Even Our Heroes Have Visits to the Doctor

By: Leah Ryan
September 9, 2017
Mesabi Daily News

He is fine. I feel like I need to start out by saying: Dad is alive and kicking.

This past week, dad and I had some father-daughter bonding time at the Minneapolis VA hospital. My father is a veteran and we are lucky enough that his medical needs are handled through the VA.

Lt. Col. Ryan started out his career stationed in Germany during the Vietnam War. Recently, he finished serving in the Army after he returned from Iraq. During this last deployment he earned the Bronze Star Medal for distinguishing himself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service.

Every little girl views her father as a hero. My dad always rode the white horse in my dreams. I am the lucky daughter who can point to something physical and say, “See! My dad is a real hero.”

While he was distinguishing himself by being awesome in the desert, he got hurt. Previous issues were exasperated. New issues were created.

Never once has he complained or blamed the military or our country for his pain. He is a proud hero and is more than willing to go back — answer any future calls.

The military was always a choice for him. It is a choice he is proud of making — a choice I am proud he made. That doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated.

My dad hurts. He is always tired. Luckily, we have the VA to turn to.

His most recent diagnosis lead us to prepare for surgery. His primary VA hospital in Fargo referred him to Minneapolis. I took time off work and we began our road trip earlier this week.

There really is no stress comparable to the stress of being in a hospital with a loved one. For some reason it always seems the worst when I am with dad.

Dad is stoic. He tries not to show emotion, but I know his secret signs. He has a great poker-face but I know his tells like only a once-angsty teenage daughter can.

I over-packed; he under-packed.

In the first of many waiting rooms I had my tote bag overflowing with novels, coloring books, craft supplies, note pads and pens. Dad had his envelope of VA letters and a Harbor Freight tools catalogue. All day neither of us could focus on anything besides the TV and our distraction supplies sat there — unused and heavy.

When blood was drawn and vitals taken our day of hurry-up-and-wait was underway. The nurse came out and ushered us into a large exam room. Out came my note pad.

“She is a reporter,” dad told the nurse. In these words he meant don’t mess with her — she will ask questions and write down everything.

Names, times, explanations soon filled pages of my legal pad. Stoically, dad sat on the papered exam table.

In a gown and drawstring pants he laid down in his new room. The well-bleached blanket crunched, the waterproof pillow crackled and the TV sound blasted through the remote. He crossed his legs and rhythmically circled his hospital supplied-socked feet.

Habitually, with his feet rubbing together, he fluffed out his beard.

Laying there waiting to be taken to his next appointment, he watched the news. The projected path of Hurricane Irma was repeated as talking heads dissected government response and reported plans of residents. With the back of his gown open and sticky patch left forgotten on his side, dad tried to focus not on his health, but on the safety of United States citizens.

I was glad when Willis, the ultrasound tech, wheeled him off. The two quickly started a jovial conversation and dad might have really been able to let his guard down as they rode the elevator.

I laid down on his bed. I turned the volume down and closed my eyes.

“Ryan?” I heard from the doorway. “Yes, that’s me!” I said quickly sitting up on the bed. Obviously, wrong Ryan. “I’ll come back later,” said the nurse who quickly forgot to come back, ever.

Back from the next test, we watched the History Channel. Not even short poems or letters of Emily Dickinson could hold my attention.

Hours passed; we were seemingly forgotten in this sterile environment. Dad’s empty belly gurgled protest — he had been told not to eat or drink.

Finally, the heavily accented doctor arrived just at shift change. Out came my note pad and pen — questions flying faster and faster as the doctor dodged answers. It is preliminary but he disagreed with Fargo’s diagnosis. We were sent home with more questions and no answers.

We walked to the Fisher House — the Ronald McDonald type housing we were staying at.

I fell face-first onto my bed. I asked my dad how he felt, “Same, same.” He was still too tense to communicate.

We were both exhausted. I felt frustrated, confused, a little let down — I was still holding my breath.

There we were in this beautiful $1 million house. Our two-bed bedroom had a TV, VCR/DVD player, bathroom — everything we needed. The living room had a library of books and movies. The kitchen was fully stocked. The other residents were sympathetic. The employees were gentle.

This was the exact environment we needed to come home to after the appointments we had.

It wasn’t until we were back on my porch in Eveleth that dad was able to say he was relieved they didn’t have to do heart surgery. After each phone call he made to a loved one, I followed up — correcting his muddled information. With a smile we took a cheers picture and sent it to concerned relatives who had been texting throughout our whole adventure.

Now, Friday afternoon, I have only been home 24 hours. I respond to emails, “I just got back from vacation...” but vacation isn’t the right word. I didn’t relax or have fun. Yes, I had quality time with my dad but we both would have rather put up a fence together.

When I get home from work, I will hug my dad. He is my hero. I am glad he is in one piece, sitting on my Lay-Z Boy. He will say, “Hoorah” and we will head to the Virginia football game.

I love my dad. I am proud of his service and grateful for the VA. I am thankful to the Fisher House Foundation for creating a comfortable place for us to retreat. Throughout this trip at least there were a few things we didn’t have to stress about — where we’re sleeping and what we we’re eating.