This is a story that I told briefly when I first started this website. I have never actually elaborated on it. I am going to do that today. This is the story of how I killed my father.
Dad had been pulled over many times for driving drunk. I know of at least three. His lawyer was always able to get him off on a technicality of one sort or the other (one I remember was that he was pulled over for failure to signal when turning out of the bar’s parking lot. It turns out that, at least in the state of Oregon, it is not required to use a signal when turning from private property onto a main road.) but, dad would never submit to a breath test. Failure to submit to the test automatically suspends your license for six months (dad had good reason to not submit to the test: he was drunk. He knew the lawyer could get him off on a technicality, but if he actually had a blood alcohol test on the papers that would have been a lot more difficult). I am not defending his actions, that is just what he did.
His license had been suspended for about a year by the time he died. In Oregon (all states?) if you are pulled over with a suspended or revoked license the officer will immediately cover the tags on your license plate with black and white striped stickers. The only way to get the car legal again is to either get your license back or sell the car. Neither of which my dad ever did. What he did was put the cars into my name so that they would be street legal again (when he died 4 of his 5 cars were in my name). This might be a long aside, I will tell you in a moment, once my train gets back on track.
The car wreck that eventually led to his death was on December 21, 1990. The reason he got into the car accident was that he was going to go out drinking for the night, therefore he took an insulin shot without eating anything. There was a foot of snow on the roads. He had to drive slower than normal, he never made it to the bar. He went into insulin shock on the way and rolled the van over on the highway. He was clinically dead when they found him. The ambulance that responded noted that he seemed to have alcohol on his breath, but it was really just an odor that smells like alcohol on the breath at those times when his blood sugar was really low (I just tried to google an explanation for it but can’t seem to find one. Hell, maybe it isn’t true at all. I just know that when I had seen him with low blood sugar -dangerously low- his breath did smell like he had been drinking. Yet, once a candy bar was inserted, the odor went away).
He was revived by the paramedics and admitted to the hospital shortly thereafter, where they did actually do a blood test which was negative for alcohol, and they found, from that same test, that it was just horribly low sugar. Should have all been well and good. They covered him in casts (the more I think about it I think it may have been both arms and one leg, but I know he had something on his chest as well; it could have been one of those ones that holds the arm out at an angle.), and were going to leave him in the hospital overnight for observation. Unfortunately, he had gotten a DUI not a week before that and was released on his own recognizance until the trial. The cop that had arrived at the scene of the accident happened to be one of the cops that had previously pulled him over for DUI, and insisted that he be released from the hospital to stay in jail until his trial. The doctor released him to the custody of the cop. Dad went to jail.
The people who were in charge of booking inmates, however, were not about to let him stay in their jail. With adult eyes it is pretty easy to see their logic (not the cop that demanded his release from the hospital though), which probably ran thusly, “If he dies in here we are going to get sued!” The next part I really don’t understand. Dad didn’t go back to the hospital, flat-out refused to. He had a girlfriend pick him up at the jail and spent the night at her house. (here I must note that it was not a rare occasion when he would go out drinking and not come home until the next day. He was always a smooth talker). When I got home from work at about 1 A.M. I wasn’t alarmed by his absence (also to note that the cut off for drinking was 2:30 A.M. in Oregon, so I wasn’t expecting to see him until the next day anyway).
Early the next morning the phone rang, this was also not uncommon. Sometimes dad would leave his car at the bar and ride home with his woman du joir, then call the next morning to get me to give him a ride back to his car. This was far too early in the day for that though. And it wasn’t my father on the other end of the line, it was one of his girlfriends. This was the first time I learned that he had been in a wreck at all. The first time that I heard that he had some broken bones. He wanted me to pick him up and bring him home. I had no idea of the shape he was in (though you do, thanks to horrible story telling) until I arrived to pick him up.
It was hard to imagine that this was the same man. His iron fist, my way or the highway attitude, and stern, knowing look were all gone. This was a man, in a bunch of casts, that had to be helped to the car by a forty year old woman and a sixteen year old kid. He was in a bad way, in hindsight. He was also the man without whom I would not be here typing this, wouldn’t be doing much really, likely wouldn’t have ever been created. When it comes right down to it there is a fine line between being a child and being the glue that makes those old playboy centerfolds impossible to open. He made me the former, and lots of magazines the latter (there are ways that I know).
