My Dad Died in Front of Me

December 23, 2017. Christmas Eve Eve. A day, for most, of last minute shopping and cooking, many people spending time with their families. It was that kind of day for me as well. I was home for the first time in four years for Christmas, finally with my family again. It was a good day.

Until my dad died in front of me.

The Perfect Holiday

I love Christmas. Seriously. Ever since I was a little kid, Christmas has been my thing. I had, and still have, an Advent calendar that I used to countdown the days until Christmas morning. When December hits, the magic begins. I would spend every day at school before break just thinking about how awesome break would be. Two weeks off from school! How could it get any better?

Both sides of my family did Christmas big. It was an all-day event for me. Wake up at home and go see what Santa left under my Christmas tree (it was always my tree). Go nuts while tearing apart all of the toy packages. I am an only child, thank God, so everything under the tree was mine. Then we would be off to my mom’s side of the family, where I was, for a while, the only grand kid. Again, everything under the tree was mine. The final stop was to my dad’s side of the family.

Now, his family is huge. Tons of people. Tons of fun. I will always remember everyone stuffing themselves into the living room around the giant tree (my grandfather loved having a giant tree, which the marks on the ceiling prove).

In short, Christmas has always been amazing.

The Holiday Changed

The official documents say, “Sudden cardiac death.”

It wasn’t that sudden.

My mom and I needed to get one more present for my dad. I had just finished mowing the backyard (it was warm that day). We decided to run across the street to a store three minutes away from the house. We were there a total of five minutes, getting my dad a sign that says, “Let the Sea Set You Free.” My dad is a huge Jimmy Buffet fan, so this went perfectly with the new Buffet album we bought him.

We were home ten minutes after we left.

I noticed that the lawn mower was now around front of the house and part of the lawn had been mowed. Dad had gotten it out, intent on getting the front finished.

You see, in 2011 dad had a stroke. He couldn’t walk or talk right after, but has since made a mostly full recovery. Don’t tell him he can’t do something, because he will set off and do it.

All Watson’s are notoriously hard-headed that way.

My mom and I walked in the door and dad was sitting in his usual chair with his always present green cup filled with ice water beside him. He was taking a rest, but said he needed to get the side yard finished with the mower. Mom sat on the couch and I went into the kitchen to wash the dishes.

One minute after we walked in, I heard my mom and I knew something was wrong.

“Honey, honey, what’s wrong?” she asked, her voice not quite panicked, but heading that direction. I immediately went to the other room. Something was very wrong.

My dad was seizing up, his face red, veins in his head bulging. He couldn’t breath and it looked like he was trying to swallow his tongue.

It looked like a scene from a movie where someone gets poisoned. Remember Joffrey at his wedding? That’s what this looked like, but nobody was cheering.

At this point, something happened to me. I zoned out completely because I knew that emotion could play no part in what I was going to have to do. I had been an EMT for nine years, but had never worked on a family member. This was different.

Instinct took over.

Once I realized the danger of the situation, I ran to my phone and called 911. As soon as the operator picked up, the call dropped. I called right back and told them what was happening. This was all about 30 seconds after the incident began.

This whole time my mom was trying to get dad to tell her what was wrong, but he couldn’t. No words would come out, but you could see the panic in his eyes.

This is when my dad stopped. I can’t say he stopped breathing because he wasn’t doing that anyway. He just stopped. The life drained out of him.

He died.

I threw him out of his chair and onto the floor, handed the phone to my mom so she could talk to the dispatcher, and got ready for business.

If you’ve ever wondered if people really do turn blue when they stop breathing, stop wondering. They do, and it happens quickly.

I put my ear to his mouth and nose to listen for breathing and looked towards his chest for movement. Nothing.

I checked his neck for a pulse. Nothing.

Head tilt, chin lift, squeeze the nose. Just like they teach you. Two breaths. Chest rise? Check.

Begin compressions. Hands interlaced, find the right chest placement. Go.

Not to sound morbid, but they tell you that the best song to keep in your head when doing chest compressions is “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen. It is important to keep the right pace with chest compressions, and the beat to this song does it just right.

