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Brink of Death

By Emma Wood

It was a perfect day. School went by fast. I didn’t have to go to tutoring because my relatives were visiting, and it was Thursday, which means it was almost Friday!

But something seemed off. It was one of those days where it was freezing but was just short of snowfall. I could see my breath as I walked up my street. I could already feel my cheeks reddening. I opened my front door, welcoming the wonderful warmth.

"Patty!" My Aunt Mandy whaled my name from the landing of the stairs. She wrapped me in her long arms.

"Hey, Aunt Mand," I said, and returned her hug. She was one of my favorites. She didn’t have any children of her own and treated my cousins and me like her own children. It was the best.

"There’s some chocolate in your room," she said with a smile.

"Thank you," I said. I jumped as I heard my Dad’s car horn.

My other two aunts and one uncle, Aunt Elin, Aunt Ruby and Uncle Tom were visiting. Aunt Ruby and Uncle Tom were engaged to be married and Aunt Elinʼs husband had work to do back in Vancouver. My Dad was grabbing the suitcases. He seemed very tired, his eyes a little black rimmed and swollen. He was driving to and from the airport, picking people up.

"Hey!" I yelled over to them and waved. They waved back, smiling wide. It seemed it was going to be a fun weekend, but then everything went horribly wrong.

All of my relatives came from the west coast because it was my aunt’s 50th birthday. She lived in Hamilton, It was my dad’s job to make a slideshow for her. He turned our house upside down trying to look for young photos of my aunt. One of my dad’s hobbies was making slideshows, I never got that. But he seemed to love it and they were pretty spectacular. Uncle Tom, Aunt Ruby, Aunt Elin, Aunt Mandy, my dad and I were all crowding around the couch. Uncle Tom and Aunt Ruby sat beside me and my Dad was on the other side of me. Aunt Elin and Aunt Mandy shared the big love seat. We were looking over all of the pictures and figuring out the music selection. My Dad started to twitch his arm. He started to squirm and slouch into the couch. He coughed and coughed flexing his lips and stretching his jaw.

"Patti, stop slapping my arm," he said in a quiet, hushed voice. I turned to him then, my eyebrows crunched up in confusion.

"Dad....I’m not....slapping your arm," I said in a quiet voice. My Aunt Ruby looked over then.

"Frank." She said his name not in a question form, but in a knowing way.

My father turned towards us and I stifled my gasp. His face was pale and the left side of his mouth was sagging down his face. His eyes were terrified and wide.

"Dad, what’s happening?" I asked, but couldn’t speak. Uncle Tom was at his side in a rush. He laid him down while holding his hand tightly. He whispered to him that it was going to be okay, that he was going to be fine. But, even I knew that Uncle Tom didn’t know what was ahead of us. At that time, I didn’t know he was having a stroke. All I knew was that Aunt Elin was dialing 911 and Aunt Ruby was looking for Aspirin, that the paramedics were coming and my dogs would be hectic. I know it’s strange that my dad might have been dying and I was thinking about the dogs, but I just couldn’t bare to think about my dad’s life ending. I grabbed my two dogs and threw them in the basement. I heard the click of the lock and I ran to my father. He heard my rushed footsteps and turned to me. His eyes were a pool of nothingness, his left side not alive anymore. The tears started to blur my vision. His sad eyes were mimicking mine. I couldn’t take it and I ran straight to my room.

Sirens. I could hear the sirens faintly and then louder as they came closer. The door was barged in. I heard voices and my dogs barked. I wrapped my blanket around me and I slowly wept. I usually don’t cry a lot but I couldn’t stop. One tear fell, than the rest came. I heard the gurney roll out with my father’s weight upon it. It made me cry even harder. Aunt Mandy entered my room.

"Pat?" She asked so quietly and cautious. I lifted my head and, once she saw my puffy red eyes, she encircled me in her arms. I leaned my head on her shoulder and sniffled.

"Is....is he going to die?" I asked. My dad always says, one of my great traits is that I am blunt and straight to the point. The memory squeezed another tear attack out of me.
"I promise our family will be great, sweetie," she said, her voice a hush. She was not blunt, like me, which meant she wasn’t sure. My father was on the brink of death. I looked to my window and divided the shutters. The neighbors were scaling the sidewalks, trying to look like they weren’t nosey. Oh, but they are. They practically put their noses in my house.

