Return to … ummm … normal?

Things are settling down here again, at least for a little while. It feels good to be sitting at home relaxing, even if it is a Friday night.

My dad was discharged from the transitional care center last Saturday. The transition home wasn’t exactly smooth. We didn’t even make twenty-four hours before he fell again. The phone ringing at 5:30 am on a Sunday morning caused instant panic. Mark and I took off running and were at my parents’ house within a few minutes. Dad wasn’t seriously hurt, but Mom never could have gotten him up, and I’m not sure I could have managed it alone either. It took both Mark and me to lift him up and help him back to bed. (He wouldn’t let Mom call the paramedics.) Turns out he already wasn’t managing his own medications properly and his blood sugar was dangerously low. He had a minor bump on his head.

Growth opportunity! I’ve since learned how to use a lancet to draw blood from a diabetic’s finger and get a glucose reading. I hung out for several hours making sure both of my parents were okay. This whole thing has taken a major toll on both of them.

Since Sunday, my parents have had home health aides come in for three hours each morning and again for three hours each evening. Mom’s health is quickly declining and she’s ready to move to assisted living. She needs it. Her doctor told her she should not being playing caregiver to my dad any more. Her health isn’t up for it any longer. We found a beautiful assisted living facility, brand new, within their budget,close to all of us kids, and with immediate openings. It seems perfect in every way.

Dad doesn’t want to go. Not at all. There was a family meeting meant to try to get him comfortable with the idea. It got ugly before he reluctantly agreed that he will go, but is hell-bent on making all of us feel awful and guilty for moving forward with this plan. He doesn’t buy that Mom can’t keep taking care of him, and he keeps telling us he doesn’t need help. Yet one of us receives a request almost daily to come help with any number of basic things. I just have to keep reminding myself it’s the right thing. Especially since Dad thinks he’ll be done needing home health care within a couple of weeks, in spite of the fact that two doctors told him and us that it’s no longer safe for him to live at home the way he used to. In spite of the fact that he can’t seem to regain much strength and suffers periodic bouts of dizziness. In spite of the fact that his vision has diminished even beyond what it was before.

Mom can barely manage leaving the house for any length of time. Things like a doctor appointment or stopping at the pharmacy wear her out. She skipped her “sisters” lunch last week because she was too weak and tired to go. She can’t manage grocery shopping, basic errands, cleaning, etc. Dad has rarely done those things and is especially incapable now. Yet he thinks they can manage at home just fine. And he refuses to change his way of thinking, even though just a day after telling us how wrong we are all about his ability to be independent, I was delivering yet another meal to my parents.

I don’t mean to sound selfish. I would do all of this again, and I will continue to do whatever is necessary. But I’m tired of worrying and tired of putting my own life on the back burner all of the time. My house is a wreck. It feels like I’m behind on everything. I’ve skipped social engagements, stopped working out with any regularity and can’t seem to get enough sleep, ever. My PTO balance has dwindled and I’m fighting with the insurance company to approve my application for FMLA. (Luckily, it’s just a precaution for now.) My application was initially declined because they didn’t like the way the doctor described the type of care my dad needs which necessitates me potentially needing to utilize FMLA. Technicalities over words. All for me to take time off work without pay. I don’t have the time or energy to go chasing around a busy doctor again just so he can add three words to a form and initial the change. I’m going to wing it. I’ll start another claim and get my dad’s primary physician to sign if my PTO runs out before my balance renews on January first.

I seem to have developed a well-versed potty mouth, which flies into action every time I’m frustrated and angry. Which is all too often. Not that I’m looking for pity. Things are actually so much better than they were even four weeks ago. And the fact that my dad’s acting like an obstinate brat is actually some consolation. In some ways, he’s becoming his old self again.

On the plus side, the bond between two siblings and me is stronger than ever before. Sadly, our relationships with the youngest have been damaged, probably beyond repair. When you’re two months worth of exhausted and begging for him to step in and lend a hand just once in a while, it doesn’t help to be told that his life is important, and it makes more sense for you to spend every waking moment worrying and taking care of things, “because I need my job. You probably don’t have a house or car payment anymore, so this is all easier for you.”

Last straw. Have a nice life, little brother.

