My name is Rich and this is my personal blog with the goal to document the methods that I’ve been trying to become a better and happier person in my life. This is a journey that I have embarked on since the beginning of 2017. I am attempting to inspire others to achieve happiness, either financially, emotionally, or spiritually.
I do believe there is a ying and yang with everything in life. In order to feel happiness, you need to feel sadness. On November 22nd, 2016, my father passed away from ongoing symptoms of pneumonia and flu. This was nearly a two year battle that started in January 2015. I remember the last time that I saw him fully healthy. We were having a family dinner in Chinatown with my dad, mom, and wife, which we routinely did each month. My wife and I were getting over a cold, but decided to meet with my parents.
A few days after dinner, he called me one night and said that he couldn’t breathe. I was a bit skeptical as my father was very anxious about his health at times. He had a liver transplant in 2008 and he took his new liver well with his medications. The medications often had side affects that increased his anxiety about his health. Overall, he was a healthy man that was very independent and active in the Chinese Senior Association.
Later that night, he went into the emergency room and they gave him some antibiotics after they determined he had pneumonia and the flu. He was eventually discharged as his symptoms cleared. However, within the next few days, he pneumonia returned and again, rushed back into the emergency room. After a bit longer stay, they again discharged him once his symptoms went away.
Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU)
After about a week or two, he went into the emergency room. But this time, he would ultimately be in the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU) for a 40-50 day stay. This was a horrific ordeal for our family – to see my healthy father become dependent on life support. He was on a breathing machine to assist with his breathing. The doctors gave him a 50/50 chance to survive as they couldn’t diagnosis the exact cause for his condition (cryptogenic organizing pneumonia aka COP was the official diagnosis) and treatments were complicated due to his liver transplant, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from his days of smoking, chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), and a pacemaker.
My father is a fighter and battled his way back. He was able to come off of life support, but was so frail and lost over 20-25% of his body weight (and he was a small guy to begin with – 125-130 lbs). He spent the next 5-6 months in a long term acute care hospital (LTAC), where we continued to make an effort to visit him every day. It was a painful process where any progress he made was matched with setbacks. Everytime he took one step forward, he took two steps back. It wasn’t until mid-August 2015 until he was able to come home.
The Return Home
Although he returned home, he was not the same man. Breathing is one thing that we all take for granted. The way to understand his condition was imagining like you’re drowning and grasping for air constantly, but never getting enough. You have this hunger for oxygen that you can never satisfy.
My father always had a healthy appetite and could eat more than I could, but things were hard to swallow and he was never hungry. Things he loved to eat tasted different and food was always so salty. He never regained the weight he lost. His body was working so hard to breathe and his muscles were so debilitated for being bedridden for so long, he could never eat as many calories as he burned.
Winter came again and our biggest fear came true: the pneumonia resurfaced and we repeated the same process again in early 2016. This stay was less intense, however, and he was only in the MICU for a 2-3 weeks and less time on life support. We went through the same ordeal – weaning him off the life support, gaining his strength back, moving him to an LTAC to rehab him back home. This went on for a few more times in the 1st half of 2016.
My father was rushed into the hospital in July 2016 after discovering a high levels of xxx in his blood results. It appears that his CML had blast crisis. This was a major blow. CML is usually a manageable disease by taking some prescribed medications. Unfortunately, those medications were known to have side effects (Gleevac) with the lungs and he ultimately stopped taking them. Once you cross the line with CML and go into blast crisis, there is no turning back. Life expectancies drop significantly and most patients have 2-3 months to live at most.
- Bone Marrow Transplant – chances of my frail father surviving a transplant were slim and not guaranteed to fully work and could have difficulty finding a suitable donor.
- Chemotherapy – this would delay the CML from progressing, but would only temporarily help. The expectation of patients would be to obtain a bone marrow transplant.
- Experimental clinical trial studies – this would require us driving from Philadelphia to NY and try very early stages of clinical trials, of which, my father may not even be a candidate due to his frail condition.
We opted for the chemotherapy, where he would get injections for 7-10 days and require to come back to the hospital for blood work at least twice a week, with the likelihood that one of his visits required a blood transfusion. The blood transfusions helped my father with his energy and breathing, but he had issues early on due to transfusion associated circulatory overload (TACO). Again, we had frequent trips to the emergency room as he constantly felt a shortness of breath and weakness from the treatments.
First round of chemotherapy worked well. The cancer regressed and we were hopeful that this could possibly work out. Second round didn’t have as promising results as the first. It also came with other consequences. The chemotherapy not only clears out all the cancer cells, but also the good cells in the body. He began complaining of a fever and shortness of breath. This was the final straw for my father. His body was so deconditioned from the pneumonia, flu, loss of muscle and weight, and now the blast crisis.
The Last Few Days
After finishing the Philly Half Marathon, I decided to visit his hospital room afterwards to tell him about the great race I just had. As I entered the room, he was squirming on his bed, eyes glazed back, and grasping for air. I immediately signaled a nurse and ultimately found myself in a 30-60 minute ordeal where they had a rapid response team stabilize him and intubate him on life support.
My father woke up and was extubated, but this was for the last time. His body could take no more. It could not keep pace with the heart and mind to continue living. It was only a matter of days before my dad passed away. We were fortunate to be able to say our goodbyes and tell him that we loved him, we thanked him for all the sacrifices he made, and we had a great life together within our means.
It was okay for him to move on. He saw his two children get married and got to see one grandchild. He has suffered for so long and was a medical success story to battle for as long as he did.
The Journey to Happiness
This was a long winded way to say that for every stimulus in our lives, we have a choice of how we will respond, a lesson learned from Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. My father had a choice to battle back and constantly fought until the very end. Time is our most important asset in life. The dying would pay any amount to get an extra week, month, or year.
My response to the death of my father is to ensure that I live the remaining days of my life to the fullest and respect that time that I have here on this earth. I am in the pursuit of happiness in all aspects of my life – financially, emotionally, and spiritually.
I hope you all join me in long journey.