Thursday, January 30, 2014

Doctor, My Eyes

I’ve been in a place where time crawls and every day unfurls like the one before it.

My dad entered a nursing home.

How long he’ll remain there, I don’t know and neither do the doctors, nurses, and aides caring for him.

My youngest sister asked why I haven’t blogged about our dad’s trip to the hospital, hospital stay, and subsequent transfer to the nursing home. “You can’t say we haven’t given you lots of material.”

I have an ambulance-load of material, but most of it isn’t mine to share. Someday, bits will come out, heavily fictionalized. Names, places, and events will change. Meanwhile, the emotions unleashed by the experience: fear, frustration, gratitude, and love have elbowed their way into my work in progress. Those emotions may be second cousins to the ones I’ve experienced, but they demand to be acknowledged and included.

Here’s something I can share: When my brother, sisters, and I get together, we may start out serious, but wisecracks can’t be denied for long. The first time laughter broke out in my dad’s room at the nursing home, it seemed inappropriate, but then I remembered jokes and teasing formed the background music of our years at our family home. Laughter is an appropriate sound for my dad to hear.

When it comes to teasing, I’m an easy target, and my sibs don’t let me forget it. On day, my youngest sister drove to the nursing home with me as a passenger. She bypassed a free parking space in the coveted visitors-only strip close to the entrance and parked in the back lot, next to a snowdrift. The day before, I’d counted myself lucky to snag a space in the coveted strip. When I asked my sister why she didn’t take the close-in space, she acted surprised by the question. “I save those spots for the old men and women who are visiting friends or relatives.” That answer made me squirm over my selfishness. “Ahh,” I said. 

Two days later, I sailed past one of the empty coveted spaces to park in the back, next to a patch of black ice. I, too, would save the good spots for old people. My middle sister must have spotted me in the lot’s far corner, and, once we were warm and cozy in my father’s room, she asked why I’d parked so far from the entrance. I told her about our youngest sister’s Act of Kindness. Middle sister laughed and laughed. “She (youngest sister) parked in one of the good spots yesterday.” Punked

Here’s something else I can tell you: there are medical professionals doing outstanding jobs. At the hospital, a speech therapist did a swallow evaluation on my dad because he’d lost a lot of weight prior to his admission. She discovered everything he ate or drank was going down the wrong pipe. (Excuse my technical language.) Her discovery prolonged my dad’s life. Me, I discovered speech therapists do more than correct sibilant s’s and stutters.

Nurse Harry (name changed) explains what’s going on in language a layperson can understand and doesn’t sugarcoat anything.  I’m of the if-I-know-the-truth-I–can-deal-with-it school, so I appreciate that approach.  Nurse Elise (name changed) appears distant and shares information on a need-to-know basis. Initially, her manner ruffled me. When my father became disoriented, though, she swung into action to make sure he was getting enough oxygen. Now I value the strengths both nurses bring to their jobs.

I’ll share what I can in upcoming blog posts. As my youngest sister said, I have lots of material.

Have you lost track of time during a friend or family member’s stay in a hospital or nursing home?

Have you laughed about illness to keep from crying?

How old does a person have to be to qualify for a close-to-the-entrance parking space? (I ask because I’m hoping to make the cut.)


Patricia Rickrode w/a Jansen Schmidt said...

These role reversal years of our lives are by far the hardest. It is so hard to become the caregiver for someone who has ALWAYS been the caregiver.

Having lost my mother not too long ago, I know exactly how it feels to be in your position. All you can do is the best you can do at that given moment and hope you've made the right decision.

Growing old is inevitable, but having family around, and all of the wonderful memories that go along with are the very best medicine.

So, you are right, laughter, even in times of undue stress, is a good thing. Not only does it release endorphins in your body to help ease some of the stress, it creates a feeling of normalcy in an otherwise scary and unfamiliar environment.

I hope you father is able to get back to his regular home and routine soon, but if not, it sounds as if he's getting the excellent care he needs.

Keep your chin up, Pat. And use those close parking spots.

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Thanks for your support, Patricia. I'll laugh whenever possible--and might take those close-in spaces, especially when they call my name in a snowstorm.

The birthday post you wrote for your mother has stuck with me. Every once in a while, I try to imagine your father's loneliness without her. I'm unsuccessful, of course, but the hint I get hurts.

The circle of life is overrated.

Jennette Marie Powell said...

When my MIL used to tell us things her dad said/did in the nursing home, there were always lots of laughs - because it sure beat crying, and it was one or the other.