As soon I started compressions I felt and heard the cracking. Ribs, cartilage, and sternum. All parts of the body not used to this kind of trauma. To get the necessary depth to keep the blood flowing, it has to be done.

Thirty compressions. Two more breaths. Thirty compressions. Two more breaths.

He tried to breath on his own.

I check for a pulse. None. His breathing stopped.

Resume CPR.

Thirty compressions. Two breaths. I hear the ambulance coming. Thirty compressions. Two breaths. Thank God I live on the same street as the fire station.

He takes another breath on his own. Still no pulse. Only one breath.

Thirty compressions. Two breaths.

At some point my mom had gone out to flag down the ambulance. They came in and took over. I watched at they continued CRP. The AED was hooked up.

Shock. No pulse. Resume CPR.

I’m making phone calls to family members and letting them know what is going on. I’m looking for phone chargers because I know it will be a long day at the hospital…or somewhere else.

Shock. No pulse. Resume CPR.

Shock.

At this point I was sitting with my mom and we decided to pray. Mom lead the prayer while EMS worked.

Also at some point he began breathing on his own, a pulse came back. They loaded him on the ambulance and took off for the hospital.

We followed shortly after. The thirty-minute ride to the hospital was remarkably calm for my mom and me. We had no idea what we would find out when we got there. It was really 50/50 whether he was alive or dead.

We walked into the ER waiting room and were told that someone would be with us shortly.

We waited an hour.

A nurse came to get us and led us to a waiting room with a doctor.

Dad was alive.

He was alive.

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January 1, watching the Outback Bowl. GO GAMECOCKS!

A New Beginning

My dad has now had a quadruple bypass to correct a serious arterial blockage. The night before the surgery, I took the dog outside. I was walking around the backyard, thinking. Praying. I just happened to look up to marvel at how clear the sky was when a shooting star sailed by. Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up. I made my wish.

He is going to be fine. The first few nights at the hospital were rough. He was on a ventilator until late the first night, which he wanted to rip out. The next few days were horrible, as he had aspirated a few times and sucked some of his December 23 lunch into his lungs. This led to a horrible cough.

Have you ever coughed with a cracked sternum, broken ribs, and torn up cartilage? It looks like it hurts.

The bypass led to another few nights of agony, but he did everything they asked him to do. He got up when they said get up, and walked when they said walk.

If you asked him now, he would tell you he was certain he was dying for two days straight. But things got better. The bypass saved his life.

We should have many more years to come.

And we can’t wait until next Christmas.

The Importance of CPR

If you don’t know CPR, you need to learn. You never know when you will need to use it on a loved one. Please don’t think you know it if the only place you’ve seen it done is on a medical TV show. Most of the time on the show, the person comes back. The reality is much worse.

In 2016, there were more that 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the US, according to the American Heart Association. Of those, 46.1 percent received CPR. Of those 46.1 percent, only 12 percent survived to be discharged from the hospital. That means that only around 19,000 of those 350,000 survive.

Many times, when CPR is performed, it is performed incorrectly. It is recommended that bystanders just perform chest compressions now, as doing that correctly will significantly improve the chances of survival. Many people were hesitant to perform CPR because of an aversion to the mouth-to-mouth part. I was a trained health-care professional, not to mention this was my dad, so I didn’t think twice.

It could be your mother or father. Your brother or sister. Your child. You really never know.

We were in celebration mode, happier than we had been in years. This still happened.

Don’t be caught off guard. Learn how to save a life.

If we had been at the store a minute longer, or if traffic had held us up, my dad would have died. We would have walked in and he would have been gone. I can’t explain the timing, but I’m glad we were there. I’m glad my mom and I worked together as a team to ensure my dad’s survival.

I can’t yet get the images of the incident out of my head. Maybe they’ll fade over time, maybe they’ll follow me for the rest of my life.

I’m just glad he’s alive.

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Charles Watson, a survivor.

