Saturday, March 23, 2013

My Dad's Death

My Dad, Alfred George Zaft, Jr., passed away today, March 23, 2013, of complications from lung cancer.

He  had been somewhat sick for some time.  Doctors thought it was pneumonia, but after several weeks of treatment in December and January they brought him in for a bronchoscopy.  The samples they got showed pneumonia; they were not able to do a biopsy at the time as he went into atrial fibrillation. They were not able to get his oxygen levels up after this procedure so they admitted him to the hospital.  He was in the hospital for several days, then released, but after a week he was back in the hospital again as he was very weak and having trouble breathing.

After 9 days in the hospital they released him to a rehab care facility to work on getting him stronger, but after about 2 weeks there he was back in the hospital again.  After several days there they moved him to an acute care facility, but after 2 weeks he was rapidly getting worse.  He had another bronchoscopy a week ago, where they were able to get a biopsy sample.

This last Tuesday he was appreciably worse so they admitted him to the ICU (down the hall from where he was).  He was in quite a bit of pain, had no appetite and quite a bit of edema.  Early samples from the bronchoscopy showed that besides pneumonia, nocardia bacillia and aspergillus (fungal infection) he also had pseudomonas, a bacterial infection mostly found in hospitals.  He also developed shingles, due both to stress and his weak immune system.

This morning I received a call from my brother that my stepmom had been called into the hospital urgently to meet with the doctor as the biopsy results were (finally) in.  Unfortunately due to rush hour traffic I didn't get there 'til almost 8:30 so I missed the doctor, but the results were what we'd feared for a long time -- lung cancer. Apparently the variety he has often appears on x-rays much like
pneumonia does.  He probably had it bad since October or November.

Unfortunately the reality of the situation was that he was extremely weak from the multiple opportunistic infections he'd been fighting for 2 - 4 months now, and while the antibiotics had kept him alive, he was not winning the fight.  The prognosis was that he was not strong enough to endure cancer treatment on top of what he'd already been fighting; and indeed he had repeatedly said he did not want to.  When the doctor told him that they'd found cancer, he reportedly told him, "I told you that 4 months ago, !".  He had had no appetite for several days and his body gave other signs that he was ready to go.

So, we moved him to a hospice in east Mesa.  It's a beautiful facility.  I was there for a couple of hours last night with him and they are making him comfortable.  He was on oxygen, of course, and meds for the pain (though he occasionally still gasps in pain in a way that would break your heart), and a catheter; but no antibiotics, no monitors, no poking and prodding him.

My brother, sister and I had gathered at midday today to visit with him and my stepmother Fran; but he was heavily sedated and didn't wake up while we were there (or at least, he didn't open his eyes).  We talked to him, told him we loved him, held his hand.

I left around 2:15 to run some errands etc. with the idea that I would come back around 6:15 to see him and give Fran a break.  I received a call from Fran just a few minutes before 5 that he had passed.  I jumped in the car and managed to drive the 20 miles to the hospice in about 21 minutes :-).

 Fran told me she had been sitting with him, holding his hand, and he was breathing regularly, when he took a catch breath... and stopped.  After a moment of disbelief she called the nurse, who confirmed that he had no pulse.

Some family friends arrived immediately after his passing, fortunately, and stayed with her until my arrival so she wasn't alone.  After my arrival I paid my respects and talked with Fran, then my brother Gary and his wife arrived and then my nephew.  We prayed over him and paid our respects, and said our goodbyes. 

Needless to say this happened much, much more quickly than any of us anticipated.  My personal thought was that we had 2-3 days so the fact that he was only at the hospice for a little over a day was quite a shock and a surprise.

It was my dad's desire to be cremated.  I'm sure there will be some kind of ceremony or service at some point but I don't have any information at this point.

When I returned to Arizona in October 2009, my main reason for the move (okay, other than the fact that I couldn't bear the Oregon weather any more) was that I really, really wanted to be closer to my Dad and the rest of my family.  I knew this day would come at some point, and I didn't want to be 1500 miles away when it did.

In the time I've been back in Arizona I've spent a lot of time with my Dad; when he was not on the road in his RV we had dinner once a week and did numerous other things.  I had an opportunity to work on our relationship in a way I'd never had before, since we hadn't lived in the same town since I was 5.  All this is a long way of saying that I had an opportunity to say the things I needed to say to him, to tell him I loved him and to hear him say that he loved me too. 

So, I have no regrets... but of course I will miss him.