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Guardian

The 3rd period bell of February 13 that signified the end of class had rung. As I walked into my 4th hour Chinese class, I trembled to see Mr. Fauver, our Middle School principal, standing in the doorway. He motioned his finger towards me, and I obeyed. Out in the hallway, I began to notice his change in voice. He spoke softer than usual as if he were trying to console me: I didn’t have any idea what was happening. Beginning to resort to my compulsions, I knew I was going to be in some sort of bad situation. Biting my nails, clenching my toes, I followed him down the—what was normally—small staircase that lead to his office. As we approached the last step, I immediately noticed another anomaly; my mother had come to school to pick me up three and a half hours early. She inched towards me, and I noticed the salty residue in the corner of her eye. I demanded to know what was going on, but she just stood in the middle of the deserted hallway between the media center and the bookstore. My pulse rose. My mother is not the kind to stand in the middle of a hallway without saying anything.

As time went on and on, I knew that she wouldn’t be able to hold the news back any longer. She softly began to open her mouth and say, “Your dad needs heart surgery.” My body cooled dramatically as I heard the words that forever changed my life; I didn’t want my dad to die.

A few months earlier, my dad had gone to a dentist appointment for a routine tooth cleaning. The exam went smoothly, and my dad came home later that evening to start his regimen of antibiotics that would prevent any possibility of an infection that could result from the cleaning. My dad stopped the antibiotic after one day. A few days went by until my dad began to acquire a cold, something to which he, as a physician, was highly accustomed. He took the necessary step of being prescribed a low-power antibiotic named Azithromycin, which would naturally kill any low-grade infection such as a cold. The week ended, and my dad began to feel slightly better; the Azithromycin course had “helped.”

November passed without any concern, but December was a much different story. My dad began to once again develop an infection in his sinuses, which would once again point straight to a common cold. He was prescribed the same low-power antibiotic to hopefully treat the low grade infection that he had. The five day course of Azithromycin had passed without a good result: my dad was still sick. Though it was odd for the medication not to work for someone who had seen great results from it in the past, this was not greatly concerning. A new antibiotic was prescribed called Amoxicillin, a form of penicillin that had also proven to be very effective with my dad. He took this antibiotic for one week until he lost all of his symptoms.

Weeks went by with my dad spending nearly every night under a blanket in front of our family room fireplace. He claimed that the winter was causing his new urge to stay under a blanket; he was not intending to scare my mom and me. Without telling either of us, my dad would go into his clinic every day and would have a different lab test done on him so that he could figure out what was going on with his body. He knew something was wrong, but not one test pointed to a direct cause until February 13.

I continued to stare at my mom as she told me the details of the scariest moment of my entire life. Tears in public, normally a fear of mine, were not an issue at this point: I loved my dad, and I wouldn’t let anything bad happen to him if I had any input.

On February 13, my dad called together all of his partners at his doctor's office into the conference room. He explained his difficult situation to all of them, and he wanted to know if there were any tests that no one had yet thought for him to take. At that moment, the woman whom I credit with saving my father’s life spoke up: “Why don’t we run a blood culture test?” A blood culture test is not a standard procedure for any grade of infection; it is normally used to identify an anomaly in a person’s blood stream. When the test results came back, the doctors all in unison had their hearts fall to the ground. My father was a ticking time bomb.

My dad didn’t take an ambulance down to the Abbott Northwestern Outpatient Care Center on the intersection of highways 169 and 494, but he knew that he could be in a lot of trouble. Inside the building, he met with a good friend of his, Dr. Hession, who would be the attending physician during his short time at the Outpatient Center. Dr. Hession, a cardiologist, was responsible for administering an electrocardiographic test: this test would tell one if his or her heart was beating normally and if it was under any stress. The test was completed around the time that I was transitioning from 2nd period to 3rd period. The results of the test brought tears to the eyes of my father and my mother as they both knew what would have to happen in the recent future, and they didn’t know how they were going to be able to break the news to me without causing one of the biggest breakdowns I would ever experience.

I began to pack my things from my yellow locker that was in the same area as the conversation that had just taken place; students from both ends of the hallway were puzzled by why my mom had come so early and why I had been crying. I, being mute at the time due to the horrifying news I had received, was unable to respond to any of their questions, so my mom jumped in to reply: “Everything’s okay, but he’s [me] going to come home for the day.”

As we left the building, I for the first time had realized that this could be the last time that I would ever see my father alive: I had to begin thinking about words I was going to say to him if the dreaded final breaths came. I hopped up into our Infiniti QX56 only to see that my dad was sitting behind me. There was no evidence of tears, sweat, or uneasiness about him; this was odd.