Regardless, we’re moving forward to get my parents into this assisted living facility. I prayed that things would just fall into place to get my parents into a safe place, and the doors opened wide for us. All we have to do is let the management know we want in. And it’s not supposed to be that easy. But it is. I’m taking that as a sign. We have to get a few things in order first and then we can get serious about moving them (for the second time this year) and selling the townhouse they just bought last July.

And until it’s time to start going gangbusters again, I’m going to enjoy hanging around my own house for a change.

Baby Love

The days march on and each morning I awaken, one of my first thoughts is Dad. He’s improving after his hip fracture seven weeks ago, and finally seems to have turned a corner. He’s eating more like his old self and moving around more confidently. He’s been given permission to walk around his room at the transitional care center unsupervised. He’s supposed to use his walker at all times.

He might have become too confident. Thursday night, it seems he woke up sometime after retiring for the evening. He doesn’t remember the details, only that he had it in mind to go shut off a light near the doorway of his room. He got up, neglected to use the walker, and fell. Thankfully, a nurse was nearby and heard him hit the floor. The paramedics were called immediately.

I spent the night in the emergency room with him, and thankfully, there was nothing broken, and nothing bleeding. By morning, he was released and allowed to return to transitional care. There’s now an alarm in his room that’s turned on at night to let the staff know if Dad gets out of bed. Seems to me that should have been there all along.

Dad is being discharged from transitional care next weekend. I guess I thought he’d spend a few more weeks there, now that he’s stronger. I thought he’d have more time to really build up his stamina before they let him go. But the physical therapist says he has plateaued. She can’t get him to a level that would make him able to live independently. This is as good as it’s going to get.

My parents had recently decided they would continue to live at home after Dad’s release from transitional care. We kids didn’t agree, but our hands were tied. We couldn’t force our parents to move out of their home. Then my parents’ doctor weighed in and said he doesn’t believe it’s safe for Dad to continue living at home, and that Mom is in no condition to try to take care of him. That settled it and I was relieved. But we’re scrambling now to secure some home services for the period of time until we can find an assisted living facility that meets their needs and has an opening. I’m praying we can find a place close to my home. The mileage I’m putting on my car these days between checking in on Mom at home, and then going to see Dad at the care center miles in the other direction … well…It would be nice if we could close that gap.

In spite of everything going on, it feels like an improvement over the worry of the past couple of months. There’s a lot to do and so little time, but at least we’re moving in a direction that will give everyone some peace of mind.

Yesterday, I got a break from the constant scramble to take care of our parents. Weeks ago, I had agreed to babysit our great-nephew, Liam while our niece, Nikki went to work. Liam arrived first thing in the morning and I spent the next six hours just snuggling him and enjoying his baby-ness.


Lucy was fascinated (and probably slightly jealous, as you can see.) Liam was just a joy and we might have spoiled him just a little bit. When Nikki returned, Mark told her that if she ever needed a babysitter again, she knows who to call. Nikki looked at me and said, “If you ever need a baby fix again, you know who to call.”

I just might!

Not falling apart, but falling into place

We have FOOD again! The kind with which to cook responsible-type meals. I mean besides things like grilled cheese sandwiches, frozen pizza, and pancakes.

It’s been a while. I discovered the other day that the milk went sour. (Actually, Jake discovered it after taking a big swig. Poor Jake.) The only frozen vegetables were a couple of bags of brussels sprouts. There were no eggs, no bread. The cupboards (and refrigerator and freezer) were bare. I never thought I’d look so forward to grocery shopping. On a Friday night, no less. I actually planned some meals, made a list, clipped coupons even.

We’re getting back to a sort of normal. Not the old normal, but a new one. A friend told me there would be a new normal and we’d get used to it. I didn’t believe at the time that I’d get used to the constant panic about my dad’s physical, emotional and mental well-being. But she was right. There comes a point where you just don’t have the energy to keep freaking out anymore.

It has been five weeks since my dad fell and broke his hip. Life since then has been completely turned upside down. But I feel things starting to settle down ever so slightly and I’m grateful.

I’ve come to think of the past five weeks as what a work friend would refer to as AFGO. (Another Effing Growth Opportunity.) This has been a big one. Emotionally, I’ve seen every extreme. At times I’ve been sadder than I’ve ever felt in my life. I’ve been so angry sometimes that words I’m embarrassed to admit to have flown out of my mouth in multitudes. I’ve been scared, felt helpless because there’s not a thing I can do to change my dad’s helplessness, and have actually asked God to just take him instead of making him suffer so much.

