Monthly Archives: January 2009


Not to get too sentimental. but wow. I think today though, I can add to my list of firsts. As you know, dads, especially Asian dads, rarely express any emotions, so I’ll kiss my dad on the cheek and vice versa or give him a hug. Lately every since he was diagnosed with Cancer I’ve been telling him that I love him every chance I get. (This is a recent thing, I remember a few years back, if not more it was just one of my resolutions to just ‘say it’. Even though at first it feels awkward, since…well, it’s never really said! My friend Neil actually was the one that said, ‘just say it’ a few years back, and I guess I took his advice to heart!
Anyways, so today, It was about 11. We had just transferred my dad to a seperate facility, ironically near the place we used to live in Santa Ana. Let me tell ya, it was very nostalgic driving by the old neighborhood. I told him it’s past 11:00, and I’m a bit tired so I’m gonna go home now. And he looked up at me, and kind of choked up a bit, and said, “poor Nghia, I love you very much”. I was floored! Like wow, what an amazing moment. I don’t think he’s said I love you to anyone! (well maybe my mom, but she doesn’t quite count). It definitely took me by surprise, and I replayed it a few times as I was driving home. Soo cool!

Now don’t try this at home kids. You know how they banned talking on cell phones in CA, then text messaging. I guess the next thing they should ban is taking pictures while driving! =)
I followed behind the emt’s as they transferred him to the other place. It’s a care facility, but not as intense as a hospital. To be honest, I think it’s lame. But I think insurance was hurting (an emergency room, two weeks in the ICU, 3 days in hospital, and 3 surgeries). They said that now he’s better he has to go to this other place. You can totally tell by the equipment and pumps, and rooms that it’s most definitely of ‘lesser’ quality equipment. I hope the care is just the same, and I’ll find out tomorrow. But there’s no other choice at this juncture.



Happy new Years Indeed

Yaay they released my dad outside of the ICU, so that means he’s in a normal room and mostly out of danger, so I’m downgrading back to from DefCon 1 to Defcon 4.
my Uncle Bac Phuc flew in last week and has been visiting my dad almost every day as well. It’s a bit easier to bring a camera into a regular room, so I was a bit free to move about and composing my shots.

A brother's love

My dad’s now on roughly 1milligram of Dilaudid every four hours. Which technically is a hydromorphine, or an alternative to morphine. That coupled with regular morphine was really what screwed up his mental state and got him really confused. But he’ll have to be on it until his stomach heals more. I’ve seen the stitches. phew, they aren’t pretty looking.

Took this handheld on a 5D with a 35mm lens. ISO 800. I really dig the lights above him, it looks like he’s being watched over by a higher power in this pic.
A New Year

For those of you who are accustomed to the hospital settings, I took a pic of this. I really dug the blue slightly lower temperatured pic (bluish), that illustrates how cold a hospital can be. Not in terms of room temperature, but just that sterile feeling. Everyone’s sick or suffering around you. I can’t quite describe it (well aside from it being sucky).

and lastly here’s the equipment shot. These monitors aren’t as sensitive nor sophisticated as the ones in the ICU. The 97 is his spO2 or oxygen saturation leve, and the 94 is his current heart rate per minute.

But at least they don’t freak me out every 10 seconds. In the ICU, they measured his heart pretty well, so every so often you can tell that it skipped or missed a beat, or that there are multipe PVC’s or (Pre-Ventricular Complexes). Which essentially means his heart isn’t all too healthy. He has early or extra heart beats. Coupled with the previous tachycardia (super hyper heart beats), his heart isn’t in too great of a shape. The Dr. says it’s operating at about 20-30% capacity (compared to 50% in a normal person). So he’s going to cut back on his favorite thing. (fish sauce, salt, soy sauce)…the whole sodium thing just isn’t going to fly anymore. Which I think cuts out Pho! Noooooo Phoo?!?! I know…I know….it’s inconceivable!

