Another Father’s Day to be Grateful For

10361368_10152417368948815_2020737726_oWith the celebration of Father’s Day it has caused me to reflect on the last couple of years with my Dad. He was always a hardworking man, having wrenched on semi diesel trucks for the better part of 30+ years for his family diesel mechanic business, coached my brothers’ little league teams, without fail attended almost all of my softball games in high school (even though I wasn’t any good), taught me how to drive a stick shift (while living in the hills), and was always just calm. So, when he got congestive heart failure, also known as CHF, it was devastating. He was so sick, weak, couldn’t work anymore, and in the beginning could barely take care himself.

While my parents kept all three of us kids informed about what was going on, when I think back to that time I realize that they shielded us from just how bad it actually was. Eventually his cardiologist found the right combination of meds to get his energy and strength back up again, though not enough to go back to wrenching on trucks. My Dad lived with and battled CHF for more than 10 years – much longer than most people live with it, and I truly believe he has his long-time cardiologist to thank for that.

Dad’s journey to the heart transplant list was brutal. In and out of the hospital every couple of weeks for a multitude of reasons: TIAs (which are like small strokes) and passing out suddenly. It was scary while it was happening and when he became a patient at Stanford there was suddenly a sense of hope. He was officially waiting for a heart in what I didn’t realize at the time, was a very organized level of hierarchy of sickness. For instance, when my Dad was first “put on the list” he was at the very bottom of the list. So, he wouldn’t necessarily be getting a call for a heart anytime soon. If he got sicker (which at that point I thought was impossible), then he would move up on the list. What that entailed was having either a pump or intravenous meds basically making your heart pump.

We finally got to that point. I had offered to drive my Dad out to Stanford for a regular check-up with the transplant cardiologist. I knew Dad wasn’t feeling well. He was very low energy (lower than usual), and just seemed out of it. We got to his appointment and the doctor came in, started asking some questions – looked at me – then looked at my Dad and asked, “How are you feeling right now?” My Dad (for once in his life) told the doc the truth and said that frankly he wasn’t feeling very well at all. The doctor looked at me and then back at my Dad and said, “Well, I’d like to admit you today.” At first my Dad hesitated and said no. I looked at the doctor and told him that I would bet money that if I took my Dad home that evening, he would inevitably be admitted into our local hospital within 12 hours. The doctor looked at me, looked back at my Dad and said, “I don’t give you more than 2 months to live unless we start doing something to get you better.” The doctor then got up, said “I’ll give you some time to decide,” and walked out. My Dad looked at me and asked me what I thought he should do. I looked at him, and started crying. It was a very raw feeling because my entire family has had to be strong and resilient, putting our best foot forward at all times throughout his entire sickness. I told him that I thought he needed to be admitted. About the time I told him what I thought he needed to do, the doctor walked back in and asked what the plan was. My Dad said, “Nikki thinks I should be admitted so let’s do it.”

Everything happened very quickly then. The doctor called down to get him a room and wheeled him down there himself. The nurses started getting him situated and I was completely freaked out, but in a way that I hadn’t been scared before. It’s hard to describe. So, once he was comfortable I decided it was probably safe to go home. Mind you, I still hadn’t talked to my Mom who thought I was driving him to his appointment, simple right? So, I walk out to my car and call my Mom to tell her that they were going to keep him, but I could hardly keep back my tears. I think none of us really knew what it meant for them to keep him because he was too sick to go home.

While he was at Stanford they decided how they were going to treat him. The doctors basically had two options for him. The first was an LVAD which is a left ventricular assist device, which is a pump used for patients who have reached end-stage heart failure. The LVAD is surgically implanted, and is a battery operated mechanical pump which helps the left ventricle (main pumping chamber of the heart) pump blood to the rest of the body. OR he could be put on Dobutamine intravenously to help his heart pump blood to the rest of his body. The second choice was less invasive, but was not as reliable in the sense that they had never had a patient on Dobutamine for more than 6 months, and there was no saying how long my Dad would have to be on the transplant list. The LVAD was more reliable, but was also open heart surgery and he would have to wait 6 months post-LVAD to even be OK’d to be on the list. Dad weighed his options, spoke to someone who had an LVAD, and felt like he was willing to take the chance with Doutamine. Turns out it was the best decision he could have made.

