"Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them." - Henry David Thoreau

Friday, October 28, 2011

It Was Twenty Years Ago, Today...

This is a tough one, so bear with me.

In the fall of 1991, things were going pretty wel for good old Tom. I had been working my way up the ladder at the Las Vegas TV station where I had been employed for around nine months. I had gone from Assignment Editor to Associate Producer of the 11pm newscast. The News Director at the time had given me the chance to produce the station's weekly Public Affairs program, Newsmakers. Yes, it's as boring as it sounds. It's one of those shows that run early Sunday mornings in order to meet minimum FCC requirements for airing shows that 'serve the public interest', so a station can keep it's broadcast license. 

The fact that only a handful of people were watching the show never mattered to me. I was now officially a television producer! Name in the credits and everything! Of course, being TV news, I was getting paid next to nothing, so I was living with my parents in their palatial estate in the shadow of Sunrise Mountain. 

On October 21 of 1991, my father was complaining of chest pains. Now, my father was never the type to complain about anything. In fact, I never remember him being sick once. The man was a bit accident prone, though. When I was seven years old, a pot of cooking oil caught fire in the kitchen. My Dad, in a moment of panic, decided to try to grab the pot and dump the hot oil outside. Not the best plan, since hot oil splashed out of the pot, severely burning his left hand in the process. It was one of my earliest memories that's still vivid in my mind.

A decade later, our cat bit him on the same hand and caused a terrible infection that almost necessitated the hand be amputated. The cat had to go into protective custody for a while, though. Then there was the time he decided to walk to the nearby Baskin & Robbins to get some ice cream for us. He fell down a hill and broke his ankle. The man had to literally drag himself to a nearby house to get help. The ice cream didn't make it. Still, Dad never complained once. He was a tough cookie.

My mother and I knew that, if my Dad was actually concerned about these chest pains, we'd better take him to the hospital. They ran tests and discovered that several arteries were blocked and suggested a procedure called angioplasty, where the blockages are opened using a balloon that is inserted into the blood vessels. The procedure was fairly common so, we were optimistic about the results. The doctors performed the angioplasty and after a few days in the hospital, my father was released. 

Something wasn't quite right, though. He just didn't seem the same. He wasn't his usual energetic self. For the first time, he seemed every bit his sixty-seven years. My Mom and I just chalked it up to the recovery process. After all, he'd only been home a couple of days.

The morning of October 28 I was awaked by the sound of screaming.

My mother was yelling for me to call an ambulance. I grabbed the cordless phone and called 911 as I ran down the stairs. Mom was hysterical as she pointed to the bathroom. I went in and saw my father slumped over on the toilet, eyes half open. The 911 operator was asking me what was going on. I told her. She was sending help. She asked me if I knew CPR. I had been certified in CPR a few years before while in High School, but had never actually performed it on anything other than a practice dummy.

Francis Thomas Feeney
I hope I never have to do it again. 

I lifted my Dad off the seat and laid him down on the bathroom floor, my mother watching from just outside the doorway. I am not sure if it was the adrenaline pumping, but I remember being surprised how little he weighed when I picked him up. I started the CPR, but I knew he was already gone. He was cold. I did the breathing and chest compressions as instructed by the operator. After each breath of air pushed into my father's lungs, the chest compressions would only force the air right out again. My father had dentures and the rush of air caused them to rattle like those novelty wind-up chattering teeth. That's a sound I will never forget.

I kept the CPR going until the paramedics arrived. I knew my Dad was gone, but I didn't want to stop while my Mom was watching. I didn't want her to think I was giving up trying to save him. The official cause of death was a massive heart attack. There was no autopsy. I wish we would have requested one, because you don't leave the hospital after a relatively simple procedure and die less than a week later with no connection.

There was no funeral, no service. My father was cremated and we spread his ashes under the tree he planted in the backyard. That's what he wanted. The next few months were pretty rough. I was worried that my Mom would just shut down completely. And she did, for a while. We didn't even celebrate Christmas that year. We didn't even have a tree. My Dad was the one who loved to put up these elaborate light displays each holiday. Didn't seem right to celebrate without him. I volunteered to work Christmas Day because I didn't even want to think about it.

Twenty years later and I sometimes find it hard to remember his voice. I still see his face every day when I look in the mirror. When he died, I was just beginning my journey into adulthood. There were many times I could have used his advice. We didn't always see eye to eye and there a lot of times that I believed he just didn't 'get' me. We were very different. Now, I think we're very much alike.

The days and weeks after my father's passing are pretty much a blur to me now. There is one thing I remember vividly; My mother told me something the day after Dad died that made me sad and happy at the same time. She said, "You know, he really liked you." 

Even typing those words now, I feel myself well up.

I really liked you too, Dad. 

1 comment: