How a Heart Attack Put Life into Perspective – Eventually

“How are you doing with all of this?”

My parents went for my dad’s pre-op earlier this week, and she called when they were home.

But that’s what she asked me. How are you doing with all this? 

My dad had a heart attack the night of February 13th.

When I heard the news, I went into flight mode. Grabbing a coat from the closet while chicken breasts were baking in the oven. Obviously not thinking straight. At first, I was scared, unsure of what to expect. What if I didn’t arrive at the hospital in time? What he was having an anxiety attack? And they thought it was a heart attack? Communication between family that night was purple-monkey-oven.

Before I saw dad, I learned he flatlined three times in the ambulance. When dad told me, I thought isn’t that impossible. Yes, it happened – and it’s in his doctor’s file.

The first time was shortly after the Arborg Emergency Services left my parents driveway. The paramedics tried to contact STARS, who were unavailable. At the Gimli Hospital, a doctor and nurse jumped into the ambulance, and they sped to Winnipeg. Dad flatlined again before Winnipeg and when he was in the city. The paramedics bought him back with a defibrillator, and then CPR.

Dad’s surgeon said my father arrived at the hospital just in time. He had two stents inserted that night. His arteries were 97 and 99 per cent blocked. The surgical team held off on one stent because dad’s heart had been through too much trauma. Hence, the pre-op for his other stents.

That night, I prepared myself to enter his hospital room. I was “fine.” In other words, I had to be fine. I remembered someone talking about seeing their dad after heart surgery. And I tapped into that frame of mind, expecting the worst case scenario. Because my other choice was unfine.

My dad was hooked up to IVs and a monitor, which set off an alarm when his pulse hit the “danger zone.” Dad was ashen grey, and he looked tiny in that bed. The first thing my dad said to me was, “I’m sorry,” and he hugged me, crying. “I died three times.”

I told him that he can’t do that again because I need him for the next municipal election.

My dad is my political partner. The night of the 1993 Federal Election, I was working at Chicken Chef, and he’d call me every 20 or 30 minutes with updates. Much to the chagrin of my co-workers. I couldn’t even vote, but we both wanted the same party to win. Oh, how things have changed.

In 2015, we both ran in elections. He ran for the RM of Bifrost-Riverton and I ran in Arborg’s by-election. The two councils meet monthly, and my mom would say, “That’s just what this town needs is two Karatchuks on the board.” Neither of us won, but I look back, and you know what, that was special.

Whenever there’d be an election, sure enough, my dad would call, no matter what time. Except for the last two elections.

Our relationship was strained. And the day of the federal election, mom told me later dad had said, “If Tammy and I were still talking, she’d be calling about now.” During the provincial election he told mom he missed talking to me. Truth is, during both elections, I almost called him. Especially the last election, because my party won.

Whenever I’d do anything strange or out of the norm, my mom would say, “You’re just like your father.” And it’s true. We’re both stubborn. If we have to leave, we’re ready to go … after we do these 10 things. We’re both spontaneous. We’re not afraid of challenges.

And I inherited his short legs.

I call my parents almost every day. That wasn’t the case in previous years. But I almost lost my dad. And I know this affected mom. I know this affected both of them.

Yesterday, my dad posted photos on Facebook of the driveway, beautifully cleared. Then he went for a half mile walk. There were tons of comments. Including my horrified, “Dad! You’re supposed to be resting!”

Then I called him, and he sheepishly answered, “Hello,” with a giggle in his voice. Because when he posted those photos, mom said he was going to get a phone call.

“So, I saw your Facebook post … ”

As I told my mom after she updated me after dad’s pre-op: “It doesn’t matter what kind of relationship someone has with their parents. But you need your parents, whether you realize it or not. Because when your parents are gone, you’ll realize how much you needed them.”

“How are you doing with all of this?”

It’s not about me. Dad’s my main focus. He’s been my main focus since his heart attack.

The day of dad’s heart attack, he left work early. He wasn’t feeling well. There are other scenarios where the outcome would’ve been different.

So, how am I doing with all of this?

I’m fine. Because I still have my dad.