Sunday, September 27, 2009

Miracles (and universal health care)

As much as I talk about some of the more minute details of my every day life here in Japan, I rarely choose to share about truly personal things here. So I debated for quite a while about whether or not to actually publish this post.

But for me this has all been such an incredible display of God's miraculous workings that I feel compelled to write about it, even though I'm not 100% comfortable making this public knowledge.

To start at the beginning...

Around the end of February I got a call from my mom informing me that my dad was seeing a doctor about heart problems. At the beginning of March I got an email from my dad with the results from an angiogram: 3 arteries blocked 95%. Shortly after that he was scheduled for a triple coronary artery bypass surgery on March 20th at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

The timing of the surgery coincided with spring break in Japan, but I had long since made arrangements to meet a friend from Vancouver in Anaheim to watch a Colorado Avalanche-Anaheim Ducks hockey game. Our accommodations and flights were already arranged. My parents insisted that I not cancel the trip, but after getting advice from several friends, I decided to extend my vacation to fly to Toronto from Anaheim (Los Angeles, actually) and to spend a few days at home before returning to Japan.

My father's surgery ended up getting canceled on the day of and re-scheduled to March 26th. As a result, he had only just been released the day before I arrived back in Mississauga (March 31st). (Just getting back to Toronto ended up being an adventure in itself since my flight to Denver was canceled due to snow--yes, snow at the end of March!--and I ended up having to spend a day at LAX waiting for another (but at least it was direct) flight to Toronto. Luckily Cecilia was able to pick me up even though I came in early in the morning on the 31st instead of on the night of the 30th as originally scheduled. And thank goodness when I bought my phone in Japan I made sure it would be able to work in North America as well!)

But it ended up being a really good thing that I did come home because the night of the day I got back, my dad was coughing a lot and couldn't sleep all night. So the next day (April 1st) I went with him to the doctor to get something to help him sleep.

But after taking the medicine, he still couldn't sleep. I had gone out to run various errands at this point, but my mother called the doctor who said it'd be OK for him to take a couple more of the pills. He did, but he still couldn't sleep. Then he started getting hyper-active and was coughing/wheezing a lot. My mom made an appointment with his doctor for later in the afternoon, but after I got home and observed his behaviour for about an hour or so, we (my mom and I) decided to take him to the doctor right away.

When his doctor examined him, it turned out that he was having difficulty getting oxygen (so oxygen deprivation was the cause of his giddy behaviour) and the doctor called an ambulance. At Mississauga Credit Valley Hospital, my father was put on oxygen and had his vitals monitored, but other than that we were just waiting for hours for a doctor to see him and assess his condition. During this time my dad's behaviour was still very erratic, his breathing continued to be laboured, and his chest (around his stitches) started bleeding a lot. It was a really scary time. I mean, we were in a hospital so if something went wrong there were people nearby to deal with it, but the waiting and not knowing what exactly was going on was nerve wracking. Plus there was the added stress of having to stay strong and calm/collected to reassure my father and to be a support for my mother.

It was fairly late in the evening by the time a doctor came to see him. After all that waiting, the diagnosis was that they were going to send him immediately (by helicopter) back to St. Mike's (i.e. where he'd had the surgery). So my mom and I, plus my aunt went home to quickly pack up our stuff and then my brother Nathan (who had come down after work) drove us all to his place downtown. We went to St. Mike's to see my father briefly before going back to my brother's place to sleep. (I also sent a frantic email to my supervisor in Towada, Mukainakano-sensei inquiring about the possibility of extending my stay in Toronto to deal with this latest emergency.)

The next day (April 2nd) my aunt went to see my dad in the hospital in the morning, allowing my mom and I to sleep in a bit longer. She reported that he'd been able to sleep and seemed to be in stable condition. When I went in around noon (?) he was being seen by doctors. They were drawing a heck load of fluid from his lungs--which is what had been causing all the problems.

When I was finally able to see him, he was lucid and in pretty good spirits. Still, I was worried enough to call Mukainakano-sensei to discuss the possibility of staying longer in Canada. It seemed like a lot of hassle and the doctor anticipated that my dad would be released again on Saturday anyway, so my parents convinced me to stick with my original itinerary. The rest of that day was spent at the hospital with a dinner break at a restaurant with my mom and brother.

The following day was back at the hospital (although my mom did go to work for a bit). Just before I was scheduled to go back to Mississauga (I was flying out the next morning), I managed to find time to research Netbooks (I'd been wanting a new, more portable laptop for some time), and I ended up going to Best Buy with my mom to pick one up. I went home with Cecilia and was able to spend time with some of the BSGE ("Best Small Group Evar") crew on my final night in Mississauga. (And bless her, Cecilia was also there to take me to the airport early on Saturday morning.)

