I haven’t written anything here in a long time, and part of that is because I was busy planning for and teaching the Readers’ Advisory course at St. Kate’s, but the biggest reason is that my dad unexpectedly died in the middle of the summer. I haven’t wanted to write anything here until I wrote about what happened, and it’s been hard to bring myself to do that.
When I say my dad unexpectedly died, it’s really true. It was a complete shock to us. He didn’t have a deadly disease. He wasn’t sick. He wasn’t battling anything other than high blood pressure and aches and pains having to do with arthritis and his knees. It’s still hard to talk about what happened because we’re still so unsure about what caused his death.
This is kind of a long story, but enough people have wondered what happened, and it’s hard to tell the story without crying, so here goes.
On Friday, June 27, I went to my parent’s place because my mom and I were going to go to a play on Saturday evening at Theatre L’Homme Dieu. My sister Tammy and her husband Dean were also visiting that weekend and that night we had a great time playing cards. One of my favorite things to do with my family is play cards, especially Up and Down the River, and we played multiple games of that on Friday, staying up until 11:30.
My dad seemed perfectly fine that night, joking with us as he always did, even though he didn’t win at cards, which was rare. Going to bed that evening nothing was off, nothing was suspect. We all went to bed like normal, expecting nothing out of the ordinary.
At about 3:30 a.m., I was woken up by my dad screaming. I hopped out of bed and went into his room where he was sitting on the side of the bed, asking who was in the house. I tried calming him down telling him that it was just me and that no one was there. I even went into the dining room area and turned on the light to show him that no one was there. My mom said that he often had night terrors and that this was probably one of them, but then I noticed his pillow was completely wet, that he had woken up sweating, and it sounded like he was having trouble breathing. I asked him some questions and he seemed a little bit delirious, so I went to get Tammy and Dean. Dean used to be a first responder, so I wanted to grab them before calling 911 to see if they knew what might be wrong.
Not long after they came upstairs we called 911 because he was having trouble standing and breathing. They did take his blood pressure and it was fine, but there was enough wrong with him that we called 911.
When you live in the country, the ambulance is not the first to arrive. The people who arrive first are volunteer first responders who also live in the country or in the nearby small towns, so cars and pick up trucks started pulling into the driveway within 10 minutes. And my dad, like he always did, was joking with the people he knew saying things like, “Oh, no, they sent you to help me?!”
The first responders gave my dad oxygen, and after that he seemed so much better. So much so that by the time the ambulance arrived we all said we were wondering whether we should call it off, but we didn’t say anything and dad just said, “I guess I’m going for a ride,” as he hopped on the ambulance bed. He told us he’d see us at the hospital, but we didn’t realize those were the last words we’d hear him speak.
We didn’t go in the ambulance with him, but instead we took two cars – my mom was with me in mine, and Tammy and Dean were in theirs. Tammy and Dean beat us to the hospital, and when my mom and I were walking into the emergency room a “Code Blue” was broadcast over the speakers. When we got to the waiting room with Tammy and Dean we started talking about how we’d be waiting a long time because they were going to take care of the “Code Blue” patient before they got to my dad. There were three ambulances that arrived at the same time, so we assumed it had to be someone else who was having the “Code Blue.” My dad was joking with the first responders and seemed perfectly fine when he got into the ambulance, so it couldn’t be him.
It was him.
About 45 minutes after we arrived a doctor came into the waiting room telling us, “Well, we almost lost him.” The shock on our faces is something I’ll never forget. I think one of us said, “Wait, you’re talking to LeRoy Suchy’s family,” because we were certain he wasn’t talking to the right people. He had to have been accidentally giving us bad news when it was clearly meant for someone else. My dad was fine.
The doctor told us that my dad arrived at the hospital with a face as purple as the shirt I was wearing. He wasn’t breathing. They were able to help him and he was stable, but my dad was really strong and when he was coming to he was fighting them so they had to sedate and paralyze him. The doctor told us my dad’s blood pressure was good, the oxygen levels in his system were good, and he didn’t have a pulmonary embolism. He said he wasn’t sure exactly what caused it, but that they were moving my dad up to ICU and he’d probably be in the hospital for a few days.
So we were given bad news, but it ended on somewhat of a good note hearing that he’d be in the hospital for a few days. I was still nervous, but comforted thinking that there was an ending to this. That in three days we’d be taking care of him at his house.
We were told that he’d be moved into ICU in a half hour, and about a half hour later we heard another “Code Blue.” Panic set in, but my sister asked the woman sitting at the desk in the ER if the “Code Blue” was for my dad. She eased our panic because she said that LeRoy Suchy had been moved up to ICU so it couldn’t be him.
