clearly these wrestlers are long past their prime in not just the movie, but real life.

And so, off on a search through Amazon and Netflix, I have been scouting as many documentaries as I can, about the many pro wrestlers I grew up watching, to see the many stories of “whatever happened to?”  One documentary led to another.  And then I stumbled across one that was not only my favorite pro wrestler, but would end up providing me with yet another role model of what I want to be remembered for, just like him, a father.

His name was Jim Hellwig.  But to his fans…

we knew him as, The Ultimate Warrior.

“WWE:  Ultimate Warrior – Always Believe” is the cliche documentary, before he became a wrestler, discovering wrestling, becoming his character, and coming around full circle in his career after struggling.

I liked many pro wrestlers, but there was just something about the Warrior, his energy, enthusiasm, and always a positive attitude, rivaling Hulk Hogan at times.

He would come running into the ring, and immediately release a ton of energy going from corner to corner, flexing his muscles, shaking the ring ropes, and just when you thought he should be exhausted, he still had a match to complete.  He was the ultimate good guy.  And then the ultimate and inevitable happened, facing the ultimate good guy had to face the incredible good guy, Hulk Hogan, leaving many torn who they would cheer for.  I liked Hogan at the time, but I definitely cheered the loudest for the Ultimate Warrior.

As time went on, as often happens, the Warrior fell out with the WWF.  In the documentary a lot of that time is covered, but the focus is on the reunion of the Warrior and the WWF, because Hellwig is finally being inducted into the WWF Wrestling Hall Of Fame.

This is the most touching part of the documentary, because it allows us to focus on what would be realized as the most important part of his life, not wrestling and fame, but his wife and his two young daughters.  In fact, instead of having female models escort him out when announced during the ceremony like the other wrestlers, he was escorted out by his two daughters.

This is where the “peanut butter” gets stuck.  You hear Hellwig proclaim how important his daughters are to him.  And you also hear from the daughters, everything their father means to them.

Tragically, or as fate would have it,  Hellwig passed away from a cardiac episode, the day after being inducted into the WWF Wrestling Hall Of Fame.  As someone who faced his own imminent cardiac event, no one is aware of how quickly something can be taken away from you, and that you have no control when it happens, than me.

The ultimate father left behind two young daughters.

During this documentary, I found myself reflecting on my health and my relationships with my daughters.  Out of the six health incidents I have had, my daughters have personally witnessed three of them.  And as I struggle with the uncertainties from my cancer treatments over thirty years ago, this suddenness weighs heavily on my mind.  And then, there is a divorce that has left us living a huge distance apart.

As I heard Hellwig’s daughters talk about all of the things that they will always remember about their father, and not just the wrestling, I wondered, have I left as important an impression on both of my daughters, that they would remember me positively.

My daughters know me for being a “voice” for those who do not have one, whether it is health related, bullying, or any other advocacy need.  They know me for being a loyal friend.  There is no doubt that they know I am willing to fight for anything, especially my health.  I believe I have set enough of a moral example for them, of how they should want to be treated and respected, and likewise returned.  My daughters will have lots of fun memories, and I know will be able to proclaim their father was a great cook.  They will be proud of the things that I have written, and will always remember how my voice sounded in song.

But the most important thing I want my daughters to be able to say, reflects on my childhood, and that is, my daughters will always be able to say, regardless of the distance between us, I never gave up on them.  I did everything I could to see them and talk to them.  I stayed involved in their lives, including their education.  I cannot say that about the relationship between my late father and I.  And the same situation applies for many other parents, fathers and mothers, who have made the decision to walk away for whatever reason.  But my daughters will never know that feeling.  I am always a part of their lives.

I will be there when they graduate High School, and likely some form of continuing education.  Should they get married, I will be the one walking them down the aisle.  I look forward to holding my own grandchildren some day.

Yes, I grew up in a “broken” home, divorced parents.  I had no role model for a father figure, other than the parents of some of my closest friends.  But every now and then, I witness something that lets me know, that I must be doing something right, because I can recognize it.

And that is what this documentary did for me, help me to see, that I have been, and am doing things right, as best as I can.  Most importantly, living and doing as if there might not be a tomorrow.

Whether as the Ultimate Warrior character or as Jim Hellwig the father, he was known for some of his most wise thoughts.

“You must show no mercy…nor have any belief whatsoever in how others judge you…for your greatness will silence them all.”

“The most awesome thing I will ever do, is be your father.”

Like I said, the character of the Ultimate Warrior was my favorite, but he was such an inspiration and example of what a father should be, and how one should be remembered.  I want my daughters to be able to reflect on me similarly, but without the face paint and bulging muscles.

Finally, though not having to do with the Ultimate Warrior, but as I was going through these wrestling documentaries, it was during “The Resurrection of Jake The Snake”, another wrestler, and played a wrestling role in the “Peanut Butter Falcon,” that former wrestler Diamond Dallas Page, who played a pivotal return in Jake “the Snake” Robert’s recovery efforts, DDP spoke profoundly the following quotes that I want to share, and well, this post was perfect to include them on:

“The power you give yourself, by believing in you.”  And, “never underestimate the power you give someone by believing in them.”

See Mom?  Pro Wrestling ain’t all bad.  Sometimes some good comes out of it.

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