Life lessons…


Soon after Dad moved to Michigan, I made him an appointment for a routine physical with our primary care doctor. We’d been with Dr. Anderson for years, liked and respected her, and she had agreed to accept Dad as a patient. She wasn’t one to dink around for months trying to figure something out. If you had a foot problem and she was stumped, she’d recommend a podiatrist. She examined Dad and talked to him a little while, then ordered some blood work. After we left her office we drove to the hospital to have the lab work done.

Dad pictured in an interview, 2005…

I had just dropped him off and was almost home, which is only a couple blocks away when I get a call from Mercy Hospital. There’s something wrong with Dad’s blood and he needs to come back to the hospital ASAP. What? He just got here. We didn’t even have everything put away in his spiffy new apartment yet. Dear God, please don’t let anything be wrong with Dad. Went back to his apartment, explained that he needed to be examined a little more thoroughly and we drove back to the hospital. Doctor at the hospital said that Dad’s white count was quite high. Normally should be between 8,000 and 12,000 and his was hovering around 96,000. Holy smokes, that didn’t sound good.

Mercy Hospital made an appointment for Dad with Dr. Hikmet Sipahi, a blood oncologist. Dr. Sipahi explained to us that he had Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia, or CLL. This is the most common type of leukemia for folks over 70. He’d probably had this condition for several years, but went undetected without a specific blood test. Until symptoms presented themselves, usually anemia or a hemoglobin drop, Dad would have blood work done every 4 months, and a check up with Sipahi. Ok then.

About a year later during one of these check-ups, his hemoglobin had dropped and he was anemic. Dr. Sipahi explained to Dad that he should start a month long series of mild chemotherapy. “Why?” Asked Dad. “Well,” Dr. Sipahi continued, ” it will most likely lengthen your life considerably. It may however, make you nauseous for few days.” “But I’m 89 years old and can’t live forever!” Snipped Dad. “Why not?” Asked the good-looking doctor, still smiling. Dad never missed one solitary beat and quipped, “Cause Jesus is calling me home, and I’m ready to go!” DOCTOR’S JAW DROPPED TO THE FLOOR. (Not surprising, he was not nearly as good-looking without his lower jaw). His whole career, and Hippocratic Oath is based on treating, always ready with a treatment plan. He really didn’t know how to react when asked the question, “what if I choose not to treat this?” Dad said he’d think about it.

When we were done, and waiting in the reception area for the gal to make our next appointment, Dad looked at me and asked, “Denise are you going to make me take chemotherapy?” “No Dad, that’s not my decision to make.” He thought for a moment and continued, “then let’s go, I don’t want to come back here again.” As we were waiting for the elevator, he turned and said, ” he really is good-looking though isn’t he?” “Yup Dad, he’s a hottie!”

Still good looking, but this is more recent of Dr. Sipahi…

Turns out CLL would not have a great impact on Dad’s life. We’d soon learn that he also had blocked carotid arteries. One side blocked 95%, the other 99%, yikes. Met with a cardiologist who strongly encouraged Dad to consider very complicated, serious, sometimes major stroke inducing surgery for that too. Dad had just celebrated his 90th birthday, so the recovery time could take up to a year, or he might never recover. Dad just shook his head, said he needed time to talk it over with me.

My last Christmas with Dad, 2007…

Somehow, chemotherapy and major surgery were no longer very high on his “to do list.” Goodness, he was barely scraping by at 6 foot, 140 pounds fully clothed, (including his year-round, ever present, constantly worn set of long-john’s). Oh Dad. The thought of lying in bed sick, even for few days, or grueling surgery with a very slow recovery time wasn’t part of his plan anymore. He was thinking more of the quality of life that he had left. Why, that would mean missing his bible study class or preaching once a month in his prison ministry. He’d just mentioned the last 3 times he had preached, always near the end of each service, he offered an altar call. Dad had not been able to get back up from the kneeling position. A couple of the inmates had to help him stand back up each time. He thought it was kind of funny, wasn’t embarrassed at all. This is where he needed to be and what he wanted to be doing. At least until Jesus was ready to call him home…


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