But none of it works that way. I’ve learned that worrying changes nothing. Praying often doesn’t produce the answers I’m hoping for. I want to just know when everything will be okay, but we don’t get to know when – or even if – it ever will be okay.

I’ve realized that I had pretty much always expected that our tomorrows would be “normal” and that our parents’ older years would just be a time of slowly winding down until a peaceful end. But now I realize that not everyone gets to look forward to a quiet and peaceful end. Sometimes there’s no end in sight, but every moment moving in that direction feels like a battle. And “normal” is probably just an illusion anyway.

My dad is ever so slowly returning to something resembling his old self. He’s beginning to move his limbs and body more comfortably than he could the first couple of weeks. There have been a few setbacks, and too many nights when I’ve felt bad leaving him alone in that room while I get to go back to my own house and my own bed. His place is nice enough, and the staff is really good, but I feel bad for all the time he spends alone there, waiting for one of us to be free to come spend a couple of hours with him.

Progress is infinitely slower than I could have imagined, but we’ve learned to celebrate any kind of victory. Any day that Dad’s spirits are good, or when he eats more than a few bites of his food are good days. He’s a little bit more mobile now, but still not allowed to move around unsupervised. We’ve been given permission to walk with him. It’s a production. Put on the belt. Place the walker just so in front of him. Loop your finger in the back of the belt and wheel the wheel chair along behind with the other hand in case he needs to stop quickly and sit. One day this week we went down the hall, around the corner and eventually back again, all without needing the wheel chair. That was a BIG day! Last night we only got about fifteen feet and that was it. I had to wheel him back to his room in the wheel chair and then go back to collect the walker. He said he doesn’t like walking on the carpet. It makes it hard to move the walker and his feet. It’s a very flat industrial type of carpet and I reminded him that at home, there is carpet. And it’s a lot more plush than the stuff he’s dealing with now. He’s still got a way to go, but he’s getting there. He talked about being at home this winter, and I felt a sadness drift over me because I’m not sure I believe he’s going to go back home again. Maybe he’ll prove me wrong …

I talked to the doctor at the care center on Monday. My dad really likes this guy, and he was open and honest with me. He pretty much laid out Dad’s life expectancy in light of the hip surgery. He described my dad as a very fragile guy and confirmed that the amount of time he may have left is pretty much the same as what you’ll find if you seek medical advice online about hip fractures in elderly men with other acute medical conditions. I guess it was just a shock to have someone confirm it. Up until then, I could tell myself not to panic and to stop getting medical advice from the internet. But now I know. Time is running out. So that gives everything some real perspective.

My mom is wearing out too with all of this going on. Not being in good health to begin with, the frequent trips to the care center, my dad’s ups and downs, the paperwork, phone calls, and simply trying to manage a household by herself have all taken their toll. She’s so frail herself, and I think we all allowed ourselves to be fooled into thinking our parents were much more capable than they really were before this all happened.

I’m trying to stop thinking so much about the future. It can make a person crazy, trying to have a plan mapped out for every possibility. But the thing is, no one knows where this is all going to lead. If Dad doesn’t get to where he needs to be physically, he may not be allowed to go back home. He’s still battling a cough from his pneumonia and his blood sugars have seen too many extreme highs and lows. Who knows if he’ll get over the hump and recover well? But if he does, and if the choice is left to the family, then we kids want our parents to move out of the town house and get into a safer place. However, our parents are still capable of making those kinds of decisions and it’s clear they’re not interested in considering other living arrangements. Tensions are pretty high some days. How do you just sit back and agree to let your parents make decisions that don’t seem in their own best interest?

I’ve decided that at some point, we just have to accept what is, whether it seems right to us or not. Maybe we’ll just have to put on blinders at times. I mean, at some point, we kids have to go back to living our own lives, at least to a degree more than we’ve been able to lately. For the past five weeks, except for the rare occasion when another commitment prevents it, when I’m not at work or sleeping, I’m with one parent or the other, or both, or running errands for them. A lot of days, I just pick Mom up on the way home from work and bring her to my house for dinner before we head off to visit Dad until bedtime. At least that way, I know she’s eating something. She feels a little bit guilty about it and asked if it bothered Mark that I was always bringing her home with me. I told her that Mark and I probably wouldn’t even bother with dinner if it weren’t for her. So she’s helping us out by motivating us to sit down for a few minutes and eat together. It’s a good thing.

