October 9, 1990, started out to be a "regular day" for me... I got my boys off to school and then went to West End Ambulance Corps. in Effort, PA where I volunteered. After making sure the ambulance was stocked properly, we got in and I drove us over to the West End Fairgrounds, where the fair was open and the people were gathering.
I parked the ambulance near our booth and we got busy taking blood pressures and checking people for high blood sugars. We were there just in case anyone at the fair was injured or fell ill. It wasn't long before my dad showed up at our booth and asked if I could take a walk with him.
As we were walking he told me he was having chest pains, so right away I found a place for him to sit down and rest. I also asked him if he had taken his Nitroglycerin for his Angina. It is a medicine used to open blood vessels, improve blood flow to the heart and reduce how hard the heart has to work.
He said, "yes." But, I knew there was more he wasn't saying, so I asked, "And, how many have you taken?" Usually you take two and if the pain continues you call your doctor or go to the emergency room, my dad told me he had already taken ten.
I immediately radioed my crew to come so we could get my dad to the hospital... but he refused to go. He thought it more important to keep the ambulance there if someone were to get hurt... even though he knew we had back-up crews. He was impossible to reason with, so we agreed that I would pick him up the first thing the next morning and take him to the hospital.
When we arrived at the hospital my dad was taken right back to a room reserved for heart patients. He was admitted to the CICU (Cardiac Intensive Care Unit), the doctors told us his heart was so bad they didn't think he would make it very much longer.
Each day thereafter, I would get my boys off to school, pick up my mom and grandmother, who lived with them and we would travel the 30 miles to the hospital. I did this for the next seventy five days.
It was in those islands that my dad contracted Malaria, which gradually ruined every heart valve, and for which there was no treatment or cure. Yes, they can now repair or even replace the heart valves in surgical procedures, but it was not to be for my dad as his heart had grown much too weak for surgery.
My dad had begged the doctors to let him come home, a decision they were totally against, unless they could get him on an "experimental medication" they hoped would help him. It seemed to take forever for the FDA to approve my dad, but in December they did and he was scheduled to be discharged and home on Christmas day!
We left the hospital on Christmas Eve, promising to be back as early as possible to pick him up. His prayers to come home included a home cooked meal, my mom's coffee and a desire to go to church and tell the people how good God had been to him!
He also asked me to bake him some peanut butter cookies and so around 11:30 pm on Christmas Eve, there I was, my hands in the batter mixing cookies when the telephone rang. It was my dad's doctor, he said that just after we left my dad's heart had flat-lined and he had to be put on a respirator, so if we wanted to see my dad again, we needed to get back to the hospital.
How in the world did anyone expect me to make that decision?
Then it dawned on me... It's Christmas day... I can't have my dad die on Christmas. I would never be able to look at the holiday the same way... especially if the doctors were looking to me to make such an important decision as agreeing to a "DNR Order" on my dad.
I called my pastor and asked, "What do you do? If God is calling him home do I say, "No?... Do whatever you can to keep him here?" Pastor Beiler said, "Judy, let's pray that no one will have to make that kind of decision." And so, that was what he prayed with me that night and I was content with the wisdom God had given my pastor.
We spent most of the night by dad's bedside and then traveled home for Christmas morning with our boys, promising dad we would return as soon as possible. There weren't a lot of gifts around the Christmas tree that year, in fact, there were only two... one for each of my boys as they had only asked for a popular sports jacket. Chris received Michael Jordon's and Jimmys reflected his favorite football team, "the Bears!"
We picked up my mom, had my aunt come get my grandmother and then we all left to spend Christmas Day with my dad in the hospital. He was once again in the CICU unit and so two of us would take turns visiting him, every two hours.
My youngest brother came to the hospital with his family, while my older brother left his family in Maryland and traveled back to PA. There was no hustle or bustle, the hospital was quite empty and quiet as they had discharged as many patients as possible for the holidays!
The hospital was working on a "skeleton crew" to give as many workers off as possible to spend Christmas day with their families, so we had the waiting room basically to ourselves. My boys helped my younger nephews set up the "race track" that they had received for Christmas and our holiday dinner consisted of bologna sandwiches with mustard that Don and my brother Joe had managed to find the ingredients for at a local 7-11 store.
My dad was quite unaware of exactly what had happened to him and why he wasn't going home. We didn't get into details, we just told him there was a delay and he seemed to accept that, what he couldn't accept was an empty hospital room, void of any real Christmas decorations or gifts!
