For most of my childhood, my Dad was just a stubborn, cantankerous, honorable, indesctructible hulk. Built large by 30 years of handling massive, cast iron machinery, George F. Kovats was always larger than most men, the kind you don’t aggrivate in a bar (unless you were an officer, packing a gun, or both). In my early adulthood, he started showing his mortality. It was bound to happen – he was born 1934, I was born 44 years later.
Dad was born a serious man, and by 50 most of his youthful personality traits were shadowed by the tough exterior of career machinist. There wasn’t a lot of running around the park with our Dad; if he didn’t lack the energy, he lacked the disposition. Though he’s had plenty of moments of “kibitzing” around the house, he generally wasn’t playful. We’ve always known him better as the disciplinarian – or as I addressed him during my military life, “The First Sergeant.”
When we left high school and the folks moved to Pittsburgh, Dad slowed down to enjoy his well earned retirement. His salt and pepper mustache gave way to silver, and his glasssed became a more permanent fixture. In my adults years, he’s become less mobile, and more accustomed to spending the day typically seated at our ktichen table or in his “operations center” – a room he built down stairs in the town home basement where his computer, TV and CB radio are all within reach.
After I’d moved to Georgia in 2004, I’d lost track of my usual picture of Dad in his setting. So it was a visual stir to see him wheeled in a chair to the arrivals lobby of Atlanta airport during their late 2008 visit. He was pushed to our location in a courtesy wheelchair by a friendly airport attendant. He’d given me a heads up prior to the trip about his declining ability to walk distances, but the visual at the time was striking.
Two years later, a similar airport welcome and my father was even more chair bound, this time requiring escort all the way to terminal’s exit. Things weren’t looking good. He was 75.
This year, it became clear to his heart specialist something needed to be done. It was roughly 8 years prior that his first visit to Dr. Rocco revealed poor blood circulation and subsequent treatment that likely extended his life by most likely a decade. This time, his heart was clearly the culprit. After a battery of tests to make certain operation was necessary, all signs indicated a valve (or valves) in his heart was almost completely non-functional.
Tests performed, a date was set. He’d get a pig’s heart valve (or valves) 3 days after his 76th birthday.
My family has always leaned both pragmatically and optimistically. My Mom knew that were this 30 years prior, this could easily be my Dad’s last hospital visit, and that in today’s environment valve transplants were almost as common as hair follicle transplants. Her and I collectively focused on the 85% good of the matter, while the 15% fret ate her up inside. My brother also fairs more concerned in these types of family risks, so for him it was probably 30% fretting.
Around 5am, May 17th, we all Kovats’ met at hospital and welcomed my Dad to his cot. We hugged good bye, and he was off.
And we waited…
On the other side of the day, after a full afternoon of barely keeping up with my Mom’s brisk conversation pace (where I get my chattiness from), we get the heads up that a doctor will speak with us shortly. It’d been 8 hours since his entry to OR, and we were definitely getting both tired and antsy. Another nurse called us into a “discussion room” without any ominous air. Dr. Park was next. He walked in, and started with a cursory “He’s alright.”
The rest felt like the rundown you get at Jiffy Lube: smooth, dry and curt. This wasn’t a disappointment by any means; I’d been more concerned if he had lots to say and struggled through the details, troubled with emotion. “He’s got a lot of calcification. We had to do five bypasses and replaced the aortic valve, but the others were good.” It was so matter of fact, Mom and I searched for remaining concerns but felt like he’d allayed them all. We went home and waited for the next chance to check in on Dad.
The Next Morning
We got to the hospital a few hours before my flight back to Atlanta. We finagled our way in before visiting hours, and there he was. He wasn’t a visual shock; just a man in a hospital bed with a lot of tubes in him and gauze on his chest. Well, and a healthy dose of morphine, of course. He greeted us with a measured version of his usual boisterous “hello,” and it was a welcome sight.
Dad’s good, and it’s amazing how commonplace tinkering with his ailing heart has become. After the operation, a lot of folks shared their own stories about elder family members who got new heart parts. In fact, back at the hospital, I saw a lot of old people; they showed patient birthdays on the waiting board, and most the folks were Baby Boomers.
So, the take away, my dad needed a tune up and got it. And at 76, the same age as my grandmother, his mom, when she lost her life in the hospital after a broken hip, Dad’s getting a new lease on life. And even if it’s not another 20 years, at least when the soreness dies down, he’ll be the full-on, abrasive, overbearing Pollack we love and remember.