A little over four months ago, I was mentally and physically preparing for my judging assignments at the Sunshine State Herding Group Association Show and the 2020 AKC National Championship Presented by Royal Canin. I was both excited and apprehensive, due to COVID-19 and my father’s recent accident that required surgery/rehabilitation.
I placed an assortment of clothes into Ballistic-Nylon-Rolling-Garment-Bag (BNRGB). Normally, I never pack BNRGB a week in advance – however, the sheer excitement of seeing friends, colleagues and good dogs after so many months kept me spinning. With a COVID-19 test scheduled, plenty of PPE, and news that my father was stable, I was determined to get out of Dodge and pursue my passion in Orlando.
Friday, December 4, at 8:51 a.m., my SISTERJOCEY sent a text message from her home in Florida – “Urgent, please call ASAP!” She shared that our father, who resides in Western New York, had experienced new complications after his recent hip surgery, requiring a second surgery to repair a perforated bowel. We were told, based on his current condition, that the amount of stress placed on his body could prove fatal. I made plans to fly to Rochester, N.Y., on Sunday, drive to Olean, N.Y., spend a couple of days until my sister arrived, and then planned to fly home and depart for Orlando.
The second emergency surgery was performed Saturday afternoon. Dad managed to pull through as best as he could. Saturday evening another call was received from my sister telling me that she had heard from the surgeon. “Things have taken a turn, and not for the good. Your father is holding on and we are doing our best to keep him alive until you get here.” My current flight plans would not get me to Rochester until late Sunday evening. Combined with the two-hour drive, I would not arrive at the hospital until 11 p.m. or later, and I knew it would be too late. So, my only choice was to leave early Sunday morning and drive.
Calls were made to the clubs to cancel my assignments. Before bed, BIG MICHAEL had already lovingly prepared my vehicle with a small cooler filled with water, food and snacks, and then booked a suite at the local Marriott property for a week. A late-night text was received from SISTERJOCEY: “Please take a bottle of wine with you. Dad wants communion and he is requesting real wine.” This brought a huge smile to my face as my father always said: “Don’t attend a church that does not serve real wine at communion.”
Early Sunday morning BUICK departed HOLLY SPRINGS and drove straight through, arriving at the hospital at 5:27 p.m. The nine-hour drive was surreal and would not have been possible without the love and support of my three-friend call rotations. MB, DR.DON and PP-CHIP took turns keeping me awake and focused on the significance of the journey. Throughout the drive I was ever mindful of the importance of lifelong dog-show friends, and the meaning of their love and support transcending well beyond the boundaries of the show ring.
Upon arrival – and with special permission and a bottle of CAKEBREAD Cabernet discretely hidden in my TAKE THE LEAD tote bag – I was escorted directly to my father’s floor and placed in a waiting area to meet with the attending physician and surgeon. Exhausted, and eager to be with my father, it took extreme effort to remain focused while they provided me with every detail related to his surgery, care and outcomes. Once again, I was left to be prepared for the worst. The thirty-minute discussion seemed like an eternity. When they finished talking, I shared my father’s request for wine and communion and that I had arrived prepared. This left them both a bit amused and shaking their heads as they guided me to his room.
The hospital environment is not something in which I marvel. When entering my father’s room, it appeared no different than any other hospital room, with the exception of the number of attending staff. I immediately moved toward the right side of the bed, bag of wine in hand, and kissed his forehead. He opened his eyes. “Well, hey there, SON, you made it!” he said. He shifted slightly and requested to be lifted in the bed. Two nurses assisted in repositioning Dad, and we continued to speak. I was amazed how alert and responsive he was. The surgeon tapped me on the shoulder and whispered in my ear: “He is rallying because he is happy to see you.” I nodded my head and remained focused on what my father was saying. One of the nurses pulled me aside and told me that they contacted a local Episcopal priest and were waiting to hear back as to arrival time.
At that moment, I pulled the bottle of wine from the TAKE THE LEAD tote bag to share with my father. My father produced an amazing grin from ear to ear on seeing the bottle of wine. “Now you’re talking. I hope you brought an opener?” he blurted for all to hear. I shook my head in the affirmative, reached into the tote side compartment for the wine opener and in doing so slipped, sending the bottle of Cakebread into flight, crashing onto the floor. Dad laughingly rolled his eyes upward – shaking his head side to side. I stood comatose, as if everything was in slow motion, looking at the wine-soaked bed, walls, floor and the broken glass.
The nursing staff leaped into full action – alerting the cleaning crew – and began the task of wine/glass removal and changing my father’s bedding. I apologized profusely and was moved out of the way of progress.
One member of the nursing staff entered the room saying, “I heard a bottle of Cakebread just crashed on the floor. Do you mind if we use a straw to clean up?” “Considering what we normally have to clean up, this is like Christmas and my birthday wrapped into one. I’m living life on the vapors,” another replied.
When all was settled, and I was alone in the room with my father, he shared: “Well, no chance of me dying tonight. No wine and no priest.”
SISTERJOCEY arrived at the hospital from Florida at 11:55 pm. For the six hours prior to her arrival my dad never once stopped talking. His questions varied from asking me about BIG MICHAEL, cooking, my work, dog shows, fishing, gardening, etc. Between bouts of inquiry, approximately every twenty minutes or so, I swabbed his mouth out with a cool, moist sponge on a stick and coated his lips with moisturizer. Every time this task was performed my dad would say: “Thanks, Mike!”
Wanting to watch a little television, I scanned the channels for a program that interested Dad. He chose Animal Planet – Canine Dock Diving Competition. We sat for an hour watching various breeds perform leaps into a pool. “I think when I get out of here, I would like you to get me a Whippet. Can you make this happen?” he asked, and I affirmed. Dock diving ended and we switched over to vintage Lawrence Welk, featuring the Lennon Sisters. “Good Lord, just let me have all four of them for an hour before I die!” my dad offered from his bed, leaving me rolling on the floor laughing.
SISTERJOCEY and I remained at my father’s side through the night. The following morning, the hospital chaplain entered the room to ask my father if he would like her to pray for him. “Are you Episcopalian?” he inquired. “No, I’m Methodist,” was her reply. “Well, in that I case I will pray for you.” Dad instructed my SISTERJOCEY to go to his left side and I move to his right. He took our hands, winked his eye, and began to pray. “Dear Lord, I love everyone. I pray for all of the Methodists – that includes you (meaning the attending chaplain), the Baptists, the Jews, the Presbyterians and the Catholics, too. If only they would leave the boys alone. Now, I want you to know that we need more love in this world. And, no one should tell you who you can love, and you should be able to marry whoever you want.” With that said, my father squeezed my left hand, and for the first time in my life acknowledged my love and commitment for my husband, BIG MICHAEL. “And wake me up when the real priest arrives with the wine!”
SISTERJOCEY and I stayed by my father’s side until he passed away on Tuesday, December 8. Just prior to his passing, I sent a text message to friends MB, DR.D & PP-CHIP: “Dad is totally out of it. We wait patiently with hearts full of love for his transition. I am so blessed to have had 36 hours of time filled with meaning, purpose, fun and spirituality. A priceless journey!”
P.S. Dog shows come and go. At the end of the day, as a judge you are only as important as the ribbon you are holding. Keep those you love close and strive for balance in all you do.