My Father Was Dying in the Hospital. Then Another Patient Changed Everything.

When it came time to take my dad off of life support, I felt completely helpless. Then a perfect stranger made a heartbreaking situation slightly more bearable.

saying-goodbye-to-dadiStock/Barcin

I got a call from my sister that my dad had taken a turn for the worse, and I needed to get home right away. I wasn’t ready for that. When I got to the hospital, he had already slipped into a coma. I had missed all the dramatic goodbyes that were said because everyone knew he was not gonna make it. So that was upsetting.

He was in a coma for a while. It was that weird place where everybody is connected by this thing and it’s killing us. After two weeks, I brought up the idea that maybe we should pull the plug. I don’t know where that saying comes from, ’cause nobody pulls a plug. Everybody stays plugged in.

But it was time. We all knew. I thought it would happen like on Days of Our Lives. I thought you would pull the plug, and there’d be a lot of crying for ten to 15 minutes, and then the person would pass, and you would be sad, but it would be over.

Instead, we waited for four, then five, hours. And you wanted to scream, ’cause it’s crazy. Right in the middle of this, they wheel another woman into our room, a woman who had just had heart surgery. I remember thinking, That’s not a good idea. My dad is dying. Why are you bringing in a woman who’s had heart surgery? That doesn’t make any sense. It’s bad management.

The woman was on a lot of medication and saying crazy things. She’s 80 and naked and kicking her covers off. I’m on this side of the room, with a curtain that is not very soundproof, sitting by my dad, saying, “I love you, Dad. I’m really going to miss you.”

From the other side, we hear, “Cinnamon.”

“You were such a great dad to me.”

“Cinnamon.”

“Dad, you were wonderful—”

“Cinnamon.”

Finally, you can’t help laughing, because your life is exploding in front of your eyes, and it’s that moment where you’re crying and laughing. Then my husband says, “Thirty ccs of cinnamon, stat!” It killed me, and we all stopped crying for a moment and laughed really hard.

Four hours later, the nurse says, “It’s probably time. His heart rate is lowering.” We are holding his hand, and she says, “Maybe if you tell him it’s OK to go, he’ll go.”

So we all say, “Daddy, it’s OK” and “We love you,” and my mom says, “John, you were such a great dad, and I love you, and it’s OK, I’ll take care of the girls.” And across the room from the old lady in the bed, we hear, “Don’t go, John.”

Yeah.

And I remember thinking, That’s what I feel. That was what was inside me. I think I gave that woman my words: “Don’t go, John. Don’t go.”

But he did. I had my hand on his chest and his heart stopped.

Later, we found out Cinnamon Lady—that’s what I call her, Cinnamon Lady—didn’t have anyone in her life named John. I thought, Wow, that’s crazy. But we also learned she was a baker. So we understood the cinnamon part.

*Told live at a Moth show at the Echoplex in Los Angeles, CA

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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Vikki Garcia Kelleher
Vikki Garcia Kelleher is a mother, actress, and producer living the dream in Burbank, California.