An email from a reader early this morning reminded me that I have not given my Crab Diaries an update on the adventures of my eighty-eight year old Dad. The story left off on our trip back from Aspen, Colorado where we held a memorial service for my mother on September 29. The thin mountain air had proven too much for him, necessitating a mad dash to Denver to get him down from the altitude. He was mighty tired after that journey, and cancelled a trip which was to have taken place the following weekend for a reunion of his old “travel club”, a group of plastic surgeons, most of whom are quite elderly now, who have been getting together once a year for at least the last forty years to teach one another while having fun in remote locations. The destinations have grown decidedly less remote in the twilight years, and while I was sad for him, I agreed that a trip to Chapel Hill, NC was not in the cards.
So you can all imagine my surprise when he announced, a week after the cancelled travel club excursion, that he was “still going to Viet Nam.” Say what? I knew that Surgicorps– the volunteer group of plastic surgeons, nurses, physical and occupational therapists and lay support team that he has travelled with for years– had a return visit planned to Ho Chi Minh City from November 1 through 12, but I was unaware that he had bought tickets. His seven hour open heart surgery to replace a stenotic aortic valve was only this past March. He swore that his cardiologists had given him the “ok” and I realized in short order that there was nothing that my sister or I could do or say to keep the man at home. I committed to an early morning wakeup last Friday to drive him to the airport. As he walked with his suitcase to the car, I noticed that he seemed short of breath, and I said, “Dad, you really don’t have to do this—you have nothing to prove anymore.” He insisted that he was “fine” and that “this is a test—to see if I can still do this.” For Dad, life is just a series of unending “tests” and he hasn’t failed one yet, unless you count hypoxemia at altitude!
A week later, I got this brief email: “Hi…….everything is good. We have four long operating days…many cases…incredible variety. I’m enjoying myself immensely but my hip is a big problem. Definitely plan to have surgery when I return. Cannot sightsee because of the need to walk long distances. That’s OK as I’ve already seen most everything. Food is incredible…hospital puts out a feast for lunch!!! Hope all are happy and well. I am upgrading my return air ticket. Off to happy hour!!! Love….Dad”
According to the Surgicorps Facebook page, the team has now completed fifty eight surgeries in five days. On Monday they will do their all day follow up clinic and then the plan is to depart for home. In the meantime, Typhoon Haiyan has decimated the Phillipines, and is headed straight for Viet Nam. There will be widespread flooding in the low lying areas of Southeast Asia. I hope that the team will be safe, and that the populace has ample time to prepare. Knowing my father, ever the optimist, I can only imagine that he is congratulating himself for his recent swimming workouts and thinking, “At least I don’t have to worry about altitude sickness!” I guess hip replacement surgery is next on the agenda. You can’t keep a good man down.