August 6, 2007


This is what happened: Monday about a week ago, my dad had some weird chest feelings. We all --- “we” meaning the Jacksons--- have esophagus weirdness conditions that mimic heart attacks, so speaking as a doctor, he decided it was that. Oh wait. He is NOT a doctor. He is a former airborne Army ranger, so speaking as a former airborne Army ranger, he said, “Meh. Probably not my heart, and anyway, I EAT PAIN FOR BREAKFAST. ROWR!” and soldiered on.

Aside: I don’t; know how much of this “Oh what’s a numb left arm and some chest pains between friends” attitude comes from ARMY TRAININ’ SIR! And how much from just…being a Jackson. We are all of us extremely mentally ill when it comes to our own mortality. Very willful. When Death comes for a Jackson, we tend to piffle at him and say he needs to come back later, for we are very busy. Death, startled, has obliged more than one of us.

By Friday, the pain was bad, and he thought… “Hmmm,” to himself. He called his doctor, who met him at the hospital, did a few tests, and said, “Um, yeah, this is not your esophagus,” and admitted him to the hospital.

Dudes, don’t get sick on Friday. Basically he sat in the hospital having little tests and waiting to have big tests until Monday. There were no private rooms, so he was put in with a man named Mr. Crazyhead. <---not his real name. But it should have been.

Mr. Crazyhead was thirteen years younger than my dad, but looked five years older. He liked to take his teeth out and put them in a mason jar, and this, combined with his small, hunchy build and the way lounging in his hospital bed made his long tufts of side hair (the only hair he had, really) puff and hump outward, made him look like a pale, insane Yoda. Mr. Crazyhead took absolutely every pill offered him and buzzed the nurses every few minutes to say, “Please, sir, I want some more,” like an Oliver already so overmedicated his pupils were spinning. When my dad passed on pain pills, Mr. Crazyhead offered to eat them FOR him.

At one point, Mr. Crazyhead went to the restroom and I said to daddy, “What’s he in for.”
Daddy shook his head sorrowfully and said in a dry voice, “Oh, he has TERRIBLE hypochondria.”

Mr. Crazyhead would perch on the side of his bed as we talked to Daddy, head cocked, waiting for one of us to say a word that coincided with a random thought that was pinging around in his brain, and then he would interrupt and yodel and holler the whole thought at us. The thought would be several disjointed sentences long and he would say it quickly, as if he had run out of punctuation marks. Then we would nod at him in a friendly manner and go on talking until a word said by one of us made him ululate out some more thoughts.

They kept trying to release Mr. Crazyhead on the basis that there was nothing wrong with him, and Mr. Crazyhead kept declining to be released. Meanwhile, I would say to Daddy, “Can I get you anything,” and he would cock a hopeful eyebrow at me and say, “A ride home?”

They tried to give him a stress test, but Ranger Bob is in such good shape that they couldn’t get his heart to GO over 130. They kept upping the speed on the treadmill, and daddy would speed up, and his wounded heart would just shrug and adapt and STILL stay under 130. Not that it was a competition---but he is a Jackson, you see, so it probably WAS secretly a competition---not that it was a competition, but every other stress tester in the hospital---even a guy in his early twenties --- got up over 130 before Dad. The nurses kept dragging doctors and other nurses and orderlies in to see this guy in his mid sixties win the Olympic Treadmill Stress Test Gold Medal. And NOT that it was a competition, BUT MY DAD COULD TOTALLY KICK YOUR DAD’S BUTT ON TREADMILL. Just sayin’.

At last it was Monday, and they did the dye test we’d been waiting for, and instead of open heart surgery, which was the big spooky option, they said he needed a stent, which was the milder less spooky option, though not as unspooky as, “You need some medicine and to go home.”

To put in a stent, they go up through the femoral artery in the leg, threading their sneaky way up through the circulatory system to the heart, and they put it in whatever piece is closed up and not working properly. It’s not hugely invasive and they said he could come home the next day. Dad had ONE 80% blockage and otherwise looked super.

Here is the part where your credulity? She is going to feel a tiny strain. Dad declined anesthesia. He got a LOCAL and sat there and WATCHED them do this, fiddling his thumbs as they cut his leg open, and watched on the screen as they threaded up to his heart to put in the stent.

When I heard he had done this I said, “DADDY? Are you DRUNK?”
And he said, in his usual mild voice, “Oh, it was very interesting. I wouldn’t have wanted to miss it.”

He’s home now, and perfectly fine, Thank God, except for being irritated by his doc’s orders to take it easy. Mom and I spent the back half of last week trying to keep him from climbing ladders and marching willfully up and down the stairs. I have no doubt that the man would be PAINTING THE HOUSE right now if Mom would let him.

Once, almost forty years ago, when Dad was in Vietnam, he came around a corner of a building right in the middle of their home base camp and saw an enemy soldier had snuck into their perimeter and was standing four feet away, aiming a pistol right at the center of him.