Simply getting dad into the car was a bit of a challenge. He had a full leg cast (as I write this the condition is really coming back) which is really not the easiest thing to try to fit comfortably into a 1976 Ford Courier. He had to sit sideways, damn near at the gear shift, with his cast pointing towards the passenger side. With every bump that we hit on the drive home, which was only about 35 miles but took well over an hour due to the snow, he moaned in such pain that I hurt for him. Several times I suggested that we get him back to the hospital, he would have none of it. Once I got him home, then had to break into his bedroom (the key was left at his girlfriend’s house), and onto his bed, he seemed to relax a bit. He just continually told me that he was fine.
Dad had a phone mounted to his swanky waterbed, so did I (which it took me a year of begging to get). So he actually called a few people during the days that he lay there dying. I didn’t actually pick up my phone and listen in on any of the conversations, but I did overhear a pretty telling remark one time when I went to check on him. Though I don’t remember the exact quote, I do remember the end of the quote with crystal clarity: “I don’t remember any pain until they woke me up.” When I heard that I was afraid that maybe he really didn’t want to live. I was now really worried.
I begged him to let me take him to the hospital, he flatly refused. I went to bed that day (December 22, 1990) crying. There was nothing that I could do.
The phone rang early on the morning of the 23rd, which I believe was a Saturday. It was my Grandmother (of all people), telling me that Dad had just called her to get her to call the house, so I would answer the phone (wake up) and go tend to his needs. Which I dutifully did. Again I begged him to let me take him to the hospital, or call an ambulance, hell anything. I needed to do something other than dump his shit out of a can and bring him peaches. He was not in very good shape. He would hear none of it. He said he was fine. (In my heart I knew that he wasn’t).
I resolved to actually sleep on the floor in the room with him from then on. I wanted to be right there when he needed something. I wanted to help him get better. For the life of me I can’t decide, even in my own mind, whether he wanted to get better or not. Yet, I do know that he never got any better. I kept asking, insisting, that he go back to the hospital. He told me, sternly not to call anyone. He was fine. Yet, as I watched him slowly die, I knew that there was something that I would, could, should do. Unfortunately, by the time I did it it was far too late.
On the morning of December 24, 1990, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I knew that he was dying, and that no one other than me could do anything to stop it. When I woke up, it was to him asking me if I could get him a bowl of peaches. I got him a bowl of peaches, blissfully unaware that he had not been taking his insulin shots. Then I ran upstairs to call the ambulance. I was too scared to go back into his room before the ambulance got there, he had told me, in no uncertain terms, not to call an ambulance.
When the paramedics arrived, some thirty minutes later, I motioned for them to go to the kitchen door. I didn’t want to tip dad off that I had called them. When I opened the door and explained the situation, mostly that they should expect him to be pretty ticked off that they were here at all, one of the medics said, “where is he. We just want to do a couple of tests”. I led them to the door to his room, then said, “sorry dad, I had to call them.” And the medics went in.
The rest was just a flurry of action. I could see medics talking into boxes, saying things like “no breathing. No pulse. Starting CPR (CPR being something that I had actually learned that year at school. Might have been helpful had I used it on him somewhere near the time he actually died, eh?)”. It went on, “Not responding to visual stimuli, blackened residue emitted with chest compression.” It was at roughly that point that I thought to scream “He’s Diabetic!” (might as well have screamed “he’s Mormon” for all the help that was). I really, really wish that this story had a happy ending. Unfortunately it doesn’t.
I had sat there for two entire days watching my father die. I didn’t call the ambulance because he told me not to. Once I decided to defy his order it was too late. Had I used my newly discovered CPR skills I might have kept him alive until help came, but I was too scared of how mad he would be that I called the ambulance and was too afraid to even check in on him before the medics were there. Turns out I should have checked in on him.
The coroner’s report (there was an autopsy since the death was not supervised, whatever the hell that means) said that the cause of death was ketoacidosis. It is also known as diabetic coma. His blood sugar was damn near double the level that they consider fatal. Yes, he died. At my hand, no less.
I am pretty sure that dad knew that not taking his insulin shots, then eating really sugary foods, was not a good thing. I figured that the reason he asked for a can of peaches shortly before he died was because he hadn’t been eating anything and needed to level his blood sugar out, since the insulin shots lower it so much. Had I known that he hadn’t been taking the insulin shots I would probably have reacted a lot differently. Who knows.