 

 

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Since I Started High School

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I’m starting a post about the state of the US when I started high school. I hope others will write their own. I’ve found it interesting to look back and see what was going on when I started high school. It’s amazing how much I didn’t know about the world then, so going back and looking at all the news highlights, knowing what I know now, is a journey. I didn’t actually intend on this being anything but a fun post, but reality set in as I started to write.

I started high school in the year 2000. Bill Clinton was president, but as we all know, it was an election year. THE election year. Bush versus Gore. The outcome would shape everything I’ve known since.

When I started high school:

  • Y2K turned out to be just a big party
  • The US had a $232 billion SURPLUS not a deficit
  • Gas was $1.26 per gallon
  • Unemployment was at 3.8% (an absurdly low rate)
  • The Yankees won the World Series, the Rams won the Superbowl
  • Survivor was the number one show (can’t believe that show is still around)
  • Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Eminem, blah, blah, blah

We should have known things were brewing. In 2000:

  • The Pyrenean Ibex went extinct
  • The Dot-Com bubble burst
  • Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia (I mean, damn, he’s still there)
  • I’m sure I was wearing ridiculous clothing held over from the 90’s

I started high school before the Supreme Court put George Bush in office, changing the next few decades of military and political roles and influence. It was before 9/11, an event that taught Americans that our isolation can be violated. It reopened the wounds of those who lived through Pearl Harbor and taught a new generation that the days of our invulnerability were gone. For a moment in time, though, it united the country as we tried to heal.

When I started high school, I thought the idea of war was cool (having not learned what war really was). The invasion of Iraq had my full support. I didn’t understand then, when I started high school, that my country was capable of mistakes.

We started the year 2000 with hope. Hope for our booming economy. Hope for global partnership. We were boosted up for a new millennium, so full of energy that anything seemed possible. If the year 2000 taught us anything, it’s that things can change.

Since the year I started high school, things have changed. The victor of the 2000 election was handed one of the worst situations our country has ever faced, and he handled it well…at first. He attacked those we thought were responsible, then abused our blank check to start a war with someone else.

In 2000, our economy was so good that we couldn’t know that a combination of 90’s mortgage policies and labor union exploitation would set off a major economic disaster. We couldn’t know that our hopes would be dashed by 2007, but renewed in 2008 when we thought racism was on its way to defeat. Our first black president would bring us together, or so we thought.

Since 2000, a hurricane in one of our oldest cities taught us that underlying racial tensions can lead to delayed assistance for those who need it the most. Since then, race has taken center stage. Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Walter Scott. Ferguson and Baltimore. In my home state, a sick and deranged young man murdered nine African Americans in Charleston. In a church. I wish he was alone in his thinking, but after what we all just saw in Charlottesville, Virginia, we know better.

Black Lives Matter was born because of much of this, though we should have never gotten to a place where we had to be reminded that anyone’s lives matter. How is it that we don’t know, don’t realize, that every single life should matter?

Just a thought, but most of that happened under a black president.

How could we know, in 2000, that a real estate businessman, a reality TV joke, would become president of our country. We should have known. We would have known, if we had been careful in monitoring just how much certain groups in this country were looking for an answer to the hate they had been building. We’d have seen those who were just waiting to hear their dreams spoken by a demagogue who could disguise their ideals inside the guise of patriotic nationalism. Too bad we never paid attention to 1930s German history.

Yes, we’ve had trouble since 2000.

And damn, here’s what’s happening now:

But we’re not going to give up. I didn’t know about these issues when I started high school, but now I do. I know how to write, so I’ll figure it out that way. I would never have come out back then, but now I have. We’ll make it through this okay. Just hold on tight, it’s going to be a wild ride.

A Southern Gay, Coming Out

Hello I Am Gay words on a nametag sticker to come out as a homos

I’m gay. Most people won’t ever have to say those words. Unfortunately, that means that most people can never understand the feelings and emotions that go behind having to say them. I’m writing this because it’s time for me to actually say who I am to everyone, regardless of what you may think. What anyone may think is frankly irrelevant to me at this point. I’m going to tell you a story and I’m going to get personal. Many of you have been with me for parts of this story, some have not.