can’t a man get a break?!

so today yet, another infection. Well potentially two. E-coli tested positive for one area, and they were doing pet and ct scans for another because they suspect something is a brewing in his thoracic region. One of the nurses had the gall to ask my mom and say that she could reject treatment, and let the patient just end the which she said no way. If I can we can do anything in our power to help, then we will do so. But tonight when I went to visit her, she did choke up at times. We picked out a photo of him, just in case, and my mom said she’s going to pick out a suit as well. I helped pick out a photo, but reminded her that it’s waay too early, and dad will pull through, so enough of this nonsense. But you know moms, always planning…always prepared. So today was a bit emotionally draining. I stayed there till past midnight again, helping out where I can. He is lucid now and I requested they at least remove his restraints (at least while I was present). But after I left, the nurse thought that she didn’t need to restrain him again. Being back to 1mg of morphine per hour probably helps out a lot in the ‘confusion’ department.
Physically, though week, he seems fine and was able to hold my hand many times throughout the night. He said that I should go home, but I told him I was afraid if I left they’d restrain his hands again and he said ‘cam on’ (which translates to thank you) in Vietnamese. I think that’s when I choked up. Told him he never has to thank me, it should be me that thanked him…and I couldn’t finish my sentence….I really wanted to thank him for teaching me so much. And for driving me to all the way up to USC every week, and doing all the things that Dad’s do. Never got past ,’thank you’ though. But yeah…man….some light at the end of the tunnel would be a little nice. We’re going to wait a few days to get more test results to see where this will end up. A different set of antibiotics to treat the e-coli is already in play, and really what comes down to is this abnormality in the chest area. Arrrrggggggg… I just want him home.


Well, there are a few moments in life that have pretty much shook me to the core. To be exact, there were 6 instances in all 30 years of my life, and I guess 4 of them involve my dad.

The first instance was in sixth grade, when my grandfather passed away. Mind you my father was a very strong, stern, and smart man, and I’ve never ever seen him shed a tear. However, the day he passed away, I remember peeking in the doorway of his room, and he was sitting there on the chair, just sobbing uncontrollably in the dark. It scared me quite a bit actually, because in my mind back then. This indomitable tree, has been shaken. And that pretty much shook me up good, as well because up to that point, and even ever since, I have never seen him so vulnerable.

The 2nd instance, well, was somewhat related to the first. It was well, when my grandfather died. I was his favorite grand kid, in addition, it was the first death in the family for me. That’s always going to be etched in your mind.

The 3nd time, well that was when my mom had a mastectomy for uterine cancer. That scared me out of my wits.

The 4rd time, well that was when they found out my dad had colon cancer, and the dr. gave him six months because it metastasized towards his liver, and they noticed spots in his lungs. That really shook me.

The 5th, well was when he just looked soo frail in the ICU, he had sepsis, his heart stopped and they called code blue in the ICU. Though, as scary as that sounds to be honest it sucked, but I think after #3, my mind mentally sort of prepared for it. Don’t get me wrong, there were moments where I’d leave the hospital and just cry in the dark in the parking lot, just sitting in my car. But somehow, I was content i knowing, was bonus time, so I really can’t complain.

The 6th instance..well that was tonight when I came in the hospital. I guess my mom somewhat warned me earlier, but today his bp dropped pretty low. So maybe he didn’t have enough blood flow to the brain, causing slight dementia, or perhaps it was the 2 weeks of constant morphine + some extra for the road. Well either that or the fever a few days, but he was loopy, confused and disoriented. He did recognize me, but at some points when I asked him, he thought he was on a ladder, or at the gas station, and he kept asking me to open the window. Mind you, this is one of the smartest men I know. And I’m not saying that because well, he’s my dad, and all kids think their dads are uber smart. He actually throughout my entire life, backed up his $h!t. (well, with the exception of computers, but you can’t win em all). In terms of math, science, engineering(mechanical), and medicine, he really had all his wits about him. Well to hear him be just so disoriented, just completely blew my mind. Like… Wow…this can’t be. This towering giant, in my mind, reduced to a babbling, confused, fragile person in front of me. I just pretty much had to stay there really late. I had to make sure he didn’t pull on his tubes and yank things out, because he wanted to go home, or wondered where he was. It was just a big mess. I did ask him some basic questions: who am I. What is 1 + 1, etc, and he seemed to be able to answer, but then he’d lapse into a different state, and I’m not sure if it’s just too many drugs in his system. All I know is, yikes.