The car ride began with pure silence; my mother, father, and I were unable to open our mouths at this point of pure fright. After a while, I started a discussion topic: “Dad, what’s going on with you? Why are we going to the hospital now? I thought you were okay.” The words stuttered themselves out of my mouth as if they were on a dysfunctional assembly line. Minutes ticked and ticked with no movement from my father’s lips: it was at this moment I knew that we weren’t dealing with a minor infection.

Abbott Northwestern Hospital has a long history with our family. My father was born there on April 6, 1945, my mother had a major back surgery done in the early 2000s, my father has been a member of its clinical staff for decades, and he also returned in February 2008 to attempt to defeat the closest encounter he has ever had with death.

As we entered the hospital on 28th Street and Chicago, my father, mother, and I continued our silence. We walked past the general waiting area over to Admission. The lady at Admission was wearing scrubs and had her brown hair tied into a bun. She entered a myriad of numbers into the blue screened computer that meant absolutely nothing to anyone except for hospital staff members. When she said that her job was complete, we waited in the admittance waiting room for what seemed to be a decade.

When a new lady, who claimed to be the nurse that would take our family to our temporary home for ten days, walked in the waiting room, the three of us stood up and followed all of her instructions to get to my father’s room in Abbott Northwestern’s world renowned Heart Hospital. My father was greeted by the lead nurse, and he began to follow the procedures of turning into a hospital inhabitant, aka a patient. My mother and I were later joined by the woman who basically saved my father’s life, Dr. Mumtaz Kazim. She was accompanied by her husband, also a doctor, Hossein Aliabadi. I can’t ever thank the two of them enough for the amount of care and compassion that they showed to my family throughout the entire situation: The actions they facilitated were instrumental in the process of assisting my dad in his recovery.

Later in the day, my mother and I had the privilege to meet the most amazing man I have ever met to this point in my life: Dr. Vibhu Kshettry. Dr. Kshettry stood approximately six feet tall, was in relatively good physical shape, and was the most excellent communicator I have ever experienced in a doctor. Born and raised in India, Dr. Kshettry strived to achieve his ultimate goal of becoming a cardiovascular surgeon in the United States. He decided to attend Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas; he completed his training under the instruction of the world’s most gifted cardiologist, Dr. Michael DeBakey. Dr. DeBakey was the first man to effectively create and use the world famous heart-lung machine, which keeps people alive when surgeons pull out their patient’s hearts.

Dr. Kshettry instructed my mother and I to enter my father’s hospital room with him: it was time for the pre-surgical bedside conversation between doctor and patient. He introduced himself to my dad as “Vib.” Vib continued to describe the surgical process and what it would entail. My father remained quite calm throughout the entire conversation even when Dr. Kshettry explained that there was approximately a 5% chance that the surgery would result in the death of my father. This number brought ice into my head, and it worked all the way down to the tip of my toes. There was a one-in-twenty chance that my father would not live past his surgery; even though these odds were definitely in my family’s favor, there was absolutely no peace within any of our minds.

Now is the time to explain that my father was having an aortic valve replacement due to what was discovered in surgery to be infective endocarditis. Infective endocarditis is one of the most deadly infections listed in medical diagnostic codes. The infection has an extremely high mortality rate of 40%. My father was diagnosed with this infection during the actual surgery: no one had any idea what was affecting my father’s health so negatively until that day.

The evening dawned upon all of us at the hospital. My father, mother, brother, and I were all sitting in the Heart Hospital room in dead silence. My dad ordered dinner, and I began to once again feel tears streak down my face. I needed to go home: I needed to reflect, and I needed the comforts and safeties of my home. My brother and I exited the hospital in the same place as we entered, and we retreated to his car.

As I arrived home, I immediately felt the desire to retreat to my basement, the location of distracting video games. Not much of a video game fan in most cases, I mainly play in order to divert my negative attention towards another location. I pulled out Tiger Woods PGA TOUR ’08 and began to separate myself from the world: this process continued until I got a call from my mom, who was still at the hospital with my dad.

In the call, I will never forget the tranquility and serenity of my mom’s voice; she sounded as if there was nothing bad happening in our lives at all. She spoke with the same soft tone that has comforted me many times throughout my life. She dealt with my crying, my anxiety, and my worry. Though it may seem concerning that she spoke in this manner, this was absolutely essential to my wandering and hyperactive brain. I slept perfectly.

