I think I’ve already said this recently but I’ll say it again. The aging process can be ugly.
It’s been three weeks now since my dad fractured his hip. And it’s been heartbreaking to to see him struggle and suffer in the aftermath. His body just won’t cooperate and I fear that with each passing day, he’s losing a step toward any real recovery.
On Wednesday last week, he was discharged from the hospital after leaving transitional care to spend a few days being treated for extreme low blood pressure and dehydration. The same day of his hospital discharge, he was admitted to a new transitional care facility. After a rocky experience in the previous facility, this place gave all of us some peace of mind. The staff at this new place is very attentive and extremely knowledgable. The surroundings are bright, spacious and beautiful. We feel Dad is in much better hands than the first time around.
I went to spend time with Dad this past Wednesday evening, on his one-week anniversary in his new digs. He had just had a shower when I arrived and was settled in his room in his wheelchair. He’s barely been able to eat in the past week, consistently complaining that his stomach is uncomfortable and he “just can’t get anything down.” I’d been bribing him the past few days with ice cream shakes laced with protein powder and had mild success in getting something in his stomach. This time, I brought him a ham and cheese omelet from home in the hopes I could get some more protein into him. He politely declined. I was disappointed. He wasn’t even interested in a chocolate shake.
As we sat, he talked with me about his day. He seemed tired but otherwise relatively normal, except for a cough that I hadn’t noticed the day before. When a nurse and nurse-in-training came in to give him his nighttime meds and insulin, he slipped into what I can only describe as an episode. He grew confused and his speech became slurred. He seemed to be hallucinating, reaching out for things that didn’t exist. I tried to ask him what was wrong but got only nonsense in reply. Then his head dropped and he began to snore.
I told the nurse that I was worried, but she stated that he was probably just worn out from his shower. Did I want them to get him into bed? I said I wasn’t sure. Something wasn’t right. But again, she said that he was probably just really worn out. My dad had to be awake in order for the nurses to assist him into his bed. I really began to panic when we were unable to wake him. I began by gently shaking Dad’s shoulders and saying, “Dad… Dad…” to no avail.
The nurse commented again that he was really tired, and I told her, “No! This is not my dad ‘worn out.’ Something is wrong.”
She told me she’d go get the charge nurse while I continued trying to wake my dad. No amount of shaking or yelling could wake him up. The charge nurse came and was much more sympathetic to my fears. She said only my dad’s family knew him best, and if I wasn’t comfortable letting him ride this out, I could make the call to send him to the hospital. I was panicked, but questioning whether I was overreacting, especially because the nursing staff didn’t seem all that worried. I called my brother, Jim and described the situation. He agreed that Dad should go to the hospital and said he was on his way to join me.
While I waited for the charge nurse to make arrangements for the paramedics, I continued to sit next to my dad, rub his back and try to wake him. He only continued to snore and at times his breathing seemed very shallow. This went on for a good twenty minutes. Jim arrived before the paramedics and Dad was just finally coming to. The confusion and slurred speech remained.
This was one of those times I was grateful one of my kids still lives at home. Not wanting my mom to try to drive in the dark (and the rain,) we called on Jake to go get Mom at her house and meet us at the emergency room where we all met my dad after his ambulance ride. It was a long night while tests were performed and we continually tried to help Dad understand where he was and why. In his confused state, it just wasn’t sinking in. I’m sure it didn’t help that he had already been in two different hospitals and two different care centers since his fall and surgery.
Dad was finally formally admitted to the hospital at 3:30 Thursday morning. Jim, Mom and I went home exhausted. After three hours of sleep, I got up and went to work. My PTO time is slowly dwindling and I’m rationing it in fear of needing it for something more dire than my lack of sleep. I’ve got to get my FMLA paperwork completed!
So it turns out that Dad has pneumonia. Upon hearing that, I felt assured that I’d made the right decision in sending him to the hospital. And there’s the possibility that he’s had a series of mini strokes. Over the past couple of days in the hospital, he’s improved some. The confusion has passed for the most part, but he still has no appetite and all of this is wreaking havoc with his blood sugar levels. He’s experienced extreme highs and extreme lows. I wonder how much more his body can take, and how he will ever be strong enough to walk on his own again.
I don’t know how I’m supposed to handle this. I long for life to be normal again, but I can see that the normal to which I’d like to return is a thing of the past.
I heard a quote last weekend that has returned to mind time and again this past week. Mark and I attended his employer’s Career Achievement banquet, in honor of Mark’s thirty-year work anniversary. As the CEO spoke to the hundreds of guests of honor, he talked about why their company has been so successful for so many decades. “Make change your best friend,” he said.
