It was a busy morning seven year ago. I was rushing out the door to hop into the driver seat and get my mother to her chemo treatment. I had my work bag packed as I was planning to leave her for an hour to run to a work meeting (because at this point I was still working “remote” while taking care of my dying parents) and then come back to meet with her at the same hospital my father was coming to for a skin consultation. The day was packed and my brain was on “go”.
We got to the hospital and got mom settled in her treatment chair, tv and remote and her favorite gossip magazines by her side. The IV was quickly placed in and the 3 hour long treatment began. This had been roughly 7 months of treatment at this point. It had been a long journey but my mother had shown nothing but strength and determination through her entire lung cancer journey. But this story isn’t about her journey… it’s about the first person who ever told me to “do good”. He’d say it as I left the house for school, he’d write it in a birthday or holiday card, he’d scream it at my water polo games. My father, Ronald Anthony Bickus, was how the “Do Good Movement” came about.
After I got my mom setup and the doctors had her taken care of, I set out for my next “to-do” on my list for the day which was my work meeting. I made it there and back within an hour. I would be getting back to the hospital with two hours to spare before my father would be transferred over from his nursing home to that same hospital my mom was having her chemo treatment at for his own doctors appointment. Seemed like a pretty good setup… until it became even more.
My father had just celebrated his birthday on January, 28th and when my mother and I had visited him at the nursing home we noticed that he had the most awful rash all over his body. At this time, my dads dementia and Alzheimer was at its worst. He spoke very little, we weren’t too sure if he knew or remembered us, and sometimes we weren’t sure if it was the disease or the medication. After we came to celebrate his birthday with him my mom and I decided we needed to get him into a dermatologist NOW! That week we had scheduled his doctors appointment for the following week. My mother had no idea that that moment, on my father’s birthday, would be the last day she would see her husband alive.
When I walked back into the room where my mom was having chemo she had a strange look on her face. She quickly started out with, “It’s nothing to worry about, but during the chemo treatment I had a small seizure.”
WHAT!! SHE HAD A WHAT!!! I immediately went into the “I know I shouldn’t have left you” and “what do you mean it’s nothing to worry about?”. She assured me that the doctors said that this could happen during chemo treatments, but to be sure she was going to go get an MRI in the next hour. Whelp guess what else was happening in the next hour? My father’s doctors appointment to get his skin looked at. Man oh man life really likes to mess with you.
I figured out I could walk her down to the OTHER SIDE of the hospital to drop her off for her MRI and then head upstairs to the 4th floor to meet my father for the doctors appointment. My mother wasn’t going to be able to attend. She told me to tell daddy that she loved him and the she will call him later to check in. Unfortunately that call never happened…
As I sat in the waiting room looking at the clock anticipating the next person to come through the door to be my father, I wondered: would he remember me today? The door opened and first the caregiver came backing in with my father in a wheelchair after him. He had his beloved Steelers hat on as any good Pittsburgh Steelers fan would. What I noticed immediately was that there were not feet supports on the wheelchair and that his feet looked so limp just dragging on the floor. Then I noticed his head was dropped down, chin to chest. I went up to him and knelt down, holding his hand and said, “Hi Dad, it’s me … it’s Erin”. No response.
I felt a lump in my throat as I listened to him to what seemed like struggling to breathe. His breath was quick and short and seemed so abnormal. I asked the caregiver if he had been like this all day and he said he didn’t know and he was just the transporter. I was furious. I wanted answers. My dad was bad on his birthday but this was 1,000 times worse. Quickly the nurse had called us in before I could ask any more question and we were taken to a room to meet with the doctor.
I tried several more times to speak with my father to get any word out of him… but nothing. Silence in regards to words but pain and struggle in regards to breath. I grabbed his hand, kissed it, looked into his eyes and said out loud, “what have I done?”….
Two years prior I was the one who had to sign a petition to get my father into a nursing home after an altercation at our home. The year prior to that he had been back and forth in and out of the hospital and nursing homes due to his Alzheimers and dementia. As he was taken by ambulance and rolled into the hospital that night two years ago, he looked at me dead straight into my eyes… into my soul… and said “Erin what have you done?”.
“What have I done?” I continued to ask myself…. “what have I done….”
The doctor knocked on the door and quickly came in. He said “Hello Mr. Bickus” trying to shake his hand, but not response. And then he came over to me.
“Oh my, Erin. How are you? I remember you when you were just a little kid,” the doctor said to me. He was my dermatologist when I was a young child. I remember his soft voice, but his face had aged quit a bit.
