Monday, January 10, 2011

just dig a hole and throw me in

- my dad's comment when mom and i were having a little "pre-need" (interesting funeral industry lingo for planning your funeral while you're still around) discussion.

Friday, January 7, 2011

well the blues am a achin' old heart disease

i can’t leave dad home alone.  i can’t even leave him alone in a room unless he’s sleeping.  chances are that if i do, he’ll make a break for it in the walker (granted, it's a very, very slooow break...)  sometimes he heads for the bathroom, sometimes to the kitchen to get a beer.  in his head, the beer on the table next to him is always empty.  in reality, it is always mostly full, except for the times he knocks it over while trying to pull his walker closer to him.

the walker doesn’t stop my dad from falling.     

my dad has sensorimotor polyneuropathy with bilateral foot drop. his manual strength and dexterity ain't quite what they used to be and there's not much feeling or muscle control left below the waist. not so much awareness of where his legs and feet are in space, almost no balance at all, even with a walker like this.

me:  “hey dad, slow down.  before you try and get up, remember that it's easier to stand up if you pull the walker closer to you first,”  “dad, remember it’s easier to get up if you put your feet under you instead of out so far front of you,” “ok, remember how to get up?  put one hand on the arm of the chair to help lift yourself.”  

“ok dad, you’re heading straight for the wall.  start turning right now.  hang a quick right now.  ok, not quite quick enough.  dad, please don’t pick up the walker.  dad, remember it’s really, really important that you keep the walker on the ground.   i know it seems easier to just pick it up and swivel to make the turn, but when you pick up the walker, you fall over backwards.”

each time the same.   each day the same.   he doesn’t hang on to memories very long anymore.

every day i look for the balance between keeping him safe and preserving some of his autonomy, privacy, sense of dignity.  some times i think i find it and i feel like everything is as it should be, and sometimes it all just makes me sad.

well, the blues am a achin' old heart disease,
well, the blues am a low down achin’ heart disease,
like consumption, killin’ me by degrees.
-          - robert johnson

Robert Johnson Preachin' Blues

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

the usual collection of scrapes and sutures

dad's skin has become paper thin

and it peels away every so easily

and then there's the recurring skin cancers that have to be excised.

funny, but after months and months of cleaning and bandaging the revolving door of dad's scrapes, rather than becoming desensitized to the sight of blood and flaps of peeled back skin, it seems that i'm actually becoming more sensitive.  now just visualizing the smallest of scrapes sends twinges, twists and shudders through my stomach.

on the other hand, the doctors at the veteran's hospital let me watch, ever so up close and personal, as they cut a cancerous lesion from my dad's thigh.  no problemo on that one at all.  yeah, there's blood, but they cut then cauterize, then cut then cauterize. instead of the chaos of crazy ripped bloody shreds of skin produced by a scrape or a fall, there's just a clean, ordered incision. a method to the madness. a reason for the carnage.

so i think what i've really become overly sensitized to since i've been taking care of my dad is not the blood, the meat, itself - because i have no problem handling blood and meat in the ordered environment of the operating room - is the underlying chaos and fragility that a bloody shredded scrape represents.  in one moment you can be standing and whole and vital, and in the next you can be a bloody heap on the ground wondering what the heck just happened.      

Saturday, January 1, 2011

a different kind of journey

i’ve been staying with my mom and dad on and off since i returned to the states for a visit.

and now i find myself living alone with my dad since my mom’s been in the hospital.  

dad sleeps into the late afternoon if left undisturbed.   

i don’t leave him undisturbed. 

he’s mostly bone, loose bones in a thin sack grinding, grinding together.  he’s so small now that when he falls, even i am able to pick him up off the floor.  squatting down with straight back, like a powerlifter i raise him up to his feet. 

i don’t want what’s left of the muscles holding those bones in place to atrophy any more than they must, so i wake him at 10. 
he bears the indignity of having his daughter see him lay so tiny and confused his bed in the morning. 

   “time to get up dad.”
   “it’s a new day.”
   “go away.”

he bears the indignity of having his daughter clean him up and help him change his underclothes.  

   “i’m sorry dad, i know you're probably embarrassed.  please don’t be embarrassed.”   
   no response.

he bears the indignity of having his daughter help him dress.

   “this foot dad (tapping his right foot). right foot first.          
        now this one (tapping the left).
       not that one, dad, we already did that one. this one (tapping the left again)”. 

i pair him up with his walker and as he heads off to the bathroom i strip the bed and start the wash, take out the morning’s disposables and, keeping the routine that he and mom have established, prepare the kitchen table for his morning.  his medicine,  laforge for his heart condition, aricept for dementia and furosemide for edema goes on a tiny saucer.  next to that, a glass of water, a glass of “boost” for extra calories, vitamins and protein, a cup of coffee, half a banana and the morning paper. 

he begins to make his way into the kitchen smashing the wheels of the walker into doorjambs and digging deep lines into the cabinets with the hardware fastening the arms rest to the frame of the walker.

   “hey dad, it's just like parallel parking.  
         you have cut left really quick, then back up into the chair.  wait, don’t sit down yet!
         remember, you can’t sit down until the back of your legs are touching the chair.   
         are they touching the chair now?  yes?  then it’s safe to sit down now.”

and later, breakfast. some days cereal, some days eggs.

and then it's noon.