He was talking about success in business, but it seemed to me that this could apply to life in general as well. Over the past week, I’ve tried to figure out how to make this kind of change my best friend, but I just don’t know how to do it consistently. It feels as if we’re living on a roller coaster these past few weeks. My dad improves and we have hope. He suffers a setback and our hearts break for him.
Lately, I can’t be in enough places at once. I’m trying to hold steady at work while fielding phone calls from Mom and text messages from my siblings and aunts about Dad’s current state of health. Mom has handed over the reins in many ways. She’s tired and weak, and I worry about her ability to hold up amidst all of this.
Home feels like a place where I simply stop by on occasion.
At times, I’m preparing my heart for the worst, then feeling guilty for even imagining it.
There’s so much to think about. Regardless of which direction Dad’s recovery goes, it’s become clear to my siblings and me that my parents cannot continue to live independently. It’s been a mere couple of months since we moved them into their town house. Will we be packing it all up again soon? Probably.
One sibling holds himself at arms length when it come to my parents needing any kind of help from their kids. It’s always been this way. His distance has become even more pronounced as we’re trying to navigate through such dark tunnels lately. And while I’m trying to remain sympathetic to the fact that not everyone has the strength to rise to such occasions, and that I don’t have to understand to accept it, I can’t help but feel he’s selfishly abandoned all of us. I worry that there will be no healing between us after all is said and done. But most of the time I don’t even care anymore. There’s been a history of the rest of us trying to take the high road where he is concerned. Might be best to just let him go. I have bigger fish to fry.
We’ve had to consider the possibility that Dad could end up in a nursing home. And Mom’s not ready to live all alone on a permanent basis. I have room for her here and we’ve talked about it, Mark and I, and Mom and I. She would come with a dog and the situation wouldn’t be ideal, but she’d be safer surrounded by others on a regular basis. She could live on the main level and not ever really have to go up and down the stairs. I’d like to think it’s not that big of a deal, but deep down, I know it would be far from easy.
The whole thing makes me sick at times and I often find myself fighting off a deep darkness inside my head. I’ve written in recent months about an upward shift in my faith this past year and a half. I realize now why that happened. A time was coming when I would need it. Sometimes it’s the only thing carrying me forward, the belief that God is watching over us and that He doesn’t waste our pain. If I didn’t believe there was something phenomenally better ahead for my dad and for all of us, it would be just too easy to fall into despair.
Not that things have been completely morbid and depressing throughout this whole ordeal. We’ve managed to find humor where we can. While in the ER Wednesday night/Thursday morning, my Dad, in his fog, was trying to tell us something about knowing I was the only one coming to visit on Wednesday. My sister had told him she’d be traveling to Florida for work for a few days, and so he said he knew only to expect me. He said that I was the only one “brave” enough to come visit. We weren’t sure why he thought it took bravery for me to visit, but he went on to say that I must have been even more brave because it was bath night. We put two and two together when he sleepily mentioned that it wouldn’t have been a big thing for Mom to come on bath night “because her ‘sniffer’s not so good.'”
I guess Dad feels that patients in transitional care should be provided more frequent opportunities for bathing!
Last night while Mom, Jim and I sat with Dad in his hospital room, the conversation turned to Dad’s frustrations with needing assistance using the restroom. A detailed discussion followed concerning everyone’s comfort levels with using public restrooms, and in particular, depending on whether it involved number one or number two.
We all looked at each other and just burst out laughing. Who’d have thought that would ever have been a topic of conversation among all of us. But when one of us is dealing with a routine loss of dignity, I guess nothing is too far off limits as a conversation topic.
Everything is day-by-day now. Upon picking up Mom after work one evening last week, and while preparing dinner for the two of us before going to see Dad, I realized I had nothing new to talk about with her. The hours in my days are divided between work, assisting Mom at home, and spending time with Dad. The dynamic at home has shifted and I’m grateful for the times Mark picks up the slack with the domestic stuff. I often find myself wishing I could just know the end result. If I knew which direction this was all really heading, we could make some solid decisions about many things. But it doesn’t work that way.
I’ve gained an appreciation for others who have traveled this road before me, and their ability to stay sane. I know this is just another chapter of life that many of us will have to experience. It’s strengthened my bond with family, and made me realize at times that I’m stronger than I ever knew. I’ve found an amazing support system at work for which I am so grateful. People show their true colors at times like this, and I am happy to say that most people have bigger hearts than I could ever have imagined.
We’ll get through this, and we’ll be changed. But we’ll be okay.