The Realization That I Was Gay

I realized I was gay when I was twelve years old. That realization hit me one night as I was lying in bed. I remember thinking, “Oh no, I’m what they call gay.” All I knew at that point was that “gay” was bad. It had to be. When I was a kid, the only time I heard the word gay was when it was used to describe disgust with something. “That’s so gay,” is a phrase that was, and still is, commonly used. Now, keep in mind that it was 1998 and acceptance towards all things LGBTQ has come a long way since then. Also, I was born and raised in South Carolina. I love South Carolina. It is my home. But, most southern states aren’t exactly known for their acceptance on this subject.

So, a 12 year old who now knows he likes other boys. Was I particularly attracted to anyone? Not that I know of. How did I know I was gay? I just did. A very good, and very straight, friend of mine asked me that.

“How do you know?” he asked.

“It’s simple,” I replied. “How do you know you like women?”

“Touche,” was his reply.

At this point I need to say that this is absolutely not a choice I made for myself. It was made for me before I was born. I didn’t like girls then suddenly decide to like guys. That’s not how it works. I am simply attracted to guys. Think about it. Why would someone intentionally make a choice that would bring this much pressure on them for their entire lives? This is not something people choose.

So, I was in middle school and just beginning to develop friendships that were real. Most of the friends I made in the eighth grade are still my closest friends. To this day, I cling to them for my support. I even tried to date one of my friends when we were 13 or 14. She was my first attempt at a cover up.

As close as we all were, I still never told them I was gay. I didn’t tell anyone then. I was beginning to master the art of pushing that part of me down. As much as I would have liked to sing along to the Backstreet Boys and NSYNC, I didn’t dare. I just pretended that Britney Spears was the hottest thing on earth. Hit me baby one more time. The eighth grade was also when I realized I had certain qualities that were “good” that could outweigh this “bad” quality I had. I realized that I could be a leader and excel academically. Though I didn’t know I was doing it at the time, I began the steps to try and be perfect at everything I did so that when it was eventually found out that I was gay, it would be forgiven because of all the great things I had done.

Gay In High School

The high school transition went well. I joined JROTC, which turned out to be a haven for me. If there is ever a program in high school that can develop leadership potential, JROTC is it. I was awarded driller of the year one year and athlete of the year the next. I eventually rose to become the commander of the entire unit my senior year. My grades were good and I took college classes my senior year so I would have a head start. All of this, remember, in the name of striving for perfection. Another kind of cover up.

I had three girlfriends in high school. None of them mattered to me as they were all just cover ups. The last one was sophomore year and after her I decided I was through with that. It became too much pressure to do something with them that I wasn’t ever going to enjoy. It was also sophomore year that I came out to the first person.

I remember sitting in the hallway with her after school waiting for who knows what event. I’m not sure why I decided to tell her. I think I just needed to tell someone and we were quite close at that point. I told her I had something to tell her but it took me several minutes to work up the nerve. I couldn’t force the words out of my throat. They seemed to be stuck down in my stomach. Somehow, after a few agonizing moments, I managed to say it. She couldn’t have cared less. Let me tell you, it was a relief to finally tell someone. I finally had an outlet to explain all of the things I had been feeling. I could tell her about the crush I had (the first real crush I had). Just being able to talk to someone about being gay relieved some of the pressure that was really starting to build inside of me.

I’m not sure the order in which I told the next few people. I do know that I came out face to face with only females. Something happened during my senior year made me mad, but turned out to be a blessing. One of those female friends took it upon herself to tell some of our male friends. I went into an immediate panic until I called my male friends one by one and they all had the same response – “Who cares?” All of my friends knew me for who I was and that is all that mattered. They didn’t care that I was gay and I loved them for it.

By now you are probably asking yourself, “What about his family? Did he tell his parents?” No, I didn’t. While I can never fully explain why I didn’t tell them then, I will try to sum up what I’m sure goes through the minds of many gay boys and girls at this point.