When I got back to Towada I got the news from my mom that my dad had been released without any additional difficulties on Saturday. After that, in phone conversations with my mom and dad and reading my dad's blog, it seemed like everything was going well.

And when I went back in the summer for WAY camp, even though he had lost a lot of weight, my dad looked pretty healthy and was working hard to eat healthily and to exercise regularly without over-straining himself. It was a good summer back home and I left very much relieved at the state of my father's health. (Although I did get a bit worried when I saw that he was doing camp, photography at a local city councilor's BBQ and H&A's wedding photography all back-to-back.)

Reading my dad's blog at the beginning of September, I saw that he was planning on going back to work full-time and that he seemed to be getting busy with various church/community events again. I commented on his post about going back to work not to overdo things, but I didn't really think too much of it (trusting in his own common sense and his doctor's supervision)...

Fast forward to the most recent events:

This past Friday night (September 25), I got a call from my mother telling me that my dad had had a heart attack (and had gone into cardiac arrest) and was currently in the hospital. My brother had emailed me earlier, but I was just turning on the computer for the first time that day right when my mom called.

She told me that he had told her he was "going out with friends" and asked her to find a ride home. But he was actually at a wedding rehearsal. From what I've heard, he was talking to some friends one minute, then they turned around and he just collapsed. Luckily there was a nurse there who knew he'd had heart surgery and so started performing CPR right away. (I wish I could thank that nurse in person because her fast action might just have saved his life.) The ambulance arrived 6-7 minutes later; they used an AED (or something) on him to get his heart started again; and he was taken to Sunnybrook Hospital. (I'm a bit fuzzy on these details since I've only heard them through my mom on the phone.)

So that was as much as I knew on Friday night. It was a really tough night for me, to say the least. I emailed the BSGE crew plus a few other "like family" friends, and spent the rest of the night unsuccessfully trying not to think about the situation, sobbing my heart out and praying like I've never prayed before. It wasn't a pat "God, let your will be done" kind of praying, but an honest cry from the heart of "God, I'm scared" and "I don't want him to die. God, please don't let my dad die."

Around 1am I got an email from my brother (I'd asked him to email my cellphone so I'd know right away) saying that my dad was in stable condition and that they'd try to rouse him after about 10 hours (meaning about 11am Saturday morning, Japan time).

Since I ended up getting roped in to help with the children's make-up for the dance performance on Sunday, I had to go to the Bunka Center on Saturday morning around 10am to learn how to do the make-up properly. The entire time I was there I was just waiting for my phone to vibrate. When I finished (around 12pm) there was still no message from my bro, so I emailed to ask for an update.

The following is his reply (with a few minor modifications):

He was still under anesthetics and wouldn't be waking up for a while, but they'd started "warming him up." Since there was a period of time where oxygen was not getting to his brain, to minimize damage to his brain, they kept his body very cold to keep swelling to a minimum. They did this for about 24 hours. Next they were starting to remove the anesthesia and narcotics to see if he could regain consciousness maybe by the morning.

I got this message while grocery shopping in Jusco and had to fight to keep from going into tears again. My brother did a great job of keeping the email positive and making it sound like there was lots of hope and little reason to doubt that he'd wake up, but I didn't feel nearly as positive as his email sounded.

Thankfully I was able to go out for dinner that evening with my co-worker friend, Muranaka-san, because if I'd stayed home alone again all night, I definitely would have gone on another crying jag.

Despite crying some more and generally feeling worried and anxious before going to bed (I'd even emailed my brother to ask if he thought I should come home), I actually ended up dreaming that night that I was at home with my mom, brother, and dad, and having conversations with my dad about his recovery.

I was expecting an email to come to my phone during the night, but there weren't any messages when I woke up. When I checked my Gmail (Sunday morning), however, I saw a message from my brother saying that my dad had regained consciousness and was generally very responsive. He was able to move his appendages and was able to breathe on his own, so they were looking to move him out of intensive care into a private room within a couple of hours.

To me it was definitely a miracle born of the power of prayer.

Although I don't have much medical knowledge, I feel like such a quick "recovery" (obviously there's still a recovery period ahead, but regaining consciousness and being coherent seems to me to be the biggest hurdle in such a situation) is pretty unusual. And from what my mom told me last night (Sunday night), it seems like the doctors were also rather surprised/impressed at the speed of his progress.

