Posted in family

Near-Death Experience 👩‍⚕️ Part I

These posts are written anywhere from a day to a week ahead of time—just because I like to let things marinade, and edit anything that’s too loud—so that the meaning I’m trying to capture gleams like a diamond, rather than the word choice.

But I love editing. I could teach a whole college course on revision. So of course I subject this blog to the same process. Yet despite all that editing, it still feels hardmode, trying to piecemeal memories about my father’s time in the hospital.

When My Dad Entered the Hospital

I attended graduate school from ’13 to ’16, and I remember by adding ten years to my high school graduation class of ’03, then another 3 years for the length of the M.F.A.

But before I left for graduate school—actually, around the time acceptance and rejection letters were rolling in from the 17 applications I’d sent out—my father was quarantined in a tiny room at the hospital because he couldn’t breathe, and it’d take the doctors nearly a week to figure out everything killing him.

I’ll talk about what was trying to kill him next post.


Watching my father on a potential deathbed was a mind-fuck, to say the least. The experience left a permanent mark. It’s why I listened to an audiobook of Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air in January ’16,…

Three years later, still trying to rub away the wisdom, experience, the Sharpied mark left on my memory, like a tattoo I never wanted.

It was a good book.

I still have the mark of course, but that’s not the book’s fault.

While my father was in the hospital, I had to sign papers to waive puncturing a hole in his throat. They were worried the tube they fed into his mouth would lead to a life-threatening infection, but the risk was still marginal, and all I could think about was that commercial in the ’90s…

…and no matter how I tried to spin it, I knew my dad wouldn’t be cool with that.

This is part of the “mark,” though; the knowledge that remains after signing papers. Everyone signs papers at some point that’ll leave a foul taste in their mouth, the taste of the fear of death, specifically—signing the receipt for putting my cat to sleep was also acrid, bitter, remorseful—overwhelming emotions, made in the face of heavy decisions, while trying to keep logic online on a plateau of instability.

Thankfully, the risk of keeping the tube fed in his mouth proved successful, because he woke up, went stir-crazy with claustrophobia in his hospital room, then went home.

I still drive to Southern California every 4-6 weeks to visit him. Love my dad.

Fear Prevents Me from Visiting Family

Love my mom too, but the last time I drove to see her, she and her husband exploded on one another over “leaving the bar early,” (I don’t think it was just about the bar…,) (I don’t think there’s a better word than explosion, either…,) after two hours of shooting pool.

On Christmas Eve.

I’d asked if we could leave the bar because Chase’s cellphone DING DING DINGED that he needed his epilepsy meds. Like, a literal alarm preempted my amygdala into preliminary fight-or-flight—the fear of motherly anger.

So I asked my mom if we could go.

She wanted to know why Chase didn’t have his meds on him.

Chase’s meds weren’t in his pocket because a) bar, b) Christmas Eve, c) two hours?—he hadn’t predicted the variables to line up that way. And that made sense to me. But I thought, if I told her, “We didn’t expect to spend two hours at a bar on Christmas Eve,” I’d step in a bear trap and lose my foot, and I wasn’t ready to forfeit my ability to tip-toe through eggshells just yet, so I used a tried-and-true method when I’m emotionally frozen:

I shrugged.

She conferred with her husband.

Then she said, “One more game.”

After that, no eye contact was made.

They played another.

And another.

The third game, I asked again, as politely as I could (which I’m the first to admit is clunky; my social skills are bordering non-existent when I’m in an ethically confusing situation)—approaching my mom the way one might assess the danger of a great white shark—”Is it okay for us to head home yet? He really needs to take his meds on time.”

Which, c’mon, “on time” had passed an hour ago, but why go there?

In the awkward silence that preceded, moments before the Christmas Eve boom—while Chase and I huddled in the backseat of their truck, wide-eyed, hoping shit wouldn’t get real until, at the very least, we transitioned from the bar to the house—my mom suddenly threw her arms in the air, slicing the silence with fingers, subtle motions of wrists and elbows that felt alarmingly familiar, that warned me we’d long passed the event horizon of her emotional tolerance, when she said:

I couldn’t figure out how to make both of you happy.

And therein lies the horcrux. This need to make others happy, because then they’ll make you happy, too. This need to add, “Remember this,” in the very real sense of You owe me for making you happy, then act aghast when you knee-jerk respond, “I didn’t think I was putting you in the middle of anything. We waited an hour.”

FuckmylifeIwentthere.

Almost losing my dad makes me value spending time with him in the present moment. And an awareness of death makes it that much harder when I can’t resolve my relationship with my mother. It’s like an ongoing crisis, and I’m not sure if I’ll ever heal from anxiety and depression until I separate myself from crises long enough to breathe.

At the other side of this, I know I want to spread positivism, happiness, and acceptance, if for no other reason than to tell my Inner Child, “It’s fine. We’re going to be okay.”


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Author:

Kourtnie McKenzie holds an MFA (Fiction) from Fresno State and a BA in English (Literature Studies) from Cal State Fullerton. When she isn't writing novellas, she's moonlighting as a professor at Fresno City College and College of the Sequoias. To read more of her writing, visit Kourtnie.net.

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