And this has brought us closer – most of us anyway. We say ‘I love you’ a LOT more than we did before. I used to always be really close with my brother, Jim. We seem to have drifted apart over the past few years, but this whole thing has brought us back together. I hadn’t realized how much I’ve missed him and it’s so good to be doing this side-by-side, Jim, Cori and me. The other brother? He’s even more removed than ever. I can count on one hand the number of times he’s visited Dad since his hip surgery. He’s refused assistance to Mom at a time she desperately needed him. I don’t know how he sleeps at night, staying away day after day like he does. I wonder if he gets that his time with our dad is likely very, very limited. For a couple of weeks I wanted to confront him and let him know just how hurt and angry we all feel. But it’s not worth the energy. I don’t understand him, and I guess I just don’t care anymore. When it’s all said and done, we will all have made our choices about how to cope with this, and I hope that we can all live with ourselves then.

Jim, Cori and I were all visiting Dad on Wednesday night. It was just a fluke that we were all there at the same time. We usually try to stagger our visits so as to make sure Dad has company every evening for a few hours. But Tuesday, my dad had a bad night, and so I ended up going back as soon as I could again on Wednesday. All three of us being there, we got goofy and the conversation was full of laughter. Dad didn’t have a lot to contribute, but he seemed to be enjoying our silliness. It was clearly good for him. For the first time in a while, when we left him before bedtime, he seemed really okay.

There are so many times that I wish to go back to the way it was before. I’d love to go back to believing my parents are strong and capable. I sometimes wish for a lazy evening sitting in the living room just reading, or watching something on t.v. I wish I could go back to being in charge of just my own life. It feels weird, taking charge where your parents are concerned, no matter how old you are. But nothing’s ever going to be exactly how it was before. And I have to keep reminding myself that this is likely a small window in time during which everything is really challenging and worrisome. Things like this help me understand how people do it … go on as if things were normal when there’s a big elephant in the room all the time. Things like this make you tougher. And ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ seems a helluva lot easier when you simply don’t have time or energy to think about the small stuff.

Things will probably get easier again. But they’ll definitely be different.

There’s no handbook for this

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.

Highs and Lows … and Highs

Well … we never did get my Dad moved to another care facility. He had a really great day on Saturday. Ate well. His spirits were good. Smiled and talked all day. And then early Sunday morning, his blood pressure tanked. One of the nurses at the transitional facility called mom to let her know Dad was being taken by ambulance to the hospital.

When Mom, my sister and I caught up with Dad in the emergency room, he looked like death on a cracker. His face was ashen. He couldn’t keep his eyes open and he was so cold, they had him wrapped up in blankets from head to toe. His speech was thick and he could barely form words. I was pretty scared. The doctor mentioned concerns that there could be a clot in his lungs which may have caused the drop in blood pressure. Because of his kidney transplant, he couldn’t have the more reliable cat scan (because it uses a contrast dye) to confirm or deny the presence of a clot. So he received something called a VQ scan and we were relieved to learn it showed a low probability of a clot.

By evening, after IV fluids and some food, Dad had perked up some. Instead of his “usual” hospital, Dad had been brought to one that specializes in cardiac care. That was a good place for him to be. He doesn’t have a strong heart. The nurses and doctors were taking great care of Dad, as well as doing a tremendous job of keeping us informed and answering questions. He seemed to be in good hands and we were more confident than we’d been all the past week in leaving him for the night.

One of my brothers had agreed to bring Mom back to the hospital to be with Dad on Monday. I went to work and waited for updates, ready to leave again if I had to. But the news was all good. Dad was improving; So much so that my sister insisted I go to my first night of bowling and take a night off from Dad duty. She would go sit with Dad that evening. I was slightly hesitant, but decided to take her up on the offer.

I’m glad I went bowling. It was the first day since Dad’s fall eleven days earlier that I hadn’t spent some portion of my day hanging out with him. I felt a little bit guilty, but as the evening wore on, I knew I’d done the right thing. The ache that had settled in my chest over the past week began to ease. The dark haze over my thoughts cleared as well. It felt good to be doing something normal again.