A few weeks prior he had told me to check his mail for the bonus he received every year and to buy everyone gifts, however, seventy-five dollars didn't go very far even in 1990! We had bought my mother the familiar perfume she received every year from him and that just about covered his bonus check!
So, once again, with the nurse's permission, Don and I ran back to the 7-11 and there we found what I like to call a "Charlie Brown Christmas Tree" and a few gifts for my dad that they allowed into his room. We explained that the hospital did not allow any decorations in the CICU rooms, so this tiny tree was a treat, but there was no way that they would let us bring in the presents, that he thought he had bought for each of us.
I had forgotten his clothes and wanted to go back home to get them... but nothing doing, he wasn't letting us leave without him. So the nurses gave him several hospital pajamas to put on, while Don warmed and brought the car right to the front door and a nurse escorted him and myself to the car, where we wrapped him in blankets.
We had decided to stay with my parents until we knew my dad was settled, had all his medications set up and a visiting nurse was scheduled to come every other day to draw blood and check on him. Having a nursing and medical background myself, I would take his blood pressure and pulse regularly, we also would call a special number to make sure his pacemaker was in working order.
My dad got his home cooked meal, my mom's cup of hot coffee and on the first Sunday home, dad went to church and told the people there how good God had been to him and how the Lord allowed him to come home.
We did pretty well that first week home, but on a Wednesday evening, January 23rd my dad called me around 5:00 pm and asked if I would do him a favor and come to the house to cut his hair. Now, we may have gone home, but I had been to my parents house every day to check in on them and he never mentioned his hair.
I was busy cooking dinner, arranging to have better snow tires put on our van and we had church at 7:00. So I told my dad I would be happy to cut his hair, but it would have to be done tomorrow.
I did mention my dad was a bit stubborn, well he began to tell me that, "he had to have his hair cut that night!" And, so I asked him, "Daddy, where are you going tonight that you can't wait until morning for me to cut it?" I heard his sad sigh... and he told me okay, but to come as soon as I could the next day. I had to wonder... did he know he was going to heaven??
The next morning, January 24th, no sooner had I got my boys off to school and the phone rang. It was my mom this time and she said, "Judy, I'm up and I've made him coffee, but he is still sleeping, even when I went in and asked what he wanted for breakfast!"
I quickly asked, "Did you check to see if he was breathing?" She dropped the phone to go check, but when she got back to it she said, "I don't know!"
My heart sank as I hung the phone up and dialed 911. My fellow volunteers heard the call and raced to my parents home along with my pastor whom I had called to pray. I quickly got dressed and drove to my home where I saw my friends waiting outside for me... I knew... but now it suddenly became real... God had called my dad home during the night hours.
The coroner came and I remember him telling us, "Your dad went very peacefully, his covers were not upset or disturbed. You can take comfort that he didn't suffer."
My mind couldn't receive the words! "Nothing was upset... he didn't suffer.... you can take comfort in that!" How was I do to that, at such a time as this??
Only, two weeks after he was discharged from the hospital... two days after my youngest brother's 31st birthday... and more importantly... on the day I was supposed to cut his hair... my dad had gone to his eternal home in heaven.
There were no words... no expression of how I and other family members felt... there was just numbness and unbelief. I kept busy making sure my mom was okay, until Don and my brothers were there and then we began to make final arrangements.
And, now I can honestly say that the Christmas of 1990 was not only the most memorable... it was possibly one of the best Christmas days I've ever celebrated because it was the last holiday with all my family! I learned that Christmas isn't presents... it isn't the holiday meal... it isn't gathering around a Christmas tree!
Christmas is God with us... knowing that Jesus came to this earth to show us how much He loved us! He not only loved us, He died for our sins, and then He rose again and now sits at the right hand of His Father praying and interceding for us!!
And, if we know Him and have a personal relationship with Him... He is ALWAYS with us! Most importantly, one day we will have eternal life because Jesus came to earth to love us!
Yes, Christmas is having Jesus right there with you... through all the ups and downs, we must face in this life! Learning and knowing that "His Will" is so much better than anything we can handle in this life! His will on Christmas of 1990... was and will always be... The Miracle of Christmas, for me!!!
And... I would be remiss if I did not also thank his wife, Teresa and their children, Jamie, Jason & Julie who stood with us, supporting us through those tough months and holidays!