Friday, March 30, 2012


On Sunday, February 19, 2012 I received the phone call I have dreaded since my first trip to Africa in 1998. I came home from a busy and productive day to find a series of frantic messages on Skype from my family saying, "call us as soon as you get this message." When I called the numbers back it was to a hospital information line. Of course none of my family members had working cell-phones and no one was at home. Finally, my sister's husband answered their landline. He said, "He is ok. He is in the ICU." "Who?" I demanded. "Oh, you haven't heard yet... your father had a stroke this morning." In the blink of an eye, my entire world changed. 

I was able to call the hospital and speak to my mom a few minutes later. I spoke to my dad later in the day and he assured me that he was fine and was going to go home the next day. No one realized how bad the stroke was until the next day, when the brain started swelling and my dad couldn't speak or open his eyes anymore.

I followed the updates each day and informed everyone I work with about the situation at home. I decided to try to wait two weeks and go home during my spring break, unless things got worse. I asked my family to please let me know if there was any further decline in my dad's health.

I spent the next three days in a daze. I couldn't stop crying, except to go to class where I gave my best effort to be strong and professional. I sobbed night and day and felt absolutely helpless. I shopped online for gifts for my mom and ordered three pounds of her favorite coffee. During times of crisis it is so difficult to live far from family, it is a time when my decisions to live on another continent seem so selfish and pointless; When my entire life seems called into question.

On 10:00 pm on Wednesday I received another call from my sister. My dad's brain had started to swell and the doctors had tried everything to stop it. Finally, they decided to perform an emergency operation to remove the bone surrounding the right side of my dad's brain. The doctors explained to the family that if this surgery didn't work, my dad may not survive. By midnight my ticket was purchased and at 4:00 am I left my house for the airport. 

I arrived home 24 hours later. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of my father in the ICU. Connected to every machine imaginable, his chest moved up and down mechanically like a robot. His head was swollen to the degree that he was barely recognizable. His legs looked so thin. His eyes were closed, his mouth and nose were filled with tubes. 

I went to hold his right hand and he grasped tightly. I cried and he moved his thumb against mine. He was trying to reassure me that he was ok. I tried to gather all the strength I had so that I could be strong for him too. I wiped away my tears and told him that he was the most courageous person I had ever met. 

My family had someone at the hospital 24 hours a day as long as my dad was in critical condition. It was difficult to leave him at night and even though I knew my brother was there I had difficulty sleeping. I lived in fear of another phone call, even though I was now only 20 minutes away from the hospital door. 

As time progressed, my dad's condition has improved. He opened his eyes for the first time after one month. He began speaking a few days later, with the help of a valve for the tracheostomy (necessary to help him "protect his airways"). The road to recovery for my dad will take many months, maybe even years, but we hold on to the small improvements each day and we know that the future will be better than the present.