Once my Dad was officially using something to essentially keep him alive, he was bumped up on the list. This is part of the sickness hierarchy I mentioned in the beginning. His chances of getting the call for a new heart were now higher. With that comes some preparation. We had to begin fundraising. This was right up my alley in that at the time my job consisted of a lot of event planning. I talked with someone at HelpHopeLive who gave me some pointers on how to raise money, provided me with all of the documents needed to get donations, items donated for raffles, and tax deduction documents. We were well on our way to our fundraising goal (which was 10K, and we were already halfway there!), when we got the call.

It was Saturday, July 5th and I had been out wine tasting with some of my best friends. We were hanging out after dinner, watching TV when my Mom sends me a text that says, “Dad might be getting a new heart.” I double read it because I almost couldn’t believe what I was reading, so I read it to my friends. Lindsay immediately jumped up and said, “Do we need to go now?” Then my phone rings. It’s my Mom. She tells me that my Dad is on standby and we will know in an hour if the heart is for him. In the hierarchy of sickness, there is also the notion that children are offered the organ first, and if it’s too large for the chid, then the list with adults is looked at. We decided to wait the hour before heading home…which by the way was the longest hour ever. Mom called me to tell me the heart is my Dad’s and we have to be at Stanford by 6 am the next morning.

I’m not sure that any of us slept that night (especially my Dad). The whole family was up and at ’em headed to Stanford on Sunday morning. My Dad’s energy was through the roof. I think he was running on pure adrenaline, but I do remember one particular thing while I was trying to rush him out of the house, he took one last look around the living room, in what I can only describe as taking in what could be his last look at his home.

The next 12 hours were the longest of all of our lives. After we said goodbye to him as they wheeled him off to the operating room we really didn’t have an understanding of how long it would take. 6 hours? 8 hours? But 11 1/2 hours?! We were all zombies by the time the surgeon who basically put my Dad back together came out to find us and tell us that everything went well and he was in recovery. He told us to go home and get some rest because we really wouldn’t know more until the next morning when he woke up.

The next morning we took our time getting up – we were still exhausted from the last couple of days – and headed back out to Stanford to see Dad. I wasn’t sure what to expect really. Would he be sleeping still? Would he have breathing tubes and things of that nature? When we finally go to see him they had just taken the breathing tubes out, he was sitting propped up in his bed, very shaky but fully alert. We each grabbed his hand and said hello to him and he just said, ” I did it.”

We didn’t stay too long because he was really on some heavy duty meds, but when I left his room we all hugged each other, and all I could feel were tears of happiness. I’ve had tears of joy, for example when my nieces were born, when I found out I passed my master’s oral defense, but this was a different kind of happiness…built in with relief and unbelievable gratitude.

I have someone’s selfless gift to thank for having my Dad here with me for yet another Father’s Day. I have my Dad to walk me down the aisle (someday), something I thought would NEVER happen, and I have my Dad who will get to see his granddaughters grow into the amazing young ladies that I know they will be.

I won’t get preachy about becoming a donor, but this experience definitely did so if you’re interested you can sign up here: www.donatelifecalifornia.org.

As of June 18, 2016 California has 13,198,411 organ, eye and tissue donors. I hope everyone has a wonderful and grateful Father’s Day!

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2016 Summer Reading List

I don’t know about all of you, but I can hardly believe that it is June already. I’m excited that it’s June because it creates the perfect opportunity to grab a good book and read outside in the warm sunshine. When I was in college I would stock pile countless books to read when the quarter or semester was over. Today, I have the luxury of reading on the train every morning and evening as part of my commute to and from work.