Interestingly enough, the Northern Trust Open, a professional golf tournament in Pacific Palisades, California, was happening during my father’s stay in the hospital; my dad and I both are diehard Phil Mickelson fans, so he and I were glued to the television screen at all times when we were together. Thursday was a tough day not only in Phil Mickelson’s perspective, but also my family was about to deal with one of its biggest crises to date.

It is said that Valentine’s Day is the day of love, romance, and companionship: my family was about to endure an extremely difficult test of companionship and togetherness on February 14, 2008. I woke at 7:30 in the morning, the same time I would wake for school, but this day would not involve my Breck education. I considered myself to be relatively independent when it comes to making choices for what I would wear for the day; however, I asked for my mom’s advice on this Valentine’s Day. She felt that it would be appropriate to wear the colors of pink and grey, so I put on my grey chino golf pants and a pink Polo shirt with wide white horizontal stripes. That is the last time I had ever asked for fashion advice from her.

At 8:00 in the morning, my mom, dog, and I piled into her SUV for a 21 minute drive to the Abbott Northwestern Hospital. On the way, my mom and I were listening to our favorite talk show host, Laura Ingraham, a tradition that lasted throughout the time she had driven me to school. Laura had naturally been talking about Valentine’s Day and had shared her personal favorite Valentine’s Day horror story. After she opined, she invited her listeners to call her radio phone number: 855-405-2872. My mom and I engaged in a moment of staring at each other knowing full well that we had a Valentine’s Day horror story that was happening on that very day. I immediately grabbed my mom’s cell phone and dialed the ten digits. A friendly gentleman picked up the phone on the other end asking us about why we wanted to call in to Laura’s program. My mom went on to explain, “My husband is going into a major open heart surgery in an hour, and I think that’s a pretty good Valentine’s Day horror story.” The man on the other end was silenced. After a lengthy amount of time, he replied: “I am putting you directly to Laura on the first line.” Unfortunately, the line was cut off by a bridge that my mom and I traveled under during our trip to the hospital, so she and I were unable to talk to Laura. All that counted, however, was the fact that other people were feeling the effects of extreme despair and sympathy: we weren’t the only ones.

21 minutes had passed when my mom and I pulled into the Abbott Northwestern parking ramp. Construction had recently begun on the ramp causing a major delay in parking time. Knowing that it would be a long day in Abbott, we drove all the way to the rooftop floor, which took us what seemed to be an eternity. Walking through the tunnel of stairs that led to the heart hospital, my mom and I noticed a major surprise: My Aunt Vicki from Alaska was waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs. She had given us no warning that she would be coming from her hometown of Wasilla to support us in a time of desperation. I burst into a combination of tears and excitement; there was no way that any of my family could’ve expected her to sacrifice time in her life to come and be with us. I jumped into her arms, and she greeted me with a classic: “Hey, Birthday Bud.” My aunt and I have the same birthday, May 9, which makes us “Birthday Buds.” The three of us were joined by my brother, Tucker, five minutes later in the line at Abbott’s Caribou Coffee. After finishing our coffee, we went up to my father’s new hospital room, which had been upgraded to the level’s largest single suite by the Allina CEO, Ken Paulus. At first, we couldn’t find my dad because he wasn’t in his old room, but after checking with the nurses’ station, we found out about the sudden upgrade.

As we entered the room, my family noticed that my mother’s parents were already there waiting for us. They had also been surprised to see that their first daughter, Vicki, had made the trip down from Alaska to support us. My father was already nervous since he would be entering the operation room at 12:00. Naturally, he was asking for his doctor, Dr. Kshettry, so that he could achieve some sort of peace before the major operation. Personally, I was so scared that I couldn’t speak.

I watched as the pre-operation crew came in to take their arsenal of tests; all of these people were the best in their fields of expertise, a quality that Abbott Northwestern Hospital is proud of exposing to the public. After the various tests were completed, we were told by Kate, my father’s lead nurse, that we would have approximately an hour before he would have to be transferred into the operation waiting room. My dad and I spent most of our time together talking about my golf schedule for the year, something that would have to be formulated after the surgery. We were of similar minds: We didn’t want to admit that extreme changes could be coming for the rest of my dad’s life. Our time was expiring as the seconds ticked and ticked.

Before Dad’s transfer occurred, Dr. Kshettry came to personally talk to my mother and me; he talked about how the procedure would work, how he would perform it, and how much time the operation would take. His communication style was perfectly suited for his job: He spoke with a voice that was soft in tone but serious in nature. There was no rush or sign of nervousness, but rather he showed signs of relaxation and tranquility. He was effectively keeping not only his patient calm, but also he kept our family calm. As I begin to ponder whether to pursue law school or medical school, I remember the quality of man that Dr. Kshettry is and how amazing he was to my entire family throughout my dad’s stay. If I end up in the medical field, Dr. Kshettry will undoubtedly be the reason.

