Today is my dad’s 64th birthday and it’s a miracle he’s here to celebrate it. He’s a Type I Diabetic and has been since he was four years old.

Growing up, I thought diabetes was no big deal, my dad seemed like a regular guy.  He water skied, ate chocolate cake and drank Coors Light. If he ate or drank too much, he just had a little extra insulin. It seemed simple and without consequence. The only “drama” was that he almost went blind when I was a baby, but several rounds of laser treatments fixed that. I thought my dad was invincible, which was perfect, because he was my world.

Fast-forward to my senior year in college. I was on a bike ride with my fiance in Southern California, when I got the call that my dad had suffered a heart attack and was in a hospital in Northern California. I pause here to wipe away the tears because  even eleven years later, the panic of that memory still grips me. What?  A heart attack? My dad is invincible.  I peddled hard and fast to get my ass home, packed a bag and drove like a bat out of hell to get to my dad.  (Pausing for more tears.)

As I raced across the parking lot, I heard my dad’s voice yelling my name. I looked up to see him hanging his head out the window, waving at me. Okay, he’s still invincible.

My stepmother had driven him to a Kaiser hospital (where we are not members) rather than have an ambulance take him to his hospital. I spent the next several days getting him transferred.

Once in his hospital, he had to have a simple angiogram.

After the procedure, the doctor explained that being a Type I Diabetic had shot his vascular system (a statement I would come to hear many times) and that from here on out things would get dicey. The irony is I didn’t believe him, he didn’t know MY dad, he didn’t believe that my dad was a superhero.

What happened next should have opened my eyes. There was some complication from the angiogram and something went wrong, very wrong. He didn’t look right, he was acting funny. I asked my grandmother to take my younger brothers down the hall to get a soda. I screamed for a nurse. They ran in and assessed him, I stared at the Code Blue button on the wall, I knew it was going to be hit.

It was.

The next thing I knew, the room filled with people and a crash cart as we -the family -were ushered out.  I stood in the hallway praying, shaking, crying. My brothers, thankfully, had no idea, my husband (fiance at the time) heard the Code Blue call and didn’t imagine that it could be MY dad.  hey stabilized him, put in a stint and he was sent home. Then the deterioration began.

Fast forward four years of minor emergencies, medication and doctor’s appointments. I got another one of those calls that makes your blood run cold. Dad had another heart attack and it was major. He needed triple bypass and fast – “the Type I Diabetes had thoroughly shot his vascular system.”

They were transferring him by ambulance to the hospital to perform surgery the next morning. This time, we were three hours away from him  My aunt and I took off, driving through the night to make sure we were there to see him before they put him under for surgery. I wanted to donate blood but there simply wasn’t time. I wanted something, anything besides wait. I was a wreck.

He made it through surgery and we were allowed to see him when it was over. He unconscious and still on life-support. I have never seen so many tubes and machines.  The equipment that surrounded him, dwarfed my larger-than-life dad.

The next five weeks were tough. When I ran out of sick time at work, I drove up every weekend, sleeping on his bedroom floor, giving my step-mother a break, listening to make sure he was breathing. (I don’t think it was medically necessary, but it was emotionally necessary for me).

On one of these visits, I was upstairs when I heard my stepmother screaming. I ran down the stairs, my dad looked catatonic, she had a phone in her hand that she handed to me as 911 picked up.  (Pausing for more tears.)

I explained to the emergency operator that we needed an ambulance, it looked like a seizure, but I wasn’t sure.  Of course I wasn’t fucking sure, I was just a terrified girl who didn’t want to lose her father.  It was the middle of the night, I said no sirens, I didn’t want my little brothers (who were 6 and 11) woken up to more scary sights.

By the time the paramedics and firemen arrived, my dad had come back.  They determined it was a vasovagel reaction from the pain.  But they wanted to take him back in, just to be sure.  I rode in the front seat of the ambulance because I am protective like that.  He recovered from the surgery, but he dropped out of cardiac rehab because apparently, he still thought he was invincible.

As years passed, he did deteriorate as predicted.  He has suffered multiple TIA’s.  He has no long-term and very little short-term memory.  He is bound to a walker.  He can never remember the names of my kids or my husband. He can’t be left alone for long periods of time.

Diabetes has caught up but it hasn’t won… yet, sort of.

My dad is still alive today to celebrate his 64th birthday, but the man I knew is gone. Every visit with him is hard for me.  I used to talk to him multiple times per day.  Now I have to remind myself to call him every couple of weeks. It should be more frequent.

I still panic if the phone rings too early or too late, but in some ways, I don’t have much left to lose.  I talk to him to make him happy, but it pains me to see him confined to his wrecked body.  I struggle with guilt every day because I should call more, visit more, do more.  But I feel empty and I know that is not right.

Sure, there are extenuating circumstances – my stepmother and I have always had a strained relationship. She wanted me there to help with my dad’s recovery, but she doesn’t want me there for family vacations and birthday parties.

They would put me in charge at hospitals and then berate me when it was over for trying to control things.  I could go on and on.  I could explain that I have a family that needs me with them now.  But in the end, they are just excuses why I don’t go more, do more and watch more as my superhero continue to fade away.

Happy Birthday, Dad.  I love you and I miss you.

But the you I miss is gone.