Today is my dad’s 60th birthday! I took him and my mom out to lunch yesterday and when I asked how he felt he said, “You know, I never thought I’d make it to 60.” The thing is, neither did the rest of us.
Disclaimer: I’m about to get really real.
Back in 1985, during a routine blood donation at work, my dad found out he had Hepatitis C (at that time it was called non-A non-B) which is a viral disease that causes swelling of the liver. No, he wasn’t sharing needles with junkies or drinking bottles upon bottles of alcohol. Doctors don’t know how he contracted it.
Since Hepatitis can be transferred by blood/bodily fluids, we took some precautions in our house. My dad has always enjoyed woodworking so there were times he would accidentally cut himself in his shop. I wasn’t allowed to help him put a bandaid on for fear of touching his blood. I also wasn’t allowed to share drinks or have a bite of his food after he used a utensil. It was a little strange but that’s what I grew up knowing. Over the years, he would stay home from work every now and then but his health really got worse in the late 1990s.
Doctors say that the final “stage” of liver disease is cirrhosis and my dad had all the symptoms: confusion, weight loss, jaundice, weakness, and more. His immune system was extremely weak so he couldn’t spend time around kids or anyone with a cold (not easy when my mom was a Kindergarten teacher). He went on long-term disability and was placed on the transplant list at UVA Hospital in 2001. A few months later he “moved up” the list. This might sound good but trust me, it’s a bad sign.
I was in high school when his health went south and had a really hard time dealing. My friends asked how I was doing; I lied and said I was great because even saying the words “my dad” caused me to burst into tears. I started seeing a therapist and taking medication for situational depression. Every morning before school I hugged my dad, told him I loved him, and left him a little note in the kitchen – just in case it was the last time.
At home, my dad had been sitting in an old recliner that he used to love but was now making him sore and achy. I vividly remember going to a furniture store and pushing him around in a wheelchair because he was too weak to walk on his own. He found a big, cozy leather chair and footstool that felt just right. I didn’t find out until years later but when the sales associate told my mom it would be a week until the chair would be delivered, she pulled him aside and said, “my husband doesn’t have a week left.” Dad was sitting comfortably the very next day.
A picture of my dad from Mother’s Day 2002 is burned into my memory because it was the last picture of him before the liver transplant. The next day, UVA was on the phone telling us to come in for surgery. His 12-hour procedure was successful but we weren’t out of the woods yet. There was a chance that his body would reject the new organ so my dad was in ICU for a while. He was in pain but he fought through and ten years later, that liver is still kicking. He’s still experiencing long-term effects of liver disease like weakness and forgetfulness but I don’t mind repeating myself if it means my dad is still alive.
And so, let’s all wish my dad Howard a happy 60th birthday. You may not have thought you’d make it this long but we’re damn glad you did!!