We made our way up to ICU and when we got there they wouldn’t let us in. That should’ve been a sign, but we didn’t recognize it as one at the time. They told us that they just didn’t have LeRoy ready yet so we should sit in the waiting room and they’ll come get us soon. We made our way to the waiting room and Tammy and Dean decided they should go get us some food. They got on the elevator to make their way to a gas station to get coffee, juice, and donuts, and almost as soon as the elevator door closed a doctor came into the waiting room.
As the doctor was talking, I texted Tammy to come back instantly because the news was bad. The doctor told us that my dad wasn’t going to survive in the Alexandria hospital. He wasn’t sure what was causing his body to stop breathing, but my dad had another “Code Blue” and there wasn’t much more they could do for him. He said it may be heart-related, and we could airlift him to the St. Cloud hospital for more help, but he most likely wouldn’t survive the helicopter ride. We were given the option between bad and bad.
We asked the doctor what he would do, and he said he’d get him on the helicopter, so we did. My dad had another “Code Blue” before they got him on the helicopter, and to even get him on the helicopter they had to have a machine attached to him that pumped his chest up and down. I wish I hadn’t seen that machine, because seeing it I really had no hope at that point. We all said that when we saw the machine attached to him to help him breathe, we wanted to stop them, to tell them not to take him to St. Cloud, that we would just be around him at the hospital when he passed. But it all happened so fast. We really didn’t know what to do at that point. With the doctor saying he’d get him on the helicopter, and a woman telling us that he was good as she was pushing him towards the helicopter, we remained silent and watched it happen.
I don’t have regrets about getting him on the helicopter, though. If there was a slight chance we could’ve helped him, we were going to take it, even if we didn’t have much hope left. I would’ve lived with a lot of regret if we didn’t try, so I don’t have to live with that regret. Not trying would’ve haunted me my whole life.
He did die on the helicopter. He didn’t survive the flight, but at least we got him on the helicopter. My dad liked helicopter rides, so he got a send off flying high in the skies.
When we got to the St. Cloud hospital, the doctor told us they still didn’t know what was causing him from not being able to breathe, but that it did start in his lungs. There was something in his lungs that was causing him from having trouble breathing, and with trouble breathing, he couldn’t get enough oxygen to the rest of his body and his other organs started shutting down. The doctor said the only way we’d know what caused this was if we had an autopsy, and my mom started laughing. She said, “Ha! He’d hate it if I had you poke around in there, so no, we don’t want an autopsy.” We all started laughing because he would’ve hated that, but it is hard not knowing what happened.
The doctor said it may have even been pneumonia, and when we said he wasn’t coughing or having any other symptoms, he said pneumonia can actually be a silent killer. People associate coughing and other symptoms with pneumonia, but one does not have to have those symptoms, which is why it’s so key that older people get pneumonia shots. My dad did have his pneumonia shots, but they’re just like flu shots – you can still get pneumonia.
But it may not have been pneumonia. The doctor wasn’t quite sure, so we aren’t either, and it really doesn’t matter. Something took my dad from me on June 28, 2014, and I really miss him.
As I type this I’m watching Andy Griffith episodes. I grew up watching Andy Griffith episodes with my dad, and to this day Barney Fife is still my favorite television character of all time. I have watched Andy Griffith episodes my whole life and I always think about my dad when I do. I would even call my dad to tell him when a good episode was on, like the pickle one, or the one where Opie throws a tantrum, or the one with the lady convicts, or the one my dad loved where Rafe Hollister (actor Jake Prince) sings. My dad really liked all the episodes where there was singing, whether it was from Andy, Rafe Hollister, the Darlings (bluegrass band The Dillards), or even when Barney attempted to sing, like that great choir episode. I would always call him when I saw one of those episodes was on so he wouldn’t miss it. I sure do miss calling him.
I’ll miss many things about my dad. I’ll miss playing cards, where he almost always won. I’ll miss poking and prodding him every year about what he was getting mom for Christmas, because he said they didn’t need anything, though as stubborn as he was, he’d always come around and ask me to get something. I’ll miss his sense of humor about any and everything. He always looked for a joke in any situation, which leaves us with a lot of memories where we laugh.
Though we often still cry through the laughter. I know that will change. I know there will be a time when I can tell this story and wonderful stories about his life where all I’ll do is smile and reminisce, but that time isn’t here yet. I’m not sure when that time will come, but for now, I’m okay that I’m crying as I write this and that I can’t get through certain Andy Griffith episodes without tears running down my face.
Just know that I loved my dad very much and I miss him. It aches how much I miss him. I wish you could’ve all known him because you most certainly would’ve loved him, too.