This isn’t the first time I post about my dad. I’ve made it pretty clear all these years that he’s the reason why I started advocating for people with diabetes in the first place. My own diagnosis was just a coincidence, I guess. But this is probably one of those post that hurt because 1) this is yet another Fathers Day weekend I won’t get to celebrate with him, and 2) I’ve been struggling with my diabetes management lately. The first reason is obvious, the second is just because my dad, his dead and my pain are a reminder of what can happen to me if I don’t get back on the wagon and stop making excuses.
The year 2000. I had been married for less than a year, I was starting a whole new life in Canada, getting adapted to everything, learning a new language, trying to make peace with the fact that I wasn’t mommy and daddy’s little girl, but a married woman away from home. I was happy… until June 30, when my brother called me to inform me that the father I had hugged good-bye 6 months ago and seemed in good health, had had a massive heart attack and he was likely not going to make it. So I went back to Colombia and went straight from the airport to the ICU to see my dad, with the authorization of the doctor because my flight arrived past visiting hours. I was in shock, there were cables and monitors everywhere, he was sedated, and on a ventilator. The nurse told him I was there, but for me he was already gone. I knew it in my heart I was there to say the last good-bye.
11 days of torture went on, and each one of them I spent outside the ICU with my family hoping for a miracle, but knowing the outcome wasn’t going to be good. The doctors explained what had happened, how diabetes had made my dad’s heart vessels so thin there was nothing they could do. His heart condition was silent, he never had any symptoms before. He had struggled so much with it despite trying to take good care of himself and having a loving wife who understood his needs. He had retinopathy that responded well to treatment, and he once had to deal with the possibility of a toe amputation that was avoided thanks to good doctors and my dad’s discipline. I remember being scared for him sometimes, but at that time I really didn’t grasp the damage diabetes was doing to his body. He was a hard-working man, who never complained and who was active until the day he got on that ambulance.
On July 10, 2000 as I saw his heart rhythm diminishing, I went out of the ICU and I told God it was OK… he could go. His kidneys had started failing a couple of days before. A little before 6 p.m. the nurse came out to tell us they had been trying unsuccessfully to get his heart going for the last 20 minutes. This is probably too much information, but there’s an image that will never leave my mind: the one of my father’s muscles still contracting after the shocks with the defib. And just like that, he was gone… my dad was gone. He was 64 years old, was married to my mom for 36, had 4 children, 1 grandchild, and he left a huge hole in our lives. Diabetes took him away. I will never know if he knew I was there with him, but I really hope he did. The rest is my personal history of advocacy, my diagnosis, and my efforts to understand it all.
There’s a part of me that feels that no matter what I do, things will be the same for me. I know it’s wrong to think that way but diabetes is such a treacherous thing, you can be doing all the right things and still end up in the ICU. However, I also know that as long as I’m allowed to live, I have to do the best I can with what I have, and sometimes I know I don’t do it, mostly because I have excuses but also because diabetes and recurrent depression are a shitty combination (pardon my French), and I guess I’m just coming to the realization that I’m not getting any younger.
I know that if my dad was still alive, he would be giving me all the support I need to manage this condition, not only because he had it but also because I know he loved me so very much. And that makes me feel like a big hypocrite sometimes when I purposely don’t take care of myself out of laziness, lack of motivation or simple diabetes burnout (OK, not so simple but you know what I mean). I do great for a few months, fall off the wagon, get back on again… It’s such a stupid roller-coaster. Sometimes I just don’t want to deal with it, or I think I can’t do it… so I think about my dad and what happened to him; how strong he was and the example of resilience and responsibility he always gave us.
The sad thing is that as I’m writing this post I still don’t know where to start to take the right road again, but I know I’ll figure it out. My dad is my guiding light and wherever he is right now I know he wouldn’t want me to go through these things without talking about them or ignoring them. I have his memory to honor.