This whole experience has been such a challenge. It has stretched my emotions to the limits. There have been heartbreaks and joys. There has been anger and deep sadness. And yet we’ve found opportunities to laugh. Most miraculously, because I felt such a need to stay by Dad’s side whenever possible – to help fend off his loneliness while he couldn’t be at home, or to ease his fears, or advocate for him when he wasn’t able – he and I have found a new and better place in our relationship.

If anyone were to look at my siblings and me when we were growing up, I would have been the last kid anyone would have expected to be by my parents’ side at a time like this. I was the difficult one, the black sheep. I was always bucking the family system, and mouthing off to my parents. That part of me faded and I mellowed when I became an adult, but my dad and I haven’t exactly been what anyone would consider close.

During the days when my dad was most vulnerable, I stayed by his side. I found myself being more open and honest with him than I’d ever dared to be. He allowed me to speak up for him when he was in that medicinal fog, when it was hard for him to translate his own thoughts into words, when his caregivers lacked the time or patience to wait for him to form a response. He’s a very proud man. He doesn’t like anyone speaking on his behalf. But he let me. When he would get discouraged and defeated by all of his pain and weakness, I would remind him that the only one who could get him back on his feet and home again was him. And he let me tell him so. There was a time or two during all of this when Mom would grow frustrated with his frustration. She’d say to me, “Go talk to Dad for me, would you?”

And he’d let me.

When I’ve hugged Dad goodbye these past few days, he’s held onto me longer and tighter than usual. He has so emphatically told me, “Thank you. I love you. I love you so much.”

My dad and I have found a really good place with each other. Neither of us is always easy to live with. But we’ve found our peace with each other. I love that.

2015-09-15Mark and I went to see Dad at the hospital tonight. I’m not kidding – He looked and sounded like a million bucks. We stayed to watch him take a little walk on his healing hip and I nearly cried. Just a few days ago, he could barely move his lower half without extreme pain and loads of assistance. Now he was walking – with the help of a walker – but he was doing it.

In another day or so, Dad will probably be released from the hospital and sent to transitional care again. He told the hospital social worker that he wants to go to the “new and better” place that my sister and I checked out on Saturday. He told me he won’t go back to the last place. I told him that I hope he gets a room at the good place. And I reminded him that no matter how great the place, he might still run into situations where his caregivers aren’t as attentive or compassionate as others. He knows. He’s ready. We’ve kind of figured out how this all works and we have more realistic expectations this time around. Most importantly, Dad’s ready this time.

Worst Fears

It’s never good when the phone rings before 7:00 am.

This past Thursday morning, I had been to the gym and was getting ready to go to an early dentist appointment before work when our home phone rang. It was my mom, sounding breathless, asking if I could come over.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, my heart sinking.

“Dad fell. I think he broke his hip. The paramedics are here now.”

As soon as I was able, I was out the door and on my way to my parents’ single-level town home, which they’d purchased and moved into earlier this summer in the hopes of preventing just such an accident. They’ve lived there for a grand total of seven weeks now. I guess it doesn’t matter how many or few levels are in your home. When you’re dizzy, you’re going to fall.

Mom and I spent the next fifteen hours of the day at the hospital, by Dad’s side. X-rays confirmed the hip was fractured. I tried not to panic at the news. I knew the biggest concern was whether or not my dad could survive hip surgery. Even some standard medical procedures are risky for my dad, and certain surgeries are simply out of the question. I found myself fighting tears and working hard to control myself. I didn’t want to freak out my parents, who seemed not to be grasping the magnitude of the situation. Dad’s been diabetic for sixty-seven years. He’s had a kidney transplant. He’s got an implanted defibrillator and normal heart function that is significantly less than a normal, healthy person. I envisioned the worst.

As the hours wore on, Dad had an echocardiogram done, and another set of X-rays. He had to lay flat on his back, which was painful in itself. He’s got a bad back. And each time he tried to adjust his body to relieve the discomfort in his back, he caused himself excruciating pain in his hip.

Mom called their priest and he came to administer the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick. He also provided my dad the Apostolic Pardon. To be honest, I’d never heard of it, but the name itself gave me an idea of what was happening. The priest understood that Dad’s situation was bad. I continued to fight my tears throughout the priest’s stay.

