I sit and write this on an unexpected day off thanks to a blizzard which has crippled much of the tri-state area, with 20 inches of snow on the ground overnight. Everywhere people are trapped in airports and in relatives homes unable to leave. The end of my street left looking like a bulwark nearly twice the height of the fallen snow, the unwelcome by-product of the plows as they free up the main and secondary roads before the residential streets. I won’t be going anywhere by car at least until tomorrow. The past week has been a blur of unexpected work and worry, and it is only now that I look back on the whole experience with a fresh pair of eyes and a new positive outlook.
To say that my father and I have not seen eye to eye would be an understatement, we get along as long as I play his game on his team and if I don’t we don’t get along at all. While it is true that I have inherited his love of animals and nature, as well as an appreciation of collectibles, trains, antiques, and coins from him and have also his get-there-on-time attitude, that’s where we part ways. My mom and I have very similar tastes in food and adventure, and watch the travel channel with rapt attention hanging on every word and scene, wishing we could be there with Anthony Bourdain and eat the same food, and it’s my mom who gave me my lust for books and writing as well as most of my artistic talents come from her too.
So, that’s the bare bones of our dynamic which is of course very complicated in real life, but the fact is that in the last three years especially the house has been a battlefield. My father is a neat freak Felix Unger type, although he doesn’t mind his English clutter which drives me right up the wall. The way I see it if you’re a clean freak, you just can’t have piles of stuff laying everywhere and people with a double standard are my enemy. When my brother moved back home in 2007, dad was forced to give him back his room downstairs much to his anger. My dad didn’t want to give up his room and repeated over and over again”Where am I gonna put my stuff!” Apparently his stuff was more important than his son. Later in that same year my father had moved out of the bed he shared with my mom citing irreconcilable differences. Which is to say, he got tired of being woken up in the middle of the night and told to turn over on account of his snoring. This resulted in my dad annexing the dinning room and living room as his own personal space and a hallway leading to them became his too. I really resented this and told him so, and many pitched battles resulted in ours becoming a house divided, my dad often alone and ignored as the rest of us had no other space except the kitchen; where my mom sits and works on the computer, my brother in his room and me upstairs in my room. To me this is a very dis-functional household and always has been, but this was the last straw and I often said “I don’t want him dead but I don’t want to live with him either”. Unfortunately, we are all financially co-dependent on each other and no one wants to lose the house and wind up in a miserable small apartment with no garden, patio, or pool. That gives you about as much back story as you need to understand the situation, the last couple of years especially have been very frustrating. I have tried to get both my parents to eat right and follow doctors orders, my mom does about 2/3 of what she should do, my dad however does next to nothing. He is the only hold out that hasn’t quit smoking except my brother who started later in life, and my cousin,whos mom died of cancer. Yeah I know …but you can’t tell her either. We have to try to make the best of a bad situation. This would change from bad to worse in a heartbeat on the morning of Dec 16th when my dad requested to be taken to the emergency room at 6:20 when I came down for work. My dad had been suffering from a heavy cold that went into bronchitis and although we told him to go to the doctor, he insisted that he had to wait until he got his blood drawn and then go on the 20th for his already scheduled visit. Prior to this I argued with him that if he was sick he had to go now and not wait till the 20th but he wouldn’t budge. He had also been complaining about having trouble breathing at night, he said the house was too hot and dry. But it was he who would put the heat up because his blood thinners made him cold and no amount of heat except summer weather is hot enough for him. This is another bone of contention because of the uncomfortable situation for the rest of us especially my brother who has the room right next to the furnace room, so he combats the situation by running an air-conditioner on cooling, sick situation and costly too!
I called an ambulance and they came and took my father to the hospital where he was already receiving oxygen and fluids by the time I arrived. Then and after settling in and starting to ask questions I found out what I already knew, dad had Pneumonia and a fever, heart failure, edema and blood in the stool, but there were more tests to do-other things were not kosher. So I searched out his doctor and I found out that he had a low blood count and would be getting blood, liquid iron, magnesium, antibiotics, nebulizer treatment and steroids, I warned the doctor about his hearing loss and his possible Alzheimer’s or senility. The doctor questioned me extensively about my fathers medical history and I filled in blanks left during the examination and corrected wrong information given by dad from lack of memory. Later I went home and filled in my mom and brother on what had happened, then we all went to see him that night. He was still in the ER, they were waiting for a bed for him. Dad would remain in the ER till late, then finally they moved him to the ICU.
