Witness Post: A Father’s Day Story
It seems true that there are mysteries in our hearts and battles in our heads. It also seems true that there are “mysteries in our heads” and battles in our hearts. The revelation came to me when I was awkwardly standing by and helplessly watching a couple in the hospital parking lot last week. It was just before Father’s Day, 2013 and a young father was holding his wife and sobbing. He was crying his eyes out for his oldest daughter: a blood vessel in her head had ruptured and she was in a coma, tubes everywhere, including one draining precious blood from her brain. It was a parent’s worst nightmare.
The scene was surreal, as Ramon & Nabora Anguiano hugged, wept and shook uncontrollably. After about 15 minutes, they were standing arm in arm, red-eyed and emotional. The two were employees of the Gearhart Ocean Inn on the North Oregon Coast. At that moment they were drifting side-to-side in the parking lot of Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU), walking in the general direction of their van. While they wept, my wife, Tracy, comforted them with a warm embrace. What do you say in situations like this?
Suddenly, Tracy spotted a crumpled paperclip on the ground. So begins the story.
Ramon is the son of a Mexican truck driver and a homemaker. He was the third eldest son in a large family with 10 boys and 1 girl. He was born in Jalisco, Mexico, which is a three hour drive south of the regional capital of Guadalajara. His father was out of town a lot, while the children were growing up, and the father created a separate life for himself, even picking up some mistresses in other parts of Mexico. Ramon’s father also developed a taste for whiskey.
At a young age Ramon was happiest when he was out of the house using his hands. He was good with numbers and tools, and he loved to fix things, starting with bikes. He fixed up one road bike and started to ride. After some time on the the back roads, Ramon started to ride competitively. By the time he was a teenager, he joined the local road bike team, which raced in Tour de France type races across northern Mexico.
Ramon told a story that went back to his late-teens: his father was in Jalisco and on a “bender.” After one-too-many nights of seeing his dad threaten his mother with violence, Ramon hit his father over the head with an empty whiskey bottle. Ramon hurried his family — brothers, sister and mother — to another family’s home in town for their safety and protection. “I did not want to see my father approaching my mom with a knife ever again.” Ramon’s two older brothers had already moved out of the house by then, emigrating to Los Angeles and Oregon. For a few years it was up to Ramon to be the man of the house. When he hit twenty, though, he furthered his plans to follow his brothers to the States to seek his fortune.
I first met Ramon Anguiano about four years ago (2008) when he became the Head of Maintenance at the Gearhart Ocean Inn in Gearhart, Oregon. He has been in the States for about twelve years, arriving in 2000 with his young wife, Nabora, and their infant daughter, Daniela. Ramon can do anything: plumbing, welding, electrical, construction, gardening, roofing, windows, flooring, masonry, painting, you name it. He is a godsend, as the Inn is in constant need of maintenance and repair. The North Oregon Coast has tricky weather patterns and it is tough on property. My wife had become dependent on Ramon’s mechanical and practical fixing skills. She was singing his praises. Ramon could do things that I had no concept how to do and we are very grateful for his dedication to our Inns.
Since Ramon was full-time on the payroll, Tracy could also avoid the hassle and expense of seeking competitive bids from union contractors for every small repair request. Ramon is the type of valued employee that every employer covets.
Nabora Anguiano had worked as a child-care provider and babysitter for another family on the Coast for $2/day. Soon after meeting her Tracy counseled Nabora that she was getting “used” by the family who had hired her. Nabora eventually came on board with Ramon and works for Tracy as a laundress and housekeeper. She has been able to give up a second job that she held at Kentucky Fried Chicken to help pay the rent and to relieve Ramon from the constant “money pressures.” Nabora is another key person to our Inns. They are a dynamic duo.
Besides Daniela (14), the Anguiano’s have three other daughters, all born in the States: Adamare (10), Evelyn (6), and Stephanie (2). Stephanie was a surprise to the Anguiano’s who were thinking that three was the right number. God had other plans, and yes, it was a God thing.
I commiserate with Ramon. I am the father of three adult daughters and raising girls can be tricky. Being a spouse is hard enough; being a parent of girls is heroic. Things can go wrong and they often do. Simultaneously things can go right, and for those times we dad’s feel very blessed.
In college I read the play Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen. The professor focused on multi-generational family issues and the curse of genetics. One Ibsen moral I recall is: the sins of the father are passed to the children. I thought about that concept a lot, and over time came to reject it. I felt that despite or because of one’s upbringing a man can change and be the kind of father he wants to be. No one is chained to the behaviors and habits of the same sex parent. In Ramon’s case, he also knows that statement is true. By conviction he is nothing like his father.
Ramon’s daughters adore him and he is devoted to them. He would “break the mold” in the Anguiano family. It is heart warming to watch the Anguaino girls tag along behind Ramon, while he works, and they help in some small but meaningful ways. He teaches his girls what he is doing and why. He does not belittle them. Instead he helps them see progress. It also allows Ramon to leverage his time, making sure that he can do as much as physically possible in a day. Ramon has the tight muscles of a professional bike rider and the warm heart of master craftsman, whose work of art is his children.