I think even the nurse told me I need to get some sleep n go home! So yeah, in thirty years…I’ve had 6 instances….Which isn’t bad I think. Some people have much more. There’s two slots, pre-reserved for instances that I hope stay far far away, and not occur for a very long time. And I have been very very fortunate for none of my friends to bite the dust, so all you fools better be healthy!

smuggling operation

I finally get a real camera into the hospital. With my cool new camera bag (that looks suspiciously like a regular bag), I brought a 14mm prime and took a pic of the awful waiting room. I labeled where my bed is, I’ve claimed that spot.

and here is a pic of my dad in the room.

Dad is doing a little better, but he’s in tremendous pain. Hopefully they’ll be able to extubate his CPAP breating apparatus by tomorrow. That causes him to gag and cough, and in case you don’t know, if you have a huge stomach wound that’s stiched up. Coughing is very very painful. Oye. Tomorrow is another day.

Relieved of Duty

Yesterday my dad had another surgery. A simple exploratory lap, and debrievement, which is essentially to clean up any dead or dying tissues or structures around an affected area and doing some cleanup. It was supposed to be very light and minor, so this time instead of 5 different doctors telling me, “you know, he is fragile and, you know this is very risky”…(like the last surgery,where I wanted to say to the 4th Dr., “dude, I get it. My dad has a high chance of expiring”), this time only one anesthesiologist said that surgeries can be risky. So that was when I knew I think he’ll be fine for this one.

Regardless though, I waited outside the OR and everytime those doors swung open, there’s that small window of, ‘is this going to be it?’. It’s a hair raising experience, I think I aged a few years just standing outside the OR. But finally the Dr. came out and said it was good, they didn’t have to do ‘that’ much cleanup. And the finally closed him up for good. So he’s headed over to the ICU for recovery, and that was when I told family that we shouldn’t be visiting right after surgery, I don’t want any added germs around him for the night. So we all went home, (and there was a moment where I almost turned around after everyone had left, because I said if that were me. My dad would be right by my side. But I thought to myself. It’s best for him I not be there).

So I headed home, and Chrissie’s mother was rear ended, so she had to help her out and wasn’t going to be home, so I hung out and had dinners with my two friends Danny n Tram-Anh. (well three, considering their cute dog Leo). I had dinner, and tea afterwards, and I think from a clarity point of view, it was the first time I started to let my guard down. I think my subconscious told me, hey, I think dad’s gonna be ok. Not always on a state of orange alert, always freaking out when the phone rings. So after tea at their place (which is about 5 blocks from my house mind you, they live very close, and I’ve done the drive gazillions of times because they live hear the Tustin Marketplace), I drove home….and I don’t know how else to describe it…It was very very surreal. It’s analogous to having someone stand on guard duty outside in the rain with enemy fire all around you for a week. And just holding out, dodging bullets, while you see others pretty much fall around you. Then someone taps you on the shoulders and says, “You are relieved of duty”.