BANG! Went the pistol, and Dad leapt back around corner and started feeling all over himself for holes and blood, wondering where he was hit, because the massive dose of adrenalin his brain had released was overriding any pain he might have felt. But he knew he had to be hit. Four feet away, the guy READY for him, pistol up and aimed before Dad ever appeared. So. The only questions were WHERE and HOW BAD. He felt around, and felt around, and…everything seemed to be in order. There he was, alive and whole inside of the undamaged envelope of his skin.
The guy had missed, MISSED, From four feet away! And so Daddy got to come home a few months later and then about a year after that I was born.

This feels much the same to me.
Ranger Bob, dodging another bullet.

Posted by joshilyn at August 6, 2007 7:22 AM

This was a hard post for me to read, but I'm very glad your father got the stint done and made it through it so well.

Posted by: Laura Florand at August 6, 2007 7:37 AM

I'm so glad your dad is ok! I hope he'll take it easy for a while, although being as I'm married to a former Marine who sounds like he has a mindset very much like Ranger Bob, I'm not holding my breath on that one. So maybe instead I'll just hope that your dad keeps on being wonderfully, confoundingly, healthily himself.

Posted by: DebR at August 6, 2007 8:01 AM

You did say you were Irish, right? My irish father who, before heart attackS (!) hated to mow the lawn, REFUSES to let anyone else do it now. Someone told him he shouldn't so he does. But not until the heat index is over 90 degrees. Now if only someone would tell him to avoid exercise and scarf trans fats at every meal, we may see some improvement in his health.

I saw my dad's stent placement and it is cool but I think they can videotape that kind of thing. That lack of anesthesia thing? That does smell a little crazy.

Posted by: Em at August 6, 2007 8:26 AM

WOW. As the daughter of someone who's had several heart-related procedures, I am duly impressed. Glad he's okay.

Posted by: Marilyn at August 6, 2007 8:26 AM

I'm so rude! I meant to also say, I'm very glad your stubborn, Irish, bulletproof Dad is OK!

Posted by: Em at August 6, 2007 8:27 AM

My stepdad had a couple of stents put in a few months ago. He has already had a triple heart by pass. The Williams are NOT known for dodging death. Theya re known for having crappy hearts that give out too soon.

Posted by: Heather at August 6, 2007 10:09 AM

PS Praise God your daddy went in finally and is feeling so much better now. :)

Posted by: Heather at August 6, 2007 10:10 AM

ACK! I'm glad all is well, and that your dad is apparently made of steel. Rock on, Jacksons.

Posted by: Mir at August 6, 2007 10:10 AM

Oh my goodness! I'm sorry to hear about the troubles and so glad to hear he is doing so well! I love the part about the treadmill. You go, Dad!

And you, Joshilyn - are a trooper! Wow!


Posted by: Keetha at August 6, 2007 10:23 AM

Well, they can take the Ranger out of the Army, but they can never take the Ranger out of the man. Glad Ranger Bob is feeling better.

Posted by: Therese at August 6, 2007 10:27 AM

So glad he is okay. Talk about rugged.

Posted by: LIsa Milton at August 6, 2007 10:49 AM

Ranger Bob is a bada**. I'm SO glad he's okay.

Posted by: Karen Abbott at August 6, 2007 10:55 AM

Thank goodness he's OK! My dad had a heart attack a few years ago and needed a SIX WAY bypass. I had never heard of such a thing!

And the no anaesthesia? He is one tough Ranger!

Posted by: Amy at August 6, 2007 10:56 AM

OK, your Dad? Scares me! There's tough and then there's nutso. Ah, what am I saying, he's a Ranger. Definitely nutso ;-)

So glad to hear that things are turning out as well as possible. Hug your crazy Irish dad for us!

Posted by: Beth at August 6, 2007 11:37 AM

Hard for me to read right now, too, but I didn't want to just scuttle away without saying I'm very, very glad your father is okay.

Posted by: amy at August 6, 2007 11:39 AM

Oh, but I can relate to the ex-military dad who will refuse medical help unless maybe there are major body parts falling off -- and then only if duct tape doesn't work to hold them back on.

Our big worry with my dad is skin cancer, since he's Norwegian and spent a couple of years in Vietnam getting massively sunburned. Now he's always getting suspicious-looking moles on his back. He can have a funny-shaped mole in a scary color pop up overnight and practically grow branches and leaves, and he'll swear it's nothing. My mom and I have had to develop a system of tag-team guilt and manipulation to get him to have these checked out. I'm always getting furtive phone calls placed from the cell phone while my mom hides on the back porch, telling me the symptoms I should spontaneously notice and be concerned about on my next visit.

Then there was the time he had a massive allergic reaction including giant hives and refused to see a doctor. I told my mom to get out an X-acto knife, an old ballpoint pen and a bottle of rubbing alcohol and have them handy for the emergency tracheotomy. That actually worked to scare him to the doctor.

I'm glad your dad is okay in spite of the stubbornness.

Posted by: Shanna Swendson at August 6, 2007 12:13 PM

Oh my gosh ... when you told me about this over lunch at the conference Saturday, I don't think it really hit me that he did this with only a LOCAL! I made them put me to sleep to have an endoscopy, but I'm a wimp, definitely not Ranger material. Glad he's healing.

