By Sara Ghassemzadeh
Lessons from a Hospital Bed: To my Dad
This past May, the collection of scar tissue in my terminal ileum had led to a partial obstruction. I needed a resection. I had approximately 10 inches of my intestines removed on May 5th, 2015. The surgery went well, but my recovery was slow.
As I mentioned previously, I tend to not give a shit about my personal hygiene when I am in the hospital. My mom begged me to take a shower, and with her help, I was able to do this without drenching my PICC line in water like I did last time. After my shower, my mom’s shift was up and my dad came to hang out with me. He had just power-walked fifty city blocks from my grandparents’ apartment to get to the hospital (he was on a fitness kick at the time) and hang out with me.
I collapsed on the bed with the bare minimum amount of effort and pulled out my laptop to watch Gossip Girl (as a personal achievement, I finished the entire series over the course of my hospital stay).
My dad surveyed me with a disapproving expression on his face. For my dad, when something was out of order, it needed to be fixed. He was appalled at my state of disarray (my hospital gown was untied in the back, revealing the grandma-boy-short-wtf-underwear the hospital gives you upon your arrival). He got up from his chair and hurried off to the nurse’s station to try and find me a robe to “cover myself” up. As if my 84 year-old neighbor with a perforated colon was planning on making passionate love to me anytime soon. After forcing me to put on a hideous blue and white striped robe, he moved on to the next issue at hand: my hair.
It was knotted. I relentlessly argued for five minutes, until he insisted that I let him brush my hair. I sat plaintively at the edge of the bed, staring into my hands as my dad pulled out his signature round hair brush with the plastic bristles and patiently began to work through the knots in my hair.
My eyes were fixed on the curtain in front of me and before I could even register what was happening, I felt tears stinging the backs of my eyes. I was transported to my childhood – I was seven years old, and it was bedtime. Had it really been that long?
There was a period of eight years in my childhood that my mom was very ill with depression, and my dad became the sole provider and caretaker of the house. Even when my mom was not eating or speaking or getting out of bed, my dad would come downstairs with a smile on his face.
My brother and I would watch him play Paper Mario on our Nintendo 64, captivated by his ability to defeat Bowser and rescue Princess Peach in a two-dimensional world. When my mom was in the hospital, we would draw pictures and buy colorful clothes from Macy’s to bring to her as a present. In the summer, we would go to theme parks, and my dad would make us sit in the front row of every roller coaster. To prepare for my mom’s homecoming, we planted a bunch of bushes in the yard that formed a smiley face so she would see it upon her arrival (today, they are so overgrown that it looks like a miniature forest). My dad made color-coded schedules for my brother and I so that we knew when it was time to play outside, when to do homework, and when to watch TV. When we were sick, he would nurse us back to health. He would take us on walks through the neighborhood and we would count our steps out loud in Farsi. We would play “Indiana Jones,” a game where my dad would toss us onto the bed while someone dramatically hummed the theme song (I usually sucked at this game, so it turned into watching my brother climb onto my dad’s back from the sidelines while my dad pretended that my 5-year-old brother was stronger than him).
Every night before we would go to sleep, we had the same bedtime routine: my dad would bathe my brother and me, help us put lotion on, and brush our hair (always while explaining the importance of using a round brush with plastic bristles to get the knots out better). He would tuck us into bed, and he would say the same two phrases in Farsi before exchanging a kiss and shutting off the lights: Doostat daram, azizam. Boos bedeh (I love you, my person who is very dear to me. Give me a kiss).
This was the routine. In retrospect, I don’t think my brother and I ever questioned it. We were taken care of, we were happy, and most importantly – we were loved unconditionally, by both of my parents, more than we would ever know.
After eight long years of darkness, my mom made a full recovery. In moving forward, we all recognize the importance of acknowledging the past while simultaneously moving forward.
Nevertheless, the truth remains: my dad was a beacon of light during our darkest times.
The day I turned thirteen, I suddenly became too cool to exist. Too cool for Indiana Jones, and definitely too cool to play video games with my dad. Too cool for bedtime routines, and for all of the structure and fun and wonder my dad had attempted to instill into me and my brother in our childhood. I wanted to spend all my free time with my friends, and my dad became a fallen hero. He was no longer a beacon of light; he was just another dad yelling at me to clean my room and to stop staying up so late on the computer.
This continued as I grew older and went to college. I still loved my dad, but I stopped taking the time to do the things that made our relationship special. I wanted to be independent, a word with a definition I still struggle with today. I thought that independence meant getting drunk on the weekends with my friends and only calling my parents once they texted me, concerned as to why they hadn’t heard from me all week. I spent my breaks binge watching Mad Men alone in my bed until 4 am and sleeping in until 10 am the next day. I opted to stay in bed and read when my dad wanted my company as he made dinner or ran to the supermarket. I was independent and detached from my parents. I no longer needed my parents to take care of me; I had “grown up”.
As most loving parents do, my dad let me grow up – and with a smile on his face.
Sitting on the hospital bed, waiting for my dad to finish smoothing out all the gnarls in my hair, I started to question my independence. Does independence mean truly being on your own? I am 21 years old. I can get into bars without getting my ID taken away, I can get a tattoo or a piercing without needing my parents’ signatures, and if I really wanted I could smoke a pack of Marlboros and then head over to a strip club.
In many ways, I am independent. I am a full time student, work part-time (in many different places), pay for my gas and entertainment, spend countless hours on the phone with my insurance company when my Remicade isn’t re-approved fast enough, and try not to bother my parents if I can help it.
We would all like to think we are completely independent, but the truth of the matter is that we are not. We are connected. We all experience hardship – whether it be Crohn’s Disease, loss, heartbreak, disappointment, or even breaking your toenail because you wore flimsy sandals and weren’t paying attention (me). No matter how big or small the hardship, our independence isn’t what gets us through it – it’s the love and support with which we surround ourselves.
And let me tell you - no one gets the knots out of my hair better than my dad.
Lesson 3: You are never too old to need your parents and to let your parents need you.