This was right after my company did a round of layoffs, and I lost a good friend to that layoff, so the shock of it all still wasn’t fully addressed. Then this happened to my dad, and it was a week + ordeal. (ER, DOU, ICU, waiting outside of OR, ICU, OR again, now back to ICU)

My mind just shut down, and finally had some peace because I literally zoned out and drove to nowhere. About half way through, I start to realize, umm…I don’t know exactly where this is, but this is not on my way home. I had no clue how I got there. Last thing I remember was making a turn on Jamboree. So I still kinda just kept on going, but my subconscious said, “you better whip out that gps soon because seriously, I have no clue where you are”. And I guess I must have some friends in high places, because right then my friend Doug texted me, asking if things were ok. And then Chrissie texted me, asking where I was. So the phone beeping got me to snapped out of it, and I got my bearings, then made my way home. To which I promptly got into bed and passed out. Mind you, this was the first night in a week, I got to sleep in bed with my wife. Most of it was me getting home too late, so I would go downstairs to nap, or earlier on, I slept at the ICU waiting room.

So I’m happy. It’s the 8:26 in the morning now, I’m about to get ready, eat breakfast, and head over to the ICU to say hi to pops, see how his vitals are doing, and then start planning out my good-will/good-deeds tour. When they put him to a regular room instead of the ICU, I’ll be even more relieved, but suffice to say. I think we’re starting to see the edges of the woods. Who knows, tomorrow may be a different story. But I’ll worry about it when it comes.
Wanted to thank all my friends, family, and coworkers who were very supportive through this entire ordeal.

Oyee I have sooo many questions for him when he gets out. I want to ask him if he remembers his heart flat-lining and if he felt anything. Did it hurt? (the standard stupid question of, was he scared?), was he relaxed? At some point when it hurt so bad did he just want to say, no more? how did a 360 joules of energy feel coursing through his body? I’m sure people who go through that must have post traumatic stress of some sort. But my dad’s been through re-education camps and all sorta of bad juju, so I’m wondering if this is just a walk in the park? Who knows….

I took two pictures on 1/12/09. This was right before his first surgery, where the 5 doctors tried to manage my expectations by pretty much stating this could really suck. Unfortunately they don’t allow cameras in the ICU, I would of totally loved to document this experience. Maybe I will because I find it fascinating. But since I had no camera, I used blackberry camera to do so because at that moment I was not sure if these were going to be the last two pictures I would be able to take of him while he’s still alive. (here’s one of them)


And the second is to show how much stuff he had. (this was after they took the dialysis machine off of him because that was a whole different set of equipment). But to the right he has a CPAP machine (pretty much a machine that breathes for him), and to the left are a ton of drips. They had him on morphine, 4 different anti-biotics, food bags, blood transfusions, medication to keep his heart pumping, just all sorts of stuff. Plus an a-line or an arterial line to get better blood pressure readings, oye, it makes the head spin.



Dad is doing better. Thankfully they identified the main bacteria that’s causing havoc on his system. Good thing is Dr’s have seen these scenarios before, and historically the shotgun approach to anti-biotics works. When the strain was identified, they said oh the drug ‘x’ that we already put him on is designed to whack this type of strain.
He still has a fever of 107, and is swollen, but his body seems to be fine. They are going to take him to surgery tomorrow I think one last time, to open him up again and clean him up, as well as inspect him to see if there are any necrotic portions that spread to his lungs or heart. But once that’s done and IF there is no spread of that bacteria, and if he again lasts through surgery (this is minor thankfully), then the final step before he can leave the dreaded woods is when they ween him off his crazy heart medication to stabilize him now. His heart has to be strong enough to do it on it’s own. Otherwise, it’s not going to be pretty. They can’t keep this heart medicine on forever, as it really was designed to stabilize and force the heart to have at it some more. And that can only work for so long. It’ll sorta be like you running full bore sprint, and you’re really really tired. All you want to do is sit down, walk or crawl. But then then someone takes you and drags you back to jogging speed again on a chain.