I park where I am least likely to get door dings - which is usually waaaaay out there! Good thing I don't mind the walk. :)

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

I hear you on laughing versus crying, Jennette. Laughing wins because of the endorphins Patricia mentioned, and because it doesn't result in puffy faces and red-rimmed eyes.

If I had a nice car, I'd park all by my lonesome. I was driving my dad's ancient Camry, and another ding wouldn't matter.

Liz Flaherty said...

Erma Bombeck said, “If you can't make it better, you can laugh at it.” I think she was right. And I park in the far away parking place (unless it's raining) just because I'm so glad I can still walk as far as the door. When I can't anymore, I won't.

Love your posts, Pat.

Anonymous said...

The day I got my sister’s e-mail that a place had opened for Dad at the assisted-living center we had chosen, I lost it. My father in a nursing home? No! I had an appointment that morning to which I had to drive, and I remember gunning the motor so hard I shocked even myself. I drove out of the driveway and then idled in the street, uncertain of where I was going or what I had meant to do. My husband came out, concerned. “Go home,” he said. “You need to see him.”

So I decided to return to the United States to be with Dad during the transition, hoping that this might make it easier for him, my siblings and—perhaps most of all—myself. Amazingly, that’s exactly what happened. I went half expecting all my worst fears to be confirmed, to come away feeling even more guilty, more implicated. But when I arrived at the assisted-living center, Dad looked better to me than he had in a long time. At home, he would go for several days without a shower, saying he was too tired or didn’t really need one. At the center, his regular routine included a bath every day—and he looked fit and charming as a result. Like so many of us, he makes a special effort for outsiders. At home, he was prone to pouting, resentment, and childish outbursts. In the center, he is friendly, even flirtatious. The staff all love him; the other residents want to be his friend. And the things that made life difficult at home—the yanking out of his catheter so that he would drip urine all over the house, the tantrums, the incontinence—didn’t seem to be happening at the center.

But for me, the most important proof that we had made the right decision came on my last day in America. As I went in to visit him for the last time before my return, I reminded him I was going home. “You know I’m going back home today, right, Dad?”

“Oh yes,” he said. “You’re going back to India.” A pause while I took in the fact that he remembered where I lived. “I don’t want you to feel in any way upset about leaving me. They are all very kind to me here. They bring me my meals; they take very good care of me.”

“Oh, Daddy!” I said. “Are you happy here, then?”

He smiled. “Happy? Well, I’d rather have you around all the time.” He paused, thoughtfully. “But I know you should be in India. I know what wonderful work you are doing there. I know that’s where you are meant to be. And I don’t want you regretting your decisions even for one moment. I’m very proud of you.”

For one sweet moment my father’s mind was clear and unimpeded. He gave me his blessing. Then, just as quickly, the veil came down again. As I said goodbye, it was clear to me that for him, I had already left. And yet, as I stood in his doorway gazing at him, hoping against hope for one last sign of recognition, he looked up, as if to say: “What are you waiting for? Get on with it now! You’ve got work to do!” I returned to India knowing he was well cared for, and believing he understood why I live where I do.

These stories don’t always end so neatly. I’m lucky. My father still has enough of a grip on reality that he can separate his own needs and insecurities from mine.

We bring up our children hoping they will make a difference in the world and then we step back to allow them to do just that. Not easy. But it’s what we sign up for when we have them.

Anonymous said...

Hi Pat, welcome back.

The previous long narrative (somehow I hit a wrong button and it posted w/o my commentary) is an exerpt of an article called "Moving Day for Dad" which appeared in Commonweal Magazine (a left of center Roman Catholic publication)a few weeks ago.

I thought you might enjoy it.

- Patrick

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Liz,
Mobility's a beautiful thing, isn't it? At the nursing home, people who use walkers are rock stars. They walk!

Thanks for your kind words--and the vote in favor of parking far from the door.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Patrick, you're right. I found that essay from Commonweal moving. I'm happy the author's father is secure and content in assisted living and can see the situation's right for him.

My dad wants, very much, to return home. We don't want to defy and disappoint him. At the moment, there are no clear answers.

"Left of center" works for me. How 'bout that Pope Francis!

Coleen Patrick said...

Big hugs, Pat. I was nodding when you wrote that it's not your story to tell. I understand that (a lot). Along with the laughter part. My family uses humor whenever possible. There have been times when we've laughed together and probably horrified those around us. It kind of binds us together in those scary times.