Stayin’ Alive: How Disco Saved Daddy


I kept the compressions going, more out of desperation and disbelief than hope.

I was relieved when my wife, who’d called 911, was also able to find our neighbor, who is a doctor. He came over and started mouth-to-mouth. He’d do two breaths, then count me off on the compressions.

The medics soon arrived. The defibrillator made a high-pitch squeal as it charged. One medic called for everyone to “Clear!” Dad didn’t respond.

At the hospital, Dad coded four more times. Between the third and fourth time, they thought they had a sustainable heartbeat and brought me into the room. He wasn’t conscious. I whispered into his ear over and over, “I love you. We’re praying for you.” Three nurses monitored his pulse, one at his neck, one at his left wrist, and the other at his feet. The one at his neck said, “We’re losing it; we’re losing it,” and I was whisked out of the room.

Eventually he was stabilized, but he had to be put into a coma and intubated. A cardiologist brought me and my wife back to see him. I read the names of the medicines in the bags suspended above his bed: epinephrine, norepinephrine, vasopressin, amiodarone, propofol, fentanyl, a dozen more. The tube in his mouth jittered to the rhythms of each breath the machine took for him.

We weren’t sure for days if Dad would live or if he’d ever be himself again. He stayed in intensive care for a full week and then a room on the cardiac wing of the hospital for another week. A month later, a cardiac surgeon installed a pacemaker-defibrillator.

Doctors used words like “miracle” for the fact that Dad lived, especially since he ended up being cognitively intact. No doubt, his life was saved by modern medicine; by the quick action of doctors, nurses, and medics; by my neighbor; and even, in some small way, by that genre of pop music he deplores, the music that inspired Bob Ross haircuts, platform shoes and polyester pants.

I’m not sure what hell looks like, or heaven for that matter, but I’m glad that wasn’t the day Dad found out. With all the faith of a loving son, I’m sure when that day comes for him, hopefully some time far in the future, Dad will wake up in the splendors of heaven and not in some burning disco inferno.

Donovan McAbee is a poet and essayist who is working on a spiritual memoir.



First Published at www.nytimes.com on 2020-07-10 14:30:09

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