  • What will they think?
  • How can I tell them they won’t have grandkids?
  • I don’t want to have to explain why I have these feelings because I just do.
  • What are my options if they don’t understand or think it’s not a choice?
  • Am I ready for this?

That last question is almost always going to be answered with a “no.” I really did intend to tell my parents. They are truly wonderful people. They are, and always have been, fantastic parents. They never gave me any reason to believe that they would be mad about this or not accept me. It is just something about taking that final step and telling them that terrified me to no end. So, I put it off. I made a deal with myself – I would tell them when I graduated high school. Unfortunately, I had to re-negotiate that deal. Graduation came around and I didn’t tell them. My new deal was that I would tell them when I got a boyfriend or when I graduated college.

Closeted Gay In College

So, enter college. I stayed close to home and even lived at home the first semester, though I moved into an apartment with some of my close friends shortly after college started. I enjoyed college, especially after I changed majors. I was in honor societies and went to many conferences. I loved my field of study. Unfortunately, I was never “out.” You would think that college would be the perfect place to find someone; to live a lifestyle where I could be myself. The problem was that I still hadn’t told my parents, the people that matter most to me. How could I be “out” at a local college without them finding out. Those were my thoughts anyway. Also, South Carolina. It’s not like I magically transported out of the South. So, I never had a boyfriend in college.

College graduation rolled around and I still didn’t tell my parents. At this point it became one of those long lies. You know, the ones that you know you’ve waited too long to tell the truth, so you figure it is just better to keep the lie going.

I graduated right when the market collapsed. Finding a job, at least one that I wanted, proved difficult. After lazing around playing video games for about a year, I went back to school for my master’s degree. I still didn’t tell them after I finished that. Mind you, I am 26 at this point in the story. Still not living as the person I truly was. The emotional toll of keeping all of this hidden from the wider world was bearing down on me in ways I didn’t fully understand at the time.

A New Life

Many of you know the details of what has happened in the five years since, so I won’t go in depth here. My parents do know now and are my greatest advocates. I feel whole. I’m 31 years old and finally starting the process of searching for someone I can be happy with. The prospect of dating both terrifies and excites me. Nobody in my life has rejected me because of this. In fact, it has made us all closer.

If you are reading this and are gay but haven’t come out, I can’t tell you what to do or how to live your life. What I can tell you is that if you make the choice to keep this inside, you will be doing damage to yourself that you won’t even realize until a tragedy happens. As human beings, we aren’t meant to be someone we’re not. We can’t pretend that deeply. The sadness becomes overwhelming. You will end up feeling alone even if you’re surrounded by a hundred people. If you can’t get to the point where you are able to come out to the masses, find one person you can tell. It will lighten the load a bit and give you an outlet. It’s a start. You do NOT have to be alone. You can find support in various places that I will link to in this blog. Search for help somewhere if you ever feel overwhelmed. If you ever feel like you need to hurt yourself, tell someone. If there is nobody in your life you can tell, try the Crisis Text Line or this hotline.

Thing have gotten better, though I’m worried the current administration will undo much of the hard work. If I choose to do so, I can get married. It’s not abnormal to see gay couple on TV. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is gone, though we’ll see for how long. My point is that all of this is getting better. Had I been a teenager right now I think I would have had a much easier time.

This will be the first of many posts describing the things that I went through and what I will go through as I move forward. Remember, this is a part of who I am. I will never deny it again as I move forward.  Subscribe and check back here for future posts on everything from writing to my take on political news. Thank you so much for reading!

Resources

PFLAG is a great resource for parents and friends of gays and lesbians. It has resources for LGBTQ people, family members seeking ways to help and cope, as well as sources for friends of LGBTQ.

Human Rights Campaign has a great page for helping people come out to their family, friends, and coworkers.

The LGBT National Help Center gives resources and support for LGBTQ no matter your age.

Need advice coming out? Try clicking here for videos and resources.

Of course, The Trevor Project reaches far and wide with its support and resources for the LGBTQ community.

By far one of the most inspirational people in the community right now it Troye Sivan. Check out his coming out video from a few years ago.