Workshop (Mississippi Writers Guild) was AMAZING - thank you so much. I am inspired. (also had a great time at Scrooge's:-)


Posted by: Susan Cushman at August 6, 2007 12:26 PM

I'm glad your dad is doing fine now, your mother has my sympathies, it can't be easy trying to make a Jackson rest. This is where the phrase stonewall came from, right?

Posted by: Cele at August 6, 2007 12:35 PM

So glad he's okay. Even though you know for a fact he is Superman, that had to have been scary.

Posted by: Laura at August 6, 2007 2:09 PM

I admire your wit in the face of something that must have really been scary for you. {{{HUGS}}}

Posted by: Pattie at August 6, 2007 3:11 PM

I've been through angiograms, by-pass surgery and angioplasties (the procedure where they install the infamous "stents.") During the very first angiogram I watched the screen diligently until I got nauseous. Since then I have relied on the miracle drug "Versed" which wipes your memory clean for the period under it's influence. If you can't remember the pain, it didn't really hurt.

So, while I greatly admire your father's courage, curiosity, steadfastness and patriotism, I am compelled to ask: Are there any other forms of insanity in your family?

Posted by: Mir's dad at August 6, 2007 3:48 PM

So glad your head didn't splode with the worry and waiting.

Posted by: wendy at August 6, 2007 5:21 PM

Holy Cow. What a guy your dad is. No way, no how, for me without anesthesia, and I don't even like the stuff!

I can sympathize with the roommate-when my husband crashed his bike this year and ended up in the hospital for two nights, his roommate was pretty obviously coming down (slowly and not happily) from meth or something else. Lots of random yells and thrashing at the straps they'd put on him so he wouldn't fall out.

Glad your dad is home and doing well!

Posted by: Becky Levine at August 6, 2007 8:42 PM

OMG! Nutcracker Esophagus! I have that! I have never known ANYONE else with random crazy esophageal problems. People think I am crazy when I try to explain what it is. (Alright, I am crazy, but I do have a crazy Esophagus)

Posted by: Lisa at August 6, 2007 8:49 PM

Way to go, Ranger Bob! I'm sooo happy for you, Joss. Good news is always the best. Uh, well...*twirls toe in the dirt*...Duh.

Posted by: ZaZa at August 6, 2007 11:35 PM

So this qualified as a *minor* family emergency? Sheesh. Glad all is well. I'm with him, I'd have wanted to see the stent too. Not uncommon for these non-invasive heart procedures to be done under local. God willing he will never need open heart but if he does he cannot, repeat cannot, watch.

Posted by: parrotzmom at August 7, 2007 8:19 AM

So glad everything is okay!!!!

Posted by: Caren at August 7, 2007 9:53 AM

I'm so glad that your dad's okay. Welcome back!

Posted by: Aimee at August 7, 2007 10:23 AM

Wowzer! Your dad is so cool!!

Posted by: Heather Cook at August 7, 2007 3:27 PM

MY grandpa was an army medic. One day while practicing maneuvers he self diagnosed his own appendicitis. Deciding that he wouldn't be able to walk in before the things burst he decided that he could take it out himself. Thankfully he was an alcoholic and used to working while inebriated so the scotch he downed to deaden the pain didn't affect his motor skills any more than usual. So he removed his own appendix, with the field med kit in his pack, and was suturing when they found him.

If that don't strain your credulity a bit I don't know what will.

Posted by: carrien at August 7, 2007 5:44 PM

Love your Dad all you can, Joss. Lost mine in November, this date, from pancreatic cancer. My dad was, tough, too. And Shanna, might want to do some research on that melanoma thing. My maiden name is of Dutch origin and Dad is one of eleven children. He had two sisters die of ovarian cancer, a brother from pancreatic cancer, and two brothers that are breast cancer survivors. Also several of my cousins and my sister, have had melanoma. Did some genetic testing and the BRCA2 gene mutation is our bloodline. This mutation causes breast, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate, melanoma, lymphoma, stomach and gall bladder cancers. People of Norwegian and Dutch descent are more prone to have this mutation than others. Them and a particular group of Jewish folks. I have been tested for the mutation and do not have it. Daddy did a lot of things for me but this is probably the best - he didn't pass the mutation to me. My two sisters will be tested in a few weeks.

Posted by: Rhonda at August 7, 2007 10:06 PM

I'm SO glad he's ok!!!

If it's any comfort, our friend got stents and he's doing *great* now.

(((((Joshilyn)))))) That's one tough-as-nails dad you have there!!

Posted by: Angel at August 8, 2007 1:46 AM

My FIL had a stent put in about five years ago. He'd been working in the yard all day and was convinced he'd just pulled chest muscle even though the pain was so bad that he couldn't sleep.

Glad Ranger Bob is okay!

My dad's also Bob. He had major brain surgery at the end of May. And right now he's out on a sailboat showing off for his son-in-laws. I tell ya...these tough guys!

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