With that said, I’ve been compiling what I think to be the perfect 2016 Summer Reading List. A few of the books on this list I’ve already tackled and enjoyed very much. Those books include: Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Me Before You, and After You. I gathered the book selections mostly from Pinterest and iBooks recommendations. I wanted to share the list with all of you and ask that if you’ve read any of the books listed, let me know what you think! (All excerpts can be found in iBooks)

  1. The Assistants – by Camille Perry

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Rule #1: All important men have assistants. Rule #2: Men rule the world. Rule #3: There is enough money. There is so much money.

Tina Fontana is a 30-year-old executive assistant to Robert Barlow, the CEO of Titan Corp., a multinational media conglomerate. She’s excellent at her job and beloved by her famous boss – but after six years of making reservations and pouring drinks from bottles that cost more than her rent, the glamour of working for a media company in New York has completely faded, but her student debt has not.

When a technical error with Robert’s expense report presents Tina with the opportunity to pay off the entire balance of her loans with what would essentially be pocket change for her boss, she hesitates. She’s always played by the rules, but this would be a life-changer. As Tina begins to fall down the rabbit hole of her morally questionable plan, other assistants with crushing debt and fewer scruples approach her to say that they want in. Before she knows it, she’s at the forefront of a movement that has implications far beyond what anyone anticipated.

2. It’s Okay to Laugh (Crying Is Cool, Too) A Memoir- by Nora McInerny Purmort

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Twenty-someting Nora McInerny Purmort bounced from boyfriend to boyfriend and job to job. Then she met Aaron, a charismatic art director and her kindred spirit. They made mix tapes (and pancakes) into the wee hors of the morning. They finished each other’s sentences. They just knew. When Aaron was diagnosed with a rare brain cancer, they refused to let it limit their love. They got engaged on Aaron’s hospital bed and married after his first surgery. They had a baby when he was on chemo. They shared an amazing summer filled with happiness and laughter. A few months later, Aaron died in Nora’s arms in another hospital bed. His wildly creative obituary, which they wrote together, touched the world.

Now, Nora shares hysterical, moving, and painfully honest stories about her journey with Aaron. It’s OK to Laugh explores universal themes of love, marriage, work, (single) motherhood, and depression through her refreshingly frank view point. A love letter to life, in all of its messy glory, and what it’s like to still be kicking’, It’s OK to Laugh is like a long chat with a close friend over a cup of coffee (or chardonnay).

3. The Girls – by Emma Cline

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Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall of Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is an exotic, thrilling, charged – place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.

4. Rich and Pretty – by Rumaan Alam 

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As close as sisters for twenty years, Sarah and Lauren have been together through high school and college, first jobs, first loves, the uncertainties of their twenties and the realities of their thirties.

Sarah, the only child of a prominent intellectual and a socialite, works at a charity and is methodically planning her wedding. Lauren – beautiful, independent, and unpredictable – is single and working in publishing, deflecting her parents’ worries and questions about her life and future by trying not to think about it herself. Each woman envies – and is horrified by – particular aspects of the other’s life, topics of conversation they avoid with masterful linguistic pirouettes. 

Once, Sarah and Lauren were inseparable; for a long time now they’ve been apart. Can two women who rarely see one another, selectively share secrets, and lead different lives still call themselves best friends? Is it their abiding connection – or just force of habit – that keeps them together?

5. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, and Other Lessons from the Crematory – by Caitlin Doughty

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Most people want to avoid thinking about death, but Caitlin Doughty – a twenty-something with a degree in medieval history and a flair for the macabre – took a job at a crematory, turning morbid curiosity into her life’s work. Thrown into a profession of gallows humors and vivid characters (both living and very dead), Caitlin learned to navigate the secretive culture of those who care for the deceased.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes tells an unusual coming-of-age story full of bizarre encounters and unforgettable scenes. Caring for dead bodies of every color, shape and affliction, Caitlin soon becomes an intrepid explorer in the world of the dead. She describes how she swept ashes from the machines (and sometimes onto her clothes) and reveals the strange history of cremation and undertaking, marveling at bizarre and wonderful funeral practice from different cultures. 

