33: Saying No to No

33: Saying No to No

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks Dad

Saying No to No

Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go.

~William Feather

For as long as I live, I will never forget that phone call. I was twelve years old and it was the day after Christmas. Early that morning, my grandmother found my grandfather unconscious in the bathroom. He had been there since the previous night and she didn’t realize it until she awoke. My father went to follow the ambulance and my mother and I were left waiting for news.

The phone rang, and my mother got to it first. I picked up in another room, though, and I don’t think anyone knew I was on the line.

“They said he’s going to die,” my dad said. “But he’s not!” I had never heard my father fall apart before. He went on like a crazy man, tripping over half-coherent, tear-laden thoughts about how the doctors were wrong, and my grandfather couldn’t die. He was too stubborn to die. Too capable. Too alive.

He’d had a seizure and lapsed into a coma. Since he had been comatose for so many hours before anyone found him, the odds were against him ever waking up.

The hospital emergency room was short-staffed because of the holiday, and there was only one doctor available. He noticed that my grandfather’s blood pressure had spiked so he gave him medicine and waited. There was no response. The doctor advised my father to call the rabbi. It was time to accept that my grandfather wasn’t going to wake up.

But there was one small problem: my father flat-out refused to accept anything of the sort. “You’re not going to stand here and watch him die,” he yelled. “I want him transferred to another hospital immediately!”

Unwavering in his determination, my father then called his childhood family doctor for help. The doctor recommended a hospital in New York City a full hour away.

Faith is usually expressed in beliefs. My father’s faith was expressed in his total disbelief. He refused to listen to the doctor who told him hope was gone, and he took action with the single-minded drive that only comes from within. This was his father, and he was going to be fine. Period. Anything else was unthinkable.

Taking a comatose, dying man out of the hospital and putting him into an ambulance for an hour-long ride was just short of plain ridiculous, but my father insisted. He called a private ambulance, and the hospital told him they would make sure a doctor was waiting for my grandfather when he arrived. The doctor flew his own plane to the hospital to meet that commitment.

During the ambulance ride, the miracle began. My grandfather was regaining consciousness, but he was very delusional. The moment they arrived at the hospital, the doctor looked into my grandfather’s eyes and declared, “I know what’s wrong and I can operate.”

What was wrong, he explained, was a meningioma tumor lodged between my grandfather’s brain and his skull. As he finished the examination and took the history, the doctor said my grandfather must have been exposed to mustard gas in World War II in England — he had seen many of these slow-growing tumors in war veterans before. They were going to stabilize my grandfather, then operate immediately.

Unfortunately, there was another surprise in store.

When my grandfather regained his faculties, he began hallucinating. No one is sure what he thought he saw, but whatever it was, he stood at the edge of his hospital bed and dove off. He now had a gash under his eye that meant a postponement of the surgery. He was going to have to make it through one more day before they could risk anesthetizing him.

He didn’t recognize my father, and he had no idea of the date or year, but he knew when D-Day had occurred, and he remembered who was President during the war. The son he didn’t recognize was going to keep this man grounded — literally.

Since he didn’t have any string handy, my father tore up a sheet and wound it into a rope. He tied my grandfather’s arm to his own to be sure that he couldn’t take another dive.

My grandfather made it to the operating table, and he survived. But it was anyone’s guess whether he’d regain his mental capacity after such an ordeal. My father stayed with him in the hospital, keeping that sheet tied to his arm for two weeks. The outlook was grim, and relatives came to relieve my father from time to time. The doctor had drilled three holes into my grandfather’s skull to remove the tumor, which had been larger than a lemon.

He was seventy-eight years old, and had lived a full life. He had married the girl of his dreams, even though their relationship had been forbidden. She was Catholic, he was Jewish, and in those times, that was that. Still, he didn’t give up and her parents’ blessing was granted on her father’s deathbed. My grandfather was a hard-working man who had only recently retired. He loved to swim and go to the beach, and he kept up with the news and followed politics. And all this time he had been living with a deadly tumor that had gone undetected for several decades.

Five years after the surgery, my grandfather held up a champagne glass.

“This is to my wife, my bride of fifty years,” he said, toasting his wife at a restaurant in Florida where we’d all gathered to celebrate. “I was supposed to be dead five years ago. But here I am.”

Five years. Five years, and no one had ever suggested that my father call in the rabbi ever again. The tumor was gone, and he had slowly and completely recovered from the stroke.

That was nine years ago. He’s ninety-one now, and still going strong, thanks to a devoted son who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

~Jenna Glatzer

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