"I want to see him," I whispered behind my shoulder.

"I know, we all do. But we have to wait. We should call your sisters and mother," She said, and I nodded.

I immediately wanted to call Sarah, my oldest sister. She was working in the ER at the General Hospital where they were bringing my father. She would have a stroke if she saw her father being rolled in. But when I got downstairs, my aunts had already taken care of it. They all turned to me, eyes all sympathetic. I took a shuddering breath.

"I want to see him," I said and turned to the door.

The emergency room was just one big room. Sheets divided the patients, but it was very loud. Aunt Ruby talked to the lady behind the desk.

"This is Brenda Flaherty’s daughter," she said, as the lady shot up. My mom was very famous around here. She was the Executive VP and COO of Hamilton Health Sciences.

"In there," she said and smiled at me. "There’s a whole party in there."

I entered through the sheets and saw all five of my aunts - all five of my mother’s sisters. Then, I turned to my sisters. I hugged them and my mom. Then...my dad.

"Hey, Pat," he slurred. I moved to him.

"Hey," I said. I let him somewhat kiss my cheek. I backed away. Maybe, just maybe, if he didn’t see his little girl cry than he would be okay. I kept it in for him. The doctor hustled in.

"So, we don’t know what it is yet, but we want to keep you here so we can run tests," he said to my dad as he barely nodded.

I thought I could see my dad like this, but I couldn’t. My father was breaking down. My sisters got coffee for my mom and I asked Aunt Ruby to take me home. I tucked into my parents’ bed. It was huge. I turned to my dad’s pillow. It smelt like him. I snuggled my face in deeper and awaited the tears but I seemed dry. Later on, Sarah and Emily came in beside me. We snuggled together.

"He’ll be fine, Pat," Emily whispered to me in the dark. Her voice was reassuring, but I couldn’t believe it.

The snow came that morning. As I walked down the steps, I stopped and looked outside. Weird, Dad usually would have gotten the driveway and pathway done. Mom shouldn’t have left for work yet. But, then I remembered. Remembered everything. Dad was at the hospital, probably getting some MRI or something and mom was probably sleeping on the chair beside his bed, just waiting. Em and I shoveled the driveway while my aunts cooked breakfast. Neighbors offered to shovel the driveway but we politely declined. They dropped off homemade meals. It made me notice how much I depended on my father. Emily, Sarah and I went to the hospital that day. I could hear the murmurs. Some said, "Brenda Flaherty’s daughters" other said "poor girls". All of us could hear them but we ignored it. Sarah entered first and we followed.

"Hey girls," mom said and smiled. Dad was asleep. We all looked at him with sorrow in our eyes. The doctor beckoned us out.

"It seems that there is a hole in Frank’s heart. We’re able to fix it, but the stroke did a lot of damage to the left side of his brain."

I believe he said more medical terminology I didn’t understand, but I stopped listening. He was going to be fine. A curdling scream made me come back to reality. The man in the room beside my father’s room was gripping at his face that was bandaged. I jumped at the site.

"My apologies, the stroke unit has to share with the burn unit," said the doctor. "The burn level is undergoing renovations."

I crept away from the room. My sisters and mother went down to the cafe to get some food and I stayed with my dad. I sat beside him and stared. He looked like a new born, the left side of his mouth dripping. He apparently couldn’t feel his left side. Like the other half of his body was numb. The nurse came in with a sheet.

"Could you please get him to fill this out when he wakes up? It’s his lunch selection," she said, and I nodded. With a smile, she left the room. Dad stirred and I turned.

"Hey, Dad," I said. He took my hand. He squeezed it and opened his eyes. A small, lopsided smile formed on his lips.

"So, egg salad or chicken salad?" I asked, and couldn’t hold in my grin.

He was able to come home for the weekend, but he eventually has to go back to rehab. He’s coming along great. He’s been put on the waiting list for heart surgery. Soon, he’ll be back. But, my mom had been trying to describe to me that he will be different. His brain won’t be the same, he’ll be tired often. I know it’ll be a challenge. He might not be the same man, but he will still be my dad.