Sometime after noon, Dad was moved from the ER to his own room. I provided regular phone and text updates to my siblings and Dad’s oldest sister as each nurse, doctor and specialist came to visit and discuss concerns. It became a waiting game. His cardiologist needed to weigh in on Dad’s ability to handle the surgery. It seemed like hours before the cardiologist finally came to talk with us. He explained to Dad that the hip surgery would be extremely risky given Dad’s poor heart function. He said Dad needed to make the decision as to whether to have surgery, or not. Surgery meant relieving the pain as soon as possible, but included the very real chance of suffering heart failure in the process. Bypassing surgery meant letting the fracture heal on its own – with Dad on bed rest for about three months – and then lots of physical therapy.

The cardiologist gently told Dad that the decision was his, but electing not to have the surgery meant a strong likelihood of developing blood clots and/or pneumonia. “If you don’t have the surgery,” he told Dad, “you will die.”

I could see the compassion in his eyes as he waited for Dad to make his decision. And he elaborated that although the surgery was very risky, his gut told him that Dad’s heart would tolerate it. Yet he reminded us that he could offer no guarantees. What choice did Dad have? He agreed to the surgery.

As evening wore on, we were still waiting to hear if the surgery could be done yet that night. Dad hadn’t eaten since the previous evening, and he hadn’t taken any of the bunches of pills he takes each day to make sure his transplanted kidney remains in good health. Poor Dad was stuck flat on his back, with nothing in his stomach and only allowed small sips of water. If the surgery could be done that night, he needed to have an empty stomach.

Finally, around 10:00 pm, we received word that the surgeon was still in the midst of another surgery, and Dad’s couldn’t be done that evening. And because he would be scheduled for first thing Friday morning, he still couldn’t have anything to eat and could only have small sips of water. Thankfully, they kept him pretty mellow with steady doses of pain medication.

Fifteen hours after we’d arrived at the hospital, I was finally dropping Mom off at home and heading back to my own house.

I was back at the hospital at 6:00 am Friday morning. Besides Mom and me, my three siblings, a niece, an uncle and two aunts (Dad’s sisters) were there to see him off into surgery. Dad was scared. He asked us all to pray with him and the hospital chaplain came into to lead us in prayer.

All in all, the surgery went relatively quickly. A volunteer provided us regular updates and it seems that Dad did well throughout his surgery. We got to see him once he was out of recovery and back in his room. All things considered, he looked and sounded really good! Of course, he was numb from the waist down.

Now comes the long road ahead. We’ve yet to meet with the appropriate parties who will let us know what to expect for Dad’s recovery. We only know that he’ll need to spend some time in a rehab facility. I’m guessing they’ll tell us that Dad will need to spend several weeks, at minimum, and I’m worried it could be a couple of months. I’m guessing Dad has no idea of the length of time his recovery could take, and once he finds out how long it could take, he may feel very defeated.

Dad has already decided that he won’t go to the transitional care facility that’s near their home. He spent a few days there once after another hospital stay and for reasons I’m not sure of, decided he didn’t like it. He has it in mind to go to another place that’s an additional twenty minute or so drive. It may be a nicer place, (or not. None of us has been there and really knows for sure.) But the additional distance will put a strain on Mom. She’s very fragile as it is, and her health won’t tolerate daily drives of that distance. If Dad would go to the closer place, my sister could spend her lunch break each day with Dad. Not possible if he goes to the place he thinks he wants to go.

My biggest fear is that Dad won’t be able to recover to a point of going back home to independent living. Mom’s health is so poor that she was barely managing to help care for him on one of his “good” days. If my dad can’t get back to a state of health like he was in before, I’m afraid they won’t be able to stay in their town house. Mom has wondered out loud to me about getting some temporary or occasional in-home health care. Maybe I’m overreacting, but I’m not convinced that would be nearly enough assistance for what lies ahead for my parents.

Mom was so worn out yesterday that she couldn’t even go visit Dad at the hospital. I stopped over to make an early dinner and eat with her, take the dog outside to do his business, and start a load of laundry. Then I headed to the hospital to spend a few hours last evening with Dad. He was sitting up in a chair when I arrived, which is promising. The hospital staff is already helping him move from bed to chair and back again. Soon he’ll have to start taking real steps. I’m praying he’ll stay persistent. Dad is not a strong man anymore on the best of days.

As I spent time with Dad last night, I noticed his speech was even slower than usual. He struggled to remember names or the specific words he was looking for. He would start a thought, then seemingly forget about it completely and begin talking about something else entirely.

