I thought that my days of being taken care of were behind me. After all, I’m in my mid-20s and in medical school; I’m supposed to be learning how to take care of others. But then, during a soccer game, another guy’s foot collided with the back of my lower leg with so much force that my fibula and tibia snapped in two and were left protruding from my skin, with my foot hanging sad and lonely, missing its bony connections to the rest of my body.
Able surgeons were able to drill the marrow out of my lower leg and replace it with titanium rods that reconnected my bones — a four-hour procedure that left me in the same level-one trauma center in which I’m the one typically working with the patients.
My father is a physician who is well-respected by his colleagues for his integrity and mentorship, and by his patients for his dependability and thoughtfulness. But now his job was to take care of me. He flew across the country to be at my side while I screamed in anguish in the hospital. The surgery fixed the break, but it also left me miserable, nearly completely immobile, and oh, yeah, made my bladder temporarily nonfunctional so that I was discharged with a catheter and stylish bag in which my urine collected strapped around my one remaining good leg. Young men, do not — I repeat — do not find yourself in need of a catheter. Let’s just say, the physiological state in which we may wake up is not compatible with having a stationary straw in there.
My dad emptied my pee bag when it filled, moved me from bed to couch to bathroom when I couldn’t move myself, helped me bathe when I started to smell, and cooked and cleaned more than he has at home in a long, long time. He slept on my cheap Ikea couch for two weeks without a word of complaint, and when my wails of agony in the night woke him, he was at my side to let me know that I wasn’t alone.
He kept thorough track of my many meds, and even though it was hard for him to watch me in pain, he made sure that I didn’t become too dependent on narcotics. When I expressed my guilt over his missing so much work and being away from my mom and their cocker spaniel, he said that this was his job and that he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
When he wasn’t doing my chores, we were sitting on the couch together laughing at “Seinfeld” or yelling at cable news and just doing the things that remind me of how alike we are. A close friend of mine lost his father unexpectedly the same week that this all happened. I feel guilty that I have my father to support me through this while my friend is mourning his own, and I am simultaneously reminded of just how lucky I am that he is here.
My dad has always been my role model personally and professionally, but I’ve never been as proud to be his son as I am now with him napping on my couch next to me because he’s exhausted from a sleepless night spent helping me through my pain. And I know that his father who passed away a couple of years ago would be proud, too. My leg will heal. He’ll fly home across the country, and I’ll be independent again. But part of me will always need him, not to take care of me, just to be there for me like he was these last two weeks.
Happy Father’s Day to all the dads who are there for their kids when they’re needed. We appreciate you. We love you.