When we visited him in the ICU the next evening it was apparent that things weren’t going well, he was restrained for trying to leave and my dad was angry at us, acting strange and seemed confused. He imagined that dust was falling from the ceiling tiles where earlier in the day the staff had hung Christmas streamers, he also told of a World War I army truck moving through the halls. My dad called every day while he was there, saying that he was being released and gave us a list of what to bring to the hospital. But when we didn’t bring these items he was mad, he also insisted that we bring his wallet. He was scared that he would have to pay for food or starve to death! it made going to see him each evening a gut-wrenching experience after a busy day at work.
I remembered that his own father had signed himself out of the hospital years ago against doctors orders and imagined my dad would do the same, and we had been advised by his doctor that if he did so-he would resign as his PCP. When he was well enough they moved him to PCU and put him in with another man who was dying and had Alzheimer’s Disease, he was also angry at his son who came to see him, and was also given to outbursts. The last straw was when he called at 3:45 in the morning to tell me to come and get him, again going through the list of items he needed me to provide, he told me that the man in the bed tried to escape and it took three security guards to wrestle him back into bed, my dad was afraid and begged me to come and get him but I had to refuse, he was not well enough. I hung up with my dad and called the nurses station and asked what was going on but his night nurse told me dad was in no danger.
The indication of internal bleeding was explored but after an endoscopy in both directions and a few scans, there was no reason found for the blood loss or for his increasing confusion. They put him in a regular room as he graduated to better food and was getting stronger and more restless, and finally a cute little nurse told me what no one else could, that the steroids my dad was on could cause steroidal psychotic behavior, but his doctor; after a conversation with me about my dads behavior over the last few years, scheduled a neuro consult with tests to see where he is now and in future tests that will determine if he is getting worse. So, they released him after 6 days and he signed himself out, even borrowing physicians paper pants to come home by taxi rather than wait for me to come after work with his clothes. I was of course exhausted after days of working, driving my mom to the hospital to see dad, pushing her around in her jazzy because she can’t walk well enough, and trying to shop for Christmas, buy food and decorate the house to boot.
Then finally it all came together, I ran around like a nut and tried to finish my shopping, put up the tree and do shopping for my mom who was in too much pain to shop for her own gifts to give. I maintained constant contact as I tried to find the right things for people, even to the point of shopping Christmas morning for forgotten gifts to bring with us for the relatives on Christmas Day. My dad was still a little confused about many things. When he asked if we paid the bill at the hotel where he stayed, I just told him quietly there was no bill, it went on the insurance and he was relieved. Yes, he would ask me that same question three more times… but as we sat and had our usual Christmas Eve dinner… assorted hot appetizers. It didn’t matter anymore, I just stopped getting mad at these lapses in memory, and stopped resenting him for not taking my advice in the first place.
By now dad was on the nicotine patch that they started in the hospital and admitted that he screwed up, his doctor told us he was a few days from death if he hadn’t gone to the ER, this would have been the Christmas dad died. We listen to the Yule Log carols on DVD while we eat and dad will get a little teary eyed tonight and on Christmas Day too when talking about how happy he is to be able to spend the holiday with his family, instead of six-feet under. Then we would spend a wonderful day with the rest of the family at my cousin Donna’s house, and thank God the snow stayed away until the next day and didn’t spoil our family gathering. We didn’t put up 90 percent of the decorations in the house or on the tree, and we didn’t spend hardly any money on gifts like we usually do. But the real gift was life, the overspending and the overindulgence in food or drink and the covering of every available space in decorations of all kinds was not necessary. In fact it will make the heart grow fonder for the wonderful keepsakes we have been given if we miss them till next year. It’s five days later and dad is discovering the joys of eating and wanting to eat, but also the boredom of being stuck in from the sickness and the snow, as well as the extra free time one finds when smoking ceases to be important.
Now as we try to maintain a fragile peace with dad, and he with us. There has also been a peace established with our neighbor, for years we had many arguments and mis-understandings, but it was her mother’s death a week before my dads hospital stay that found me and dad going to the funeral parlor to pay our respects. It was where we found some common ground, the last years and final rest of parents on which to anchor a truce. It was also my neighbors experience that Pneumonia took her mother, not the cancer. My neighbor urged me to get him to a doctor and told my dad to his face to go as well. In some small way she helped the situation, dad always needs to hear things from someone else before he would ever believe us. Why…I don’t know, I guess it’s just his way of handling life. The one thing I do know is this, I grew up a whole lot in five days and it’s possible to be much happier with less than I ever knew. I still wish I could have given everyone a ton of gifts and filled everybody’s stockings with money, instead I gave them all kindness. A better gift by far than any I gave before.
Next year I’ll fill the stockings with money! How will I be able to do that? I don’t know, I just have this feeling…
Christmas Peace and happiness to all.