I remember when I was a kid, whenever we would go somewhere and someone asked my father how he was doing, he had the same response. In his heavily accented English, he would reply, “Not too bad for an old Frenchman.” It always made my sister and I roll our eyes. These days, though, I’m wishing my old Frenchman could tell people he’s “not too bad”.
But for some reason, my father is still alive.
For the last four days, the Intensive Care Unit waiting room at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center has been my second home. I have started a list of all of the nurses, physicians, and staff that have rotated through my dad’s room. I don’t want to forget to thank any of them by name. I’ve rejoiced over a simple squeeze of my hand when I say hello to my dad. I’ve hidden my tears from my mother as she struggled over a risky decision that could save her husband’s life. I have marveled at the fact that four days later, after multiple events that he shouldn’t have survived, my father is still alive.
Right now, my father is still alive.
Granted, right now he’s got more tubes and lines coming out of him than a Vermont forest in sugaring season. There’s a ventilator helping him breathe so he can’t talk. He’s kept well sedated most of the time. Even if he could talk, he wouldn’t be very awake to say much. My 77-year-old father is at this very moment undergoing his third operation in four days. The surgeon just informed us he’s got at least one more surgery coming in a few days. This morning, the resident overseeing his care told us that about 85% of people who have been through what my dad has been through don’t make it.
But my father is still in the 15% who survive.
I think at this point, he’s alive through sheer strength of will. Dad’s always been a stubborn old coot (his words, not mine). He’s had to work hard for everything he’s ever gotten in life. He has taught my sister and me to do the same. He drinks every night. He’s smoked for well over 60 years (maybe even close to 70). He tells the worst dad jokes you’ve ever heard. He’s got a temper like an ocean storm. It comes up quick and with little warning, and dissipates just as fast. He’s going to be so mad at my mother when he recovers enough to know that she consented to a surgery to save his life but that would leave him with permanent (possibly embarrassing) changes.
But I’m hopeful that my father will be alive to be angry at her.
He’s still very deep in the woods, but he’s finding his way out. That stubbornness and bad temper that frustrated us all when he was healthy will serve him well in the coming days and weeks. As he wakes up, he will need to regain his strength. He’s going to need lots of help getting better and it will be hard for him to accept that help.
But I’m hopeful that my father will be alive to curse out the help he will get.
And our legacy is simple, those of us who are descended from those stubborn, angry French genes. We won’t inherit money or land. We won’t get stocks and bonds that we can cash out to stay comfortable for the rest of our lives. But I argue that the bloodline we carry is far more valuable than any riches. We will tell our children that the blood flowing through their veins is the blood of a fighter. We will tell them that they carry the same bull-headed DNA that will allow them to succeed in this world the same way he did. But we will also be able to tell them that his fierce, unrelenting love for them as well as his stubborn, angry Frenchman soul helped him survive. This is our family’s legacy.