What’s interesting is the ICU and the waiting room itself. Today I asked the nurse what happened to patient 28 was she discharged? She was nice and her daughter was always there. Well the nurse told me she was gone this morning. And in ICU terms, gone is a euphemism for ‘gone off the planet’ gone. Not out of the ICU ward. So that totally sucked, but so far there were 3 gone patients in the week that I’ve been in the ICU. I hugged a guy that lost his mom the other day. And today while I was waiting in the waiting room, there was a huge asian group, basically their story was their mom’s body was so riddled with cancer, she’s suffering, and all the brothers got together and decided, as much as they love their mom, they do not want her to suffer. So after the doctors fight off this infection she has, they want to extubate her from her artificial lung, and have her go in peace. Boy was that a heavy family meeting. And here I am sitting there waiting, playing with my DS.. (I think about half way, I closed it and put it away out of pure respect. here they are facing a huge family crises, and some asshole in the corner is playing video games! (well at least i had no sound). But yeah, intense stories. You really want to appreciate life? get close to death. I think after my dad gets out of the hospital, i’m gonna run around take pictures of sunsets and beaches. Just go do it, laziness holds me back, but there really is no excuse to not do what you enjoy doing.

The woods is a dark, large, and lonely place

The phrase not out of the woods yet. Really sucks. So far everyone has been asking how my father has been, and I guess the only thing I can say at this point is ‘he is still alive’. And we are taking it day by day. He’s on 4 different types of antibiotics in hopes that they can fully identify the bug and fight the bacteria that is wreaking havoc on his system. It caused necrosis on his large intestines thus far. They hope it doesn’t spread to his heart and lungs, and are keeping him open so they can inspect and do another cleanup on or before Thursday. That’s three surgeries within a span of a week. His heart and body is just really really tired at this point. Today when I visited him, he’s swollen up. It was ironic, because he was so swollen he reminded me when he was young. Strong and virbrant. But it was only a facade. He’s still fighting.

They gave him more morphine for the pain, and I think at one point when I visited him today, he opened eyes, and reached out his hands. I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to hold his hand, but he reached out for my hand grasped it and then placed it back down and fell back to sleep. So I stood there, not wanting to move or to wake him up. His hand felt warm (due to the fever), but despite him being the sick one. I felt like a complete child at that moment. Just like a father, holding onto his sons hand, despite him being sick and fighting for his life. I was the one that felt sheltered. And I just stood there, not wanting to move, for fear of waking him up. I thought to myself, I’d stand there all night if I have to. But within 10 or so minutes he shifted and his hands slipped away from mine. It was a very very surreal moment. I told him if he’s tired and wants to go, go ahead. I’m here. But I did ask him to please fight this because mom and I don’t quite want him to go yet.

Been listening to the Placebo version of Kate Bush’s song a lot. These lyrics particularly run through my head.
“…If I only could
Make a deal with God.
And I get him to swap our places.
I’ll be running up that road,
running up that hill
running up that building…”

christmas x 10^10

So I feel like running around jumping for joy and doing good deeds for the remainder of my life. You remember those christmas mornings when you’d wake up and see all these presents under your tree? Then you spot the biggest box, and you are shocked because the label on it has your name on it? Well take that times 10000000000, and that’s how I feel now. My dad survived and beat the 30% odds of surgery. Now I just hope the bacteria stays away and that when they ween him off his heart medication, that it can beat on its own.
So it all started on wed. when I took my dad to the ER. He was bleeding a lot…and they all thought ohh the warfaren(Coumadin). So they just kept us waiting and waiting…finally like 4hrs later, we get to go into a room, and drs took a look…oh it’s just this ooh it’s just that. finally like a day later, a dr. really saw him and realized..nope..something is wrong, go into surgery. Turns out, putting him in the ER on wed saved his life. His colon was necrotic. I guess (my speculation) was the chemo and experimental drugs to restrict blood flow to the cancerous area did too well of a job and killed part of his large intestines, causing it to just be bad juju inside his body.