My dad was transferred down to the operation wing of the Heart Hospital at 11:45. Before the anesthesiologists came in to put my dad asleep, he made me promise one thing: I was to be there the second he came out to give him a thumbs up. I told him that there wouldn’t be a single thing in the world that would stop me from being there.

My dad was officially under the effects of anesthesia at 11:57. At that moment, the waiting game began.

I had returned home minutes after my dad went under anesthesia; I was not fully aware that I would be home for the next five and a half hours waiting for my father’s operation to conclude. I was watching the second round of four in the Northern Trust Open. Mickelson was improving upon his first round score of 71, which is even with the course par of 71. On the second hole, Mickelson hit his 2nd shot to five feet, and he made his birdie putt to get to two under for the round. His round concluded at approximately 4:00; he had shot a seven under par 64 and had taken the lead in the tournament. A good sign.

Meanwhile, my father was connected to a DeBakey heart-lung machine in uptown Minneapolis experiencing an operation that could cost him his life. Being a Mickelson fan himself, I knew that he would be ecstatic with Phil’s performance in Los Angeles, and I couldn’t wait to be the one to tell him all about it. No more tears. Just excitement.

I got the call at 5:00. My mom had begun to explain to me that the surgery had been completed and that the surgeons would be pulling my dad out of the operation room for observation in a half hour. I immediately beckoned to my brother letting him know that we should be on our way to the hospital. Before going to the garage I looked outside to our deck and noticed something new. An owl was perched in a pine tree staring directly into our kitchen. My brother and I entered the his car at 5:05 and made our way back down to Abbott Northwestern.
After getting to the hospital, I ran up the stairs to my dad’s floor because I was too impatient to wait for an elevator. I saw my dad in the Intensive Care Unit, and I gave him the thumbs-up that I promised. I then saw my mom who had a grin wider than the Brooklyn Bridge: The surgery had been successful.

I immediately burst into tears of extreme joy; my dad was going to recover from a life threatening infection that if it hadn’t been discovered would have killed him within weeks. The beacon of my life had lived merely through luck and will-power.

Sunday: The final day of the Northern Trust Open and my dad’s final day in the hospital had begun. Phil Mickelson had been in the lead of the Northern Trust Open all day until on the seventeenth hole Steve Stricker of Madison, Wisconsin drained a thirty-five foot birdie putt to tie Mickelson for the lead. He went on to par the eighteenth hole, putting the pressure on Mickelson to either birdie the eighteenth or go to a sudden-death playoff. My dad and I were observing through the lens of a twenty-five inch television screen in his hospital suite. Mickelson was never doubted in my family; he, on that day, represented us and our victory against a life-threatening disease. It came as no surprise that Mickelson in fact did birdie the eighteenth hole to win. A win for us. A win for the family.

On Monday, February 17, 2008, my father returned home with my mom, aunt, and me. He sat down in one of three newly purchased theatre style chairs commenting, “It’s great to be home.” I made a comment about the owl that I had seen on Friday, and to my complete surprise, the owl was sitting in the tree again. He stared as if he was God Himself into our living room. The owl stayed for ten days and has never come back to this day. As a Christian, I believe in the concept of Guardian Angels, and because of this owl, I have proof that the Lord at least in some form or capacity exists. During the ten days that my dad was recovering and the owl was there, I felt a sense of safety, security, and faith that have not been matched at any other point in my life. God was with me, and I felt it.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). My belief in God dramatically strengthened because of my dad’s survival and the presence of the owl. The Lord promises to protect His children even if they are not responsive. God gave me the greatest chance to believe when He saved my father from the end of his Earthly life. To this day, I attend church regularly, I read my Bible, and I pray to the Heavenly Father above. He showed me the light that I had been missing: God is indirect sometimes, but He is always intending the best for us.

My family now has an owl figurine In every room of our house representing the time that God had sent a Guardian Angel to watch over us during a time of recovery. When we told Dr. Kshettry the story, he himself sent an owl to us; although not his original intention, it gives us a reminder each and every day of the flawless operation he performed on my father.

Recently, I have thought about the people who have been the most influential in my life. By far the most influential two people I have are my mother and my father. I a truly thankful that I do not have to live without either of them and especially thankful that God, acting as Dr. Kshettry, saved my father’s life. Each and every day is a blessing, and I intend to glorify God for it.




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