Sure there are stereotypes about lazy Mexicans, but the truth is that the Anguiano’s are among the hardest working families I have ever known. They are loyal, trustworthy, prompt, thorough, and totally shatter the sombrero wearing image of putting things off til mañana. They get today’s work done today, while planning for tomorrow.
The Anguiano’s oldest daughter, Daniela, has lived the majority of her life within 90 miles of Seaside, Oregon. Her world was filled with babysitting her sisters, helping her dad, and studying for school. In early May, 2013, when her high school English teacher was taking the freshman class on a field trip to Ashland (250 miles south of Seaside) to see the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Daniela was nervous about the trip and decided not to sign up to go.
The Oregon Shakespeare Festival
“I don’t like Shakespeare … and I don’t want to go with the class to see the play,” she told Tracy. After some gentle and persistent coaxing, Tracy urged Daniela to reconsider. Eventually Tracy used the bargaining chip of Patti Lewis and Tracy accompanying the Seaside High School class to Ashland. Patti is the Business Manager for the Inns, and she is always game for an adventure. “It will be such fun to see live performances of Romeo and Juliet and Animal Crackers,” they exclaimed. Eventually Daniela decided she would go to Ashland.
Tracy will never forget sitting in the Angus Bowmer Theatre, looking over her shoulder, and spotting Daniela in the crowd with her wide-eyed smile. She was hanging on the actors’ words as they took command of the stage. She was sitting on the edge of her seat, literally, wrapped in attention. Juliet was uninspiring, which is unfortunate, but the other actors were outstanding. The OSF back-stage tour, live plays, and overnight stays were all firsts for Daniela. She later told Tracy and Patti that she was grateful to be there and thanked them for the encouragement.
Cannon Beach, Oregon
On Wednesday night before Father’s Day Ramon finished his work at the Gearhart Ocean Inn and invited Nabora and the girls to accompany him to the beach. It was a glorious night, just before sunset, and Nabora said she had had a long day. Daniela grabbed her mother’s hand and pulled her toward the door, saying, “Mommy, come on, let’s go. It will be fun.” So, despite her fatigue, Nabora agreed to go and they went to the beach as a family. Ramon took photos of his girls dancing, running, and jumping on Cannon Beach in front of Haystack Rock.
The jumping and laughing gave his girls those full-dimple grins. Even Nabora admitted it was the perfect ending to a beautiful day. Daniela held her stomach at dusk saying dinner, dessert and dancing made her tummy ache. Ramon has pictures of his four female treasures on his i-Phone.
Life Can Change in a Flash!
The next morning, Thursday, Daniela awoke with a headache. “You should stay home today,” urged Nabora. “No, Mommy, I can’t miss school. I will be OK.” At 9:30 am, however, Daniela called her family on her cell phone from school. She said in an uncharacteristically frightened voice, “Mommy, Dad has to come and get me!” Ramon, who had been in the shower, quickly dressed and drove to Seaside High School. By the time he arrived, Daniela was vomiting and fading from consciousness. The school secretary instructed Ramon to wait for an ambulance to take her to the hospital; instead he picked her up and quickly carried her to his van. In minutes Ramon had whisked Daniela a distance that might have taken an available ambulance many times longer.
Apparently, as a six year old, Daniela had experienced a seizure from a hemorrhage of tangled blood vessels in her head. Her medical history, kept at the school office, gave instructions to the administrators as to how to handle any future problems. Daniela had been held for observation at Doernbecker Children’s Clinic at OHSU for two weeks. That episode, 8 years ago, pointed to a serious precondition and health matter.
When Tracy and Patti Lewis heard about the bleeding from blood vessels in her head, they were not sure if it were a seizure, an aneurism, or something else. The doctors in the emergency room at Providence Hospital in Seaside had performed an MRI, and told Ramon that his daughter needed to be rushed to OHSU in Portland immediately. But that trip was a long 90 minute drive if there were no traffic. The hospital protocol in life-threatening situations is to send patients via helicopter.
Daniela was immediately life-flighted to OHSU in Portland for their emergency care. By the time the Anguiano’s arrived at the OHSU Emergency Room, Daniela was already in a coma with a tubular shunt draining blood from a shaved portion of her scalp. Her gorgeous black curls had been shorn in a 4” x 1” swath on the right side of her head, and she had about 10 large sutures in her scalp. Daniela’s little arms were braced with constraints, and there was a breathing tube is down her throat. After some frantic translations as to “what was going on” by the doctors, nurses and their Spanish translating helpers, the Anguiano’s were told they could not stay in the ICU, as there were limits to visitation. “We will have to see,” they said … “If she does not wake up in four days, she may die!” They heard the translation: muerte, Muerte.
When Patti Lewis heard the references to “muerte,” she knew that her mother, Virginia Beckel, could help. Virginia had grown up in Los Angeles, and due to an outbreak of tuberculosis and family quarantine, was raised mostly by her Spanish-speaking grandmother. Patti called her mom and handed the phone to Ramon. Virginia tried to quell the storm of confusion and shock that he and his wife were feeling.