He asked me why I had brought my father in and what had happened. I shared with him the long story of his illnesses and struggle of the past three years with a stroke that started it all off, to the dementia and alzheimers. I told him how my mother and I had visited him just last week and we were concerned about his skin and then I stopped… choked by fear and guilt.
I started sobbing uncontrollably. The doctor grabbed me and held me. He said how sorry he was and how we were going to fix this. I told him how my mom was at the other end of the hospital getting an MRI at that very moment because she had a seizure from her chemo treatment from her lung cancer earlier that day. He stopped. He couldn’t handle it himself. He started to cry. Patient and doctor embraced in shock, in anger, in sadness for the circumstances of which life had taken my family.
After a few moments we collected ourselves. I shared with him the current list of medications my father was on (which was more like a book than a list) and the doctor was taken back. He was furious that my father was taking so many meds. He said that as soon as we leave he will call over to the nursing home and have them rework his medications. This had to be part of the problem of the skin rash along with the way my father was currently acting. That immediately made me feel better. Like there was a cause to what was going on and we had control to fix it. I felt relieved.
The transporter came into the room and took my father, and his dragging feet, by wheel chair back down to the transport pickup. I went with. As we made our way to the door the ambulance wasn’t there to transport my father so the gentleman said he would go check and see if it was at the front door. He asked if it was ok with me to leave my father here and have me stay with him and I said of course.
I grabbed my father’s hand again, knelt down next to him, picked his chin up and said in tears “I love you daddy. We’re going to fix this.”
With no words but eye contact and three squeezes of his hand onto mine… in the only way he could, he said, “I love you.”
I lost it! I balled like my father had just died. I screamed. I held onto him even tighter. One poor woman on her way in came up to me and asked if I was ok or if I needed help and I said I was fine. I just couldn’t. I couldn’t see my father like this. I could’t have my mom down the hospital at the other end getting an MRI. I couldn’t have my father die. I couldn’t have my mother die. I COULDN’T….
The ambulance showed up and the transporter was back to take my dad. I gave my father a final kiss on the cheek and one final whisper of “I love you” and he was on his way back to the nursing home. That was the last time I would see my father alive.
Still in tears I made my way to the other end of the hospital to get my mother. It was after 6:00 p.m. when she was done and we were back in the car. They were to call us the next day with results. As I drove my mom home and she asked about the appointment all I could say to her was, “I am so glad you didn’t see dad that way today.” It would have truly broken her heart and her soul to see my father like that, in his last moments of life.
We got home and were just getting done with dinner when my brother came through the garage. He was coming by to check in after some activity at school where he teaches. He sat in the living room with mom and chatted about her chemo adventure today while I went upstairs to change. Then the phone rang….
“Hello………..NOOOOO!!!!!!”, I heard my mom scream. I knew immediately without her telling me what had happened. I quickly ran down the stairs as she finished on the phone. She hung up, looked at my brother and I and told us that our father had passed away – February 3rd, 2012.
That day, those moments, each year I live over again. I see my parents as if we were there again. I hear my father breathing. I see the pain in my mother’s face as she has to identify her dead husband. I remember holding onto my brother and just sobbing as we had to get my mom out of my fathers room because she couldn’t handle it. I remember being numb…
February 3rd will always be a day to me that has a story. Not just this one, but many. For me the February 3rd of 2012 was a true test of strength and love. It was the first time I have ever felt extreme loss for someone I have forever loved.
I have always been a daddy’s girl and always will. My dad was a stay at home dad after retiring from being an auto-mechanic. He was the one who would take me to school and pick me up. He was my hang out buddy on the days I faked being sick and got out of school. He was the first one to show me how to draw, how to be creative. He was the first one to cheer me on as I stood on the block diving in for the 50 yard freestyle. His voice would echo through the pool as he cheered me on as I made a steal in water polo. He was my first supporter. He was my first cheerleader. He was the first man I ever loved. He was the first one to ever tell me to “Do Good”.
Just six months after my father’s passing I would have another day that would be a turning point in my life, my mother’s passing. But this day, February 3rd, was when the man who created my “Do Good Movement” left this earth and left me with the mission, the drive, and the passion to continue to “do good”.
<3 Forever and always, my daddy you’ll be <3 Thank you for inspiring The Do Good Movement.
***Excuse spelling and grammar mistakes. I’m a yoga instructor, not an English major***