I kept taking the canned fruit to dad because I thought he had been taking his insulin. Had I known that he wasn’t taking his insulin I would never have done that. Hindsight, I guess. It may be 20/20 but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. For all intents and purposes, I killed my dad.
It would be wonderful to blame the police, or the doctors, or, hell, anyone but me. The fact is that it was me, and only me, that could have saved his life. I didn’t. I watched him die. It was all me. I could have driven him to the hospital when I first picked him up, I could have called the ambulance at any time the two days he was at home. Instead I waited until he was already dead (I didn’t know he was already dead). I guess I am not much of a son in that respect.
After the medics had been working on him for about a minute I knew that there was no use. The medics continued to work on him as I went to the phone in the dining room and started calling people. The first person that I called was my friend David, I was hoping he could come over to keep me company during the ordeal. It was his father that answered the phone. I asked for Dave and his dad told me that Dave was still asleep. Then, (odd that this is one of the things that I will never forget) I said, “Sam, my dad is dead. Can you wake Dave up?” A moment of silence, then, “Call 911!” came from the other end. Once I assured him that the ambulances were already there working on dad, Sam finally did wake up Dave. Though I really don’t remember him being there for a while. Truth be told I don’t remember a lot of what happened for the next four hours.
I continued calling people. The next call went to Dad’s Mother. The only thing that I can remember about that phone call is that the first thing she said after I told her that dad was dead was, “Don’t let them take the furniture!” I don’t know who she thought ‘them’ was, nor why that would be the first thing that sprung into her mind, but that was what she said. I made calls to every relative I could find a number for, who in turn called every other relative, and soon the word was out.
I might try to convey myself as being calm and collected, it was a hell of a situation to be the only person involved in at my age, but the truth is I probably wasn’t. When the coroner backed his suburban down the snowy hill to the front door I jumped up, ran to the door, and screamed “Don’t take the furniture!” I thought I was making a joke based on what my Grandmother said, but no one around seemed to see any humor in it at all. Those around being only medics, the coroner, and some police, who were currently questioning me.
I don’t remember a word of what I said to the police. I don’t even remember a single question they asked. I was just sitting there, tears in my eyes, yet not willing to cry, shaking uncontrollably, wishing it would all be over soon. Then, and it seemed quite suddenly, everyone was gone. It was just me and Dave. How long Dave had been there is something I just don’t know. Oddly, once I realized he was there, I realized that I really wanted to be alone. Not away from Dave, mind you, just alone with my thoughts for a bit. Before he left, Dave opened up the garage door, pointed at dad’s corvette, and said something like “It really is yours now.” Which was true, it had been in my name for quite a while…
I was sixteen. My father had just died. I had a corvette at my disposal. There were exactly two things that I really needed to do (well three). First, I really wanted to go see my girlfriend, she had such a soft shoulder and I really needed it at the time. She was only fifteen at the time and, it turns out, the shoulder was indeed soft, but so was the mind (I don’t know if she was able to grip the fact that he was dead at all), there was no way that she could have known what I was going through, she did the best she could though. For that I must thank her.
The second thing that I had to do was not because I wanted to. The police didn’t want me, the minor child, to be staying unattended at home (how attended I had been over the previous couple of days didn’t figure into that logic), so I told them that I would go to my Aunt’s house (the one who is my dad’s twin). I actually did go to her house. Not because I was planning on staying there at all though, no no, this was all a part of my mission to get to the last thing that I really needed to do.
The third thing that I needed to do was get that corvette out and see what it could do. Which was a pretty stupid thing to be doing on extremely icy roads, but I was sixteen and for some reason (even beyond age) just didn’t give a fuck. I had to drive from my house to Myrtle Point (where the aunt lived), it was about 50 miles I would guess, over one of the most winding roads I have ever seen. There were a couple of straight stretches on that road though, which is how I can tell you, from first hand experience, that the ’70s era corvette is completely capable of going fast enough that the needle passes max on the speedometer (which went to 160mph). Though at that speed the scenery looks like you are going into warp speed on the Enterprise.
I stayed up there only for a few minutes, it seems. The aunt thought that I should go ahead and live with her while completing school. I thought I would rather have died on the way. I think I really did hit warp speed on the way out of Myrtle Point. That night I slept at a friend’s house, I think it was in Roseburg, but it could have been near where I lived. Hell I might have even spent it at my house, I really don’t know. Then, then it all started to get really crazy…