Friday, September 20, 2013

The Parent Card

I don't have many regrets in my life.  I can probably count on one hand the number of events that have taken place during my 47 years that I wish I could do over.  One of those events is this:

I was laying on a gurney in George Washington University Hospital in DC the night of August 13, 2005. I went in complaining of chest tightness, a sore arm and lack of breath (gee, what could I have been experiencing?) After a few tests, they told me that I had a heart attack and that I may need surgery. These are tough words to hear when you are laying on a gurney in a hospital all alone. I called my brother Matt so that at least someone back home knew what was going on, but instructed him not to tell anyone else about it, especially our parents.  (That wasn't very fair of me to do, but that's not the regret.)  GW admitted me and I underwent a stress test, which I failed miserably.  The doctor then planned a heart catheterization for the following morning, which is when a small camera is inserted into an artery in your groin and fished up through your body to take pictures of your heart. Amazingly, you are awake for the whole process, and you can even watch it on a monitor.  

It was at that point, prior to the heart cath, that I felt it was time to loop in my parents.  So I called my Mom on the phone to bring her up to speed.  Her immediate response was, "We're on our way."  It's at this point that I did the regrettable thing: I insisted they not come.  I felt my reasons for telling her to stay home (which was a 3  hour drive from DC) were valid:
  1. We didn't know at that point if I needed surgery or if I would be released with medication.
  2. I didn't want my folks shelling out money for a hotel, meals, parking, etc. in DC.
  3. My parents know nothing about DC and how to get around.  Hell, it's hard for people who live in Northern Virginia. I would have been worried sick about them the entire time.
I thought those were very unselfish things for me to say to her.  But what I didn't understand until much later in life is the one thing that trumps everything else: The Parent Card.  I may never understand how it feels to have a child, but what I do understand now is that if you are a parent and your child is sick, injured or even just hurting, it's your natural instinct if not your burning need to be as near your child as you can get - regardless of how old that child is.  All my parents wanted to do was be near me, and it wouldn't have mattered to them what they would have had to go through to make that happen.  I thought I was being benevolent.  But I must have put my parents through hell for those 3 days between the time I told them the news to when I was transferred from GW to the hospital in my parents' town to have my surgery.

A local ambulance company from my hometown came to get me in DC and drive me back home.  When I got to the hospital, my mother was in the parking lot.  Heaven only knows how long she had been there - perhaps all day.  When the EMTs opened the back doors of the ambulance to pull me out on the gurney, my mother kissed the bottom of my foot because that was the first part of me she saw.

As I go through my life, there will be hours if not even a day perhaps that I won't necessarily think about my folks and what they are doing at that moment.  But I guarantee not 30 minutes pass without me popping into their heads.  They can't help it.  They're parents.  All they know is to love, think, worry, wonder, and dote on me from the time I was born. 

I put them in an awful position 8 years ago and I have apologized to them for it.  I know better now.