At one point, he said he thought he was dreaming or hallucinating at various times throughout the day. As I was sitting across from him, he said he saw a young person next to me, holding a red and green ticket. I was the only one there, and at least Dad was lucid enough to recognize on his own that it wasn’t reality.

When his nurse and aide moved Dad back to bed, I took the opportunity to mention Dad’s confused demeanor and hallucinations. They assured me that it was likely just an effect of the pain meds. My fears weren’t completely relieved. Dad’s been on pain meds for days and I haven’t seen him in such a state, but I convinced myself to chalk it up to a combination of pain meds and being tired. He’d had several visitors throughout the afternoon and early evening, and my visit took him right into bed time. Still, I’m going back this morning and hope to see that his mind is refreshed after a night of sleep.

It’s Dad’s 75th birthday today.

I was feeling really sorry for all of us after last night’s visit with Dad. My sister and I already feel as if we’re juggling our own lives with the needs of our parents. But with the dawn of a new day, I was reminded that how I choose to view these circumstances is completely up to me. Rather than see all of this as yet another hurdle in my parents’ aging process, I need to face this as a challenge to be overcome. I just need to remember to stay positive. I can’t afford to let this suck me under.

Moved In

We got my parents moved into their new home this week on Wednesday. It was an all day affair and we got them pretty well settled in. All of my siblings pitched in, as did one sister-in-law and several of our own kids. We moved like hurricanes, getting boxes of essentials unpacked and making the most important living spaces livable. I worked without stopping for twelve hours. My mom, at one point asked if I didn’t want to sit for a while. I told her I couldn’t. I didn’t want to stop the momentum.

The spare bedroom currently holds all of the unpacked boxes containing less necessary items such as photo albums and household decor. We’ll get to it eventually. For now, we’re happy that Mom and Dad have a functional kitchen, that their living room, bedroom and bathrooms are usable, and they have clear spaces to walk through.

After my sister-in-law helped me make up my parents’ king-size bed, she went off to work in the kitchen, and I moved on to putting things away in the master bathroom. When I was finished, I encountered my youngest brother, Craig, apparently testing out the quality of our bed-making skills. I guess we passed. He managed a good nap.

2015-07-15All in all, we had a good day. We were so busy, there wasn’t time for tensions between any of us. I would actually dare to say we had fun. My other brother, Jim even gave me a big hug and said he thought I was the best sister in the world, even if he did just tell our older sister the same thing. We all came together that day. We put our differences aside, and maybe each of us saw the others in a different and better light. Maybe it was the magnitude of it all. Yes, it was just a move from one home to another, but I think we all realized that this will be the last stop for independent living for my parents. Maybe that thought made us all realize that some of the petty stuff we tend to hang onto just isn’t worth it.

It’s strange to look out from my front yard to the next street over now. I see the home that was my parents’ for the past twenty-six years and have to remind myself it’s not their’s anymore. It’s not my right to just walk over and let myself in anymore. No more popping in, plunking down on the couch in the living room where my parents would most likely be sitting watching television, and shooting the breeze while playing with Little Bear, their dog. (I’m his favorite “sister,” my mom always says.) If I want to see my parents now, I have to get in the car and make a jaunt down the freeway.

Of course, they’re only about a ten minute drive or so, depending on traffic. And we’ll no longer have to worry about clearing snow from another driveway after a big snowfall or wonder whose turn it is to take care of any of the miscellaneous yard tasks. They’ll still need help with a lot of their household stuff, as they have for a few years now, but now those things will have to be somewhat planned out, rather than the drop-everything-come-now kind of requests. My parents now have an association to take care of snow removal and lawn care. There are no more stairs for them to struggle with climbing. Their new home is tucked into a quiet little community, on a quiet little street, where they’re surrounded by people their own age. And their new neighbors are great! At various times as we worked to move my parents’ belongings into the new place, the neighbors, Ilene across the street (with the cool Mustang convertible and personalized plates,) Tom, Gloria, and the woman whose name I forget, sat in lawn chairs in their driveways, watching the goings-on. They introduced themselves to all of us and welcomed my mom and dad with open arms.

This is good. And I’m glad that the move is finally over. Seems like all I’ve thought about and done for the past two months are things related to this move. My own house needs attention and will get it now. I’m looking forward to resuming life as we know it for the remainder of this summer!