Getting the full health story on anyone can be tricky. In the OHSU intensive care unit only two visitors are allowed at any one time, and non-family members receive no health information. Since Daniela had an acute condition, she was sent to the adult ICU, not Doernbecker. At 14 she is on the cusp: the doctor’s had decided that she needed the extra precautions of the adult center. No one is supposed to spend the night with a patient in the adult ICU, if for no other reason than that there are some terribly infectious germs to which people can be exposed.
After some discussion of Daniela’s young age, the doctor’s permitted one family to spend the night in the room. The others would have to see if there were room at the Ronald McDonald house nearby. Ramon and Nabora did not fathom the logistics message, as the immensity of the news of Daniela’s condition was just sinking in. Her sisters were shuttled into the room to pay their respects. The parents were numbly walking arm in arm to the parking lot, when Tracy spotted them.
Then Tracy noticed the mangled paperclip in the parking lot. Oh, yeah, the paperclip.
The paperclip story deserves its own essay, but to make a long story short: every time Tracy holds something deep in her heart and is semi-conscious of God’s presence and is seeking reassurances as to the next step, she spots a paperclip. How God can send messages by means of a thrice bent piece of wire is anyone’s guess. But God can do anything, right? So He can certainly place little sign posts along the way. This particular paperclip was hardly recognizable, because it must have been run over and twisted excessively. Tracy felt the message was one of caution. Daniela would be OK, but her recovery would not have a straight forward. We prayed an extra set of prayers right then, that the outcome would be God’s will: a hard prayer to make at any time.
What we deciphered from the doctor’s reports, and from Patti’s sleuthing of the situation, was that Daniela had not had an aneurism, but an arterio-venous malfunction or AVM for short. We looked up the condition on the internet and found the following quotation: “AVM’s, are deficiencies of the cardiovascular system. In a normal functioning human body, arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to the rest of the body, and veins return oxygen-depleted blood to the lungs and heart. An AVM interferes with this cyclical process. Instead of the gradual transition through the capillaries from arteries to veins that is typical of normal functioning vasculature, AVM’s cause direct associations of the arteries and veins. AVMs can cause intense pain and lead to serious medical problems.”
Put another way, an AVM is an abnormal connection of veins and arteries somewhere along the central nervous system. Sometimes it occurs in the brain, other times in the back or in vital organs. The malfunction can rupture and must be cauterized and removed to help the patient to recuperate. The condition can be life threatening and it can be long-lasting, depending on the connection. There are many syndromes associated with AVM’s. But the removal of cranial AVM’s, like Daniela’s, has been a part of medical best practices for over 75 years.
The mangled paperclip had given us our first clue: the recovery would take a while. There would be some progress and some setbacks. Steps forward and back. The doctors will be waiting for a certain amount of fluid to flow from her hemorrhage before they have surgery or place a shunt. We had to be patient and let the healing process take its course.
We accompanied the Anguiano’s to the Marquam Café at OHSU and encouraged them to eat something. Nabora had not eaten anything all day and she was having hot flashes, nausea, and sad moments. She could not hold down the Advil we offered, so her head was throbbing. It was even worse in the elevators, which are ubiquitous and confusing at the hospital. Parking on the 9th floor, the ICU was on the 7th floor and the café was on the 3rd floor. All of the elevator rides brought Nabora to her knees.
Dick and Virginia Beckel arrived from Sandy, Oregon. They gave up their weekly dance lessons and Virginia immediately started translating what she had heard from Ramon and Nabora to the rest of us. We learned more details of the previous hemorrhage that Daniela had suffered as a child, and we slowly began to understand some of the health challenges of that last episode.
The Ronald McDonald House was filled to capacity, so Patti offered for the Anguiano family to stay with her family in SE Portland. Now called “Camp Lewis,” the house has a pool, a hot tub, chickens, puppies, cats, games, and ample beds and entertainment. Throw a blow-up mattress on the floor, cover with sheets and a blanket, and call it home for a few weeks. Patti took Nabora to the local Safeway to get supplies and extra food for meals. The Lewis hospitality created the perfect home away from home for the struggling Anguiano family.
Ramon decided he wanted to be the designated parent to stay the night in the hospital room with Daniela. The flashing lights and beeping sounds of the machinery were distraction enough, but with nerves frayed, Ramon tried to rest on the squeaky bark-o-lounger. Somewhere close to midnight, Daniela opened her eyes. She could not speak, because of the breathing apparatus in her air passage, so she motioned for Ramon to hand her a pen and a piece of paper. She wrote on it, “When do I leave?” Then, “Can I go to school? I hate missing school because then I get a lot of homework.” “I am itchy on my neck and face.”
From the verbal questioning by the nurse the next day, there were still some serious memory lapses in Daniela’s brain, but she was upbeat and positive. We would have to mentally prepare for the physical therapy and the extra OHSU visits ahead. Daniela’s face, once the electrodes had been removed from her head, was the perfect Father’s Day gift. The itching calmed down and she was able to smile with those huge dimples appearing again.
The final chapter of this Father’s Day story has yet to be written, but it will no doubt be full of girls and trauma and charity and love and paperclips. Our Father is in charge, after all. We need to put our worry at the foot of the Lord and know that He will take care of us. That is our hope; that is our faith.