Her eye-opening, candid, and often hilarious story is lie going on a journey with your bravest friend to the cemetery at midnight. She demystifies death, leading us behind the black curtain of her unique profession. And she answers questions you didn’t know you had: Can you catch a disease from a corpse? How many dead bodies can you fit in a Dodge van? What exactly does a flaming skull look like?

6. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? -by Maria Semple

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Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, mom.

Then Bernadette disappears. It began when Bee aced her report card and claimed her promised award: a family trip to Antartica. But Bernadette’s intensifying allergy to Seattle – and people in general – has made her so agoraphobic that a virtual assistant in India now runs her most basic errands. A trip to the end of the earth is problematic.

To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence – creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

7. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All the Rules – by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg

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Martha Andersson may be seventy-nine-years-old and live in a retirement home, but that doesn’t mean she’s ready to stop enjoying life. So when the new management of Diamond House starts cutting corners to save money, Martha and her four closest friends – The Genius,  The Rake, Christina and Anna-Gretta (a.k.a. The League of Pensioners) – won’t stand for it. Fed up with early bedtimes and overcooked veggies, this group of feisty seniors sets about to regain their independence, improve their lot, and stand up for seniors.

Their solution? White collar crime. What begins as a relatively straightforward robbery of a nearby luxury hotel quickly escalates into an unsolvable heist at the National Museum. With police baffled and the Mafia hot on their trail, the League of Pensioners has to stay one walker’s length ahead if it’s going to succeed…

8. Me Before You – by Jojo moyes

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They had nothing in common until love gave them everything to lose…

Louisa Clark is an ordinary girl living an exceedingly ordinary life – steady boyfriend, close family – who has barely been farther afield  than their tiny village. She takes a badly needed job working for ex-Master of the Universe Will Traynor, who is wheelchair bound after an accident. Will has always lived a huge life – big deals, extreme sports, worldwide travel – and now he’s pretty sure he cannot live the way he is.

Will is acerbic, moody, bossy – but Lou refuses to treat him with kid gloves, and soon his happiness means more to her than she expected. When she learns that Will has shocking plans of his own, she sets out to show him that life is still worth living. 

9. After You – by Jojo Moyes

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(This book is the sequel to “Me Before You.”) 

“You’re going to feel uncomfortable in your new world for a bit. But I hope you feel a bit exhilarated too. Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle. Just live well. Just live. Love, Will.”

Louisa Clark is no longer just an ordinary girl living an ordinary life. After the transformative six months spent with Will Traynor, she is struggling without him. When an extraordinary accident forces Lou to return home to her family, she can’t help but feel she’s right back where she started.

Her body heals, but Lou herself knows that she needs to be kick-started back to life. Which is how she ends up in a church basement with the members of the Moving On support group, who share insights, laughter, frustrations and terrible cookies. They will also lead her to the strong capable Sam Fielding – the paramedic, whose business is life and death, and the one man who might be able to understand her. Then a figure from Will’s past appears and hijacks all her plans, propelling her into a very different future…

10. The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son On Life, Love and Loss – by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt

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Though Anderson Cooper has always considered himself close to his mother, his intensely busy career as a journalist for CNN and CBS affords him little time to spend with her. After she suffers a brief but serious illness at the age of ninety-one, they resolve to change their relationship by beginning a year-long conversation unlike any they had ever had before. The result is a correspondence of surprising honesty and depth in which they discuss their lives, the things that matter to them, and what they still want to learn about each other.

Both a son’s love letter to his mother and an unconventional mom’s life lessons for her grown son, The Rainbow Comes and Goes offers a rare window into their close relationship and fascinating life stories, including their tragedies and triumphs. In these often humorous and moving exchanges, they share their most private thoughts and the hard-earned truths they’ve learned along the way. In their words their distinctive personalities shine through – Anderson’s journalistic outlook on the world is a sharp contrast to his mother’s idealism and unwavering optimism.