Apparently the doctors had warned my mother that even if he opened his eyes, he might not actually be aware/coherent for quite a while--again, the problem of his brain going without oxygen for a period of time. Plus the fact that he hadn't once regained consciousness since his initial collapse made them think it might be a slow recovery.

But my mom told me that when she talked to him and said "Hazel McCallion sends her best wishes. Do you know who Hazel McCallion is?" my dad was able to answer "Mayor." He wasn't sure about what year it was, but at least he knew it was "two thousand something." And more recently my brother told me that my dad has been conscious and pretty chatty and seems to have pretty good long term memory. (Although he can't seem to focus so well and tends to ramble about the same thing repeatedly.)

They won't hear from the neurologist until tomorrow, but I'm cautiously hopeful that the prognosis will be good. And if nothing else, his physical prognosis seems to be pretty good so far. Although they
are giving him an internal defibrillator to reduce the risk of fatal heart arrhythmia (irregular heart beats) in the future.

Even though the time from when my mom called (Friday night) until my brother emailed about my dad regaining consciousness (Sunday morning) felt like the longest 36 hours of my life, when I look at things objectively, I think the time we were just waiting and worrying was relatively short. I mean, people can remain comatose for days, weeks, months, or even permanently after going into cardiac arrest.

I must admit though, the time during which I didn't know whether or not my dad would be able to wake up was the only time I've truly regretted being in Japan. Not that I could have done anything to change the situation had I been in Canada, but I couldn't help but worry that he might pass away before I could get a chance to see him again. (Yes, I knew in my head that his physical condition was stable and the chances were probably low, but still...)

But anyway, I feel like in the past half a year or so, my dad has really been lucky/blessed, because:

1) He was incredibly lucky that they discovered the blockage in his arteries when they did. His cholesterol levels were fine and he was in good health, so the problem could have gone undetected for a long time. My uncle (my dad's
younger brother) had passed away very suddenly from a heart attack about a year or so ago, so it's not hard to imagine that a similar fate could have befallen my dad.

2) I was home to take my dad to the doctor when he started acting erratically after the surgery. My mom would've been home anyway, but if I hadn't been there, it might have taken longer to have gotten him to the doctor/hospital and the consequences from the oxygen deprivation might have been more severe/long-lasting.

3) He was lucky that he was with friends--and friends who knew about his medical history--when he had the heart attack. If he had been on the subway or something, help might not have come until too late.

4) From what my mom has told me, it was also lucky that his camera bag cushioned his head when he collapsed, because otherwise he would've hit his head hard on the concrete.

5) As I've said before, the nurse who was there and performed CPR shortly after his collapse may well have saved his life.

6) And again, the fact that he's awake and seemingly fairly lucid/coherent only 48 hours after going into cardiac arrest is an amazing blessing.

I don't know who is/will read this, but I really want to thank every one who has been praying for my father and our family throughout this ordeal. (In particular during this recent situation, but also when we first learned that he would need the bypass surgery.)

And I'm so thankful to the friends and co-workers (in Canada, Japan, and various other places around the world) who have encouraged and supported my family and me through everything that has happened.

Moreover, I'm thankful for the all friends who--even without knowing anything about the situation--have helped me simply by being friends and being around to hang out with so I could carry on with a semblance of normalcy even through all the emotional turmoil.

And it goes without saying that I thank God that my father is alive now.

I'm also extremely grateful to be a Canadian with access to free, universal health care right now. I think it's simply inhumane to put the additional burden of worrying about finances onto a family suffering through a loved one's medical emergency. Whatever else we had/have to worry about in regards to my father's heart problems, at least we never have to worry about paying hospital bills. Yes, there are flaws in the system, but I think it comes through when it really counts.

Auto complete woes...


Once again I sent out an email to the wrong person by careless use of Gmail's contact auto complete function. It's not something I do often, and thankfully it's only been with fairly innocuous messages (making plans for hanging out, an invitation to dinner, etc.) so far, but it's still super embarrassing when it happens!!

Today in particular I felt like an idiot because I meant to send a dinner invitation to one friend's regular email as well as his cellphone email, but accidentally sent it to a different friend's cellphone email instead! It was embarrassing because I'd just asked that friend (whom I mistakenly sent the email to) last night if he was free, so I *knew* he couldn't come.

*sigh* He must have thought I was a complete ditz, inviting him again less than 24hrs after he'd already told me he had plans.

And the worst part is, I didn't even realize my mistake until he replied! Then I immediately replied to explain that I knew he had plans and had made a mistake when typing in the email address, but...


I'm sure it's really not that big a deal, but I really hate making careless mistakes like that!! (Especially when it's not the first time I've done it--you're supposed to learn from past errors!!)