The dr operated but his vitals were too low, plus he had sepsis due to the necrotic portion just causing havoc around the surrounding tissue and eventually poisoning his blood. So they stopped surgery, and put him in the ICU (intensive care unit) for observation until they could finish. Well, one major side effect of sepsis is your pulse jumps to like 150 or higher. On Friday, his pulse was 196 going above 200. If you’re 76 yrs old, your heart can’t take that. Heck..if you’re 21 yrs old your heart can’t take that for pro-longed periods of time. So at 8:02 Friday morning, his heart stopped. They called code blue, whipped out the defibs and jump-started it. That was when they called and told all family to come in. If this keeps up he won’t last a few days.

That was very scary…the next day (sat) his heart rate was still at 140, 120..skipped a few beats, etc. It was no good, and I didn’t say good-bye. I didn’t want him to give up hope. He couldn’t talk at that point, but I think he could listen so I told him I love him, and thanked him for working so hard and he’s the bestest(yes I’m aware bestest is not a word) dad in the whole wide world. Well Sunday he stabilized somewhat, but Dr.s put him on dialysis and breathing tubes, and all sorts of drugs to keep his blood pressure from dropping too low. Monday, it was decision time. They need to go in to operate and clean up his stomach. If they don’t. The survival rate is zero. if they operate, there’s a chance with his age, cancer, body being worn down, heart, etc.that he won’t survive. There was a 30% chance of survival, so the choice was simple. 0 or 30. We took the 30. And it was the longest hr and a half of my life, but I was surprisingly calm through it. I think i made my peace and prepared for the worse. If the Dr. came out too soon, then that means bad news. If he took too long in surgery, that is also bad news. So we waited..and waited.

Well the Dr. came out and said he cleaned up the area good. And he’ll leave it open to make sure the bacteria that eats away at tissue doesn’t get to his heart and lungs. For tonight, he is stable and in good condition. But he does not know what tomorrow may bring. If the week ends and he’s doing good, then he may be out of the ‘near death’ woods. Because his body can’t take another septic shock. So I’m very grateful and thankful. All the nurses were very kind. I offered them all free photography to thank them for helping my dad. And I made a promise to myself to donate blood. They gave him a ton of blood, and if it wasn’t for the blood banks to have it available, then he wouldn’t be around. So figured time to give back.

My story was good…man that ICU waiting room…I think you can just write a tv show on it, there’s so much drama. I pretty much slept there, so for a few days I knew everyone there that came and went. Their stories, etc. One guy was there with me, but he eventually lost his mother. I hugged him and shook his hand. He wished me and father luck. Another couple, well their family was there. Some guy had an accident and is leaving behind 2 kids, 8 and I think 3. When my dad came out of surgery, there was a priest there and I went oh ‘shit’ is that for my dad and us? but it turns out it was for that family because he wasn’t doing too well. There are just a ton of stories and people, and it’s like wow. These dr’s and hospital staff work around the clock. It’s crazy!

But I wanted to thank all my friends and coworkers who were very understanding.


For starters, I’m very glad I went to Sequoia with my parents. You know that stage when you’re sick, especially with cancer, where you’re healthy one minute, and then bam it hits your body like a ton of bricks? Well these past few weeks my dad’s been feeling very tired and has a hard time eating. So it’s just strange, when I drive around and see these old men driving, going about their business. Is it wrong of me to get extremely jealous? Like shoot, how on earth did you get that old and you’re healthy as a fiddle? Why can’t my dad get that old and still rock. My dad’s 76 now, I was hoping to at least have a good 81 years or so, but at this rate, I’m wondering if 76, or even 77 is going to be pushing it. Quite frankly I’m surprised, after the last stint in the hospital, I think everything past six months is on borrowed time. But we boys have a healthy way of repressing emotions. But back to the topic at hand. Yes I am jealous of people with father’s that are much older. And yes, I really should be lucky to have this much time with my father already. Some people lose their parents when they’re much younger, so who am i to complain right? But at some point I will be moving in with them again, just to spend more time with my parents. It’s inevitable.