It’s been awhile since I got my readers up to speed on the adventures of Dad. For those of you who are new to this blog, my father is a plastic surgeon who retired from full time practice about 15 years ago after a very successful academic career. He turned 89 years old in July and the last couple of years have not been kind to him: my mother passed away in January of 2013, and shortly after that Dad had an aortic valve replacement followed eight months later by a hip replacement. These surgeries were in addition to coronary bypass surgery ten years ago, a splenectomy a few years later necessitated by his penchant for running red lights, and a badly fractured collarbone after taking an expert ski run a little too fast at age 85. Despite all of this, I was not surprised when he told me a few months ago that he planned to go to Guatemala last week with Surgicorps International, a group that performs plastic and reconstructive surgery in developing countries. What DID surprise me however was his announcement that he was taking his 84 year old girlfriend Evelyne with him. He was positively gleeful—he proclaimed over dinner that he was going to teach her to clean instruments and prepare the OR between cases. I did not think this was a good idea, and my opinion was backed up by my sister who has never been a big fan of medicine in general, blood and guts in particular.
A week after the big “reveal”, I took Dad aside and told him that while I had no objections to Evelyne accompanying him on the trip, I thought it was a TERRIBLE idea for him to consider taking her into the operating room. I said, “Dad, Evelyne was a piano teacher, not a nurse! And don’t you remember what happened the first time you took ME into your operating room?” He remembered. I was seventeen years old, a high school student mildly interested in medicine, at least to the degree that I was volunteering at a local hospital as a candy striper (do they even have those anymore?). He invited me to watch a face lift, being performed under local anesthesia. I was fine for the first 30 minutes or so—the slice of the scalpel, the smell of the Bovie, the careful undermining of tissue between the skin and the soft tissues of the face. But when he then peeled back the loose skin to reveal those sinewy muscles below—well, the last thing I remember hearing was—“QUICK!! Somebody catch her!” I fainted dead away. I could only imagine poor Evelyne doing the same, and cracking her head on the instrument cart. Dad smiled and nodded. A week later he announced that they had driven to San Marcos so that she could pick out scrubs.
Dad and Evelyne returned home from Guatemala on Saturday night. On Sunday afternoon, I went over to their senior community to return their cat, whom I had been keeping during their trip. Well, actually it’s my daughter’s cat, but that’s another story. I loaded kitty into his carrier, and the litter box, the unused kitty litter, the big bag of food, the two stainless steel bowls, and numerous cat toys into the back of my car. I called and gave Dad the 15 minute warning: “Meet me downstairs because there is too much for me to carry.” He dutifully met me in the parking lot, but there was still too much paraphernalia. I said, “I’ll just run the cat up to Evelyne’s place.” So I did. I knocked on the door, cat in hand. No answer. I rang the doorbell. No answer. I knocked again, louder. Still, no answer. I dropped the cat carrier and ran back downstairs. I said, fearing the worst, “Dad, when was the last time you SAW Evelyne??” He said, “Last night—why?” I said, “She’s not answering the door.” He said, “Well, I think she’s been on the phone for a long time. I keep calling her but the line is busy.” At this point, I am completely unhinged. I said, “DAD—SOMETHING COULD HAVE HAPPENED TO HER!!!! WHAT IF SHE IS UNCONCIOUS AND DROPPED THE PHONE??” At this point, even he is looking a little scared.
I ran back upstairs. The cat is meowing in his carrier. I knock, no, I BANG on the door shouting, “Evelyne, it’s me, come to the door!” I ring the bell again and again. And finally, I hear stirring and a small voice inside the apartment. Evelyne appears at the door, a little bewildered that I have made such a fuss. She says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear the door. I’ve been on the phone all day, telling EVERYONE about my adventure!” As I sighed with relief, I said, “Oh, you enjoyed yourself?” She said, “It was the greatest experience of my whole life. I even got to see a gall bladder being removed. And when they cut open the gall bladder, I got to see REAL gallstones! I had to call everyone I know and tell them ALL about it.” She looked exhausted, and utterly triumphant.
Needless to say, they are already planning to go with Surgicorps to Viet Nam in October. At age 89, he has found a soul mate. And at 84, she has found a new calling in life. There’s hope for the rest of us, for sure. We’re planning one heckuva ninetieth birthday party for him in July. That is, if his schedule permits.