Friday, December 29, 2006

"Don't Leave Me"

My father's Christmas presents are still wrapped and waiting for him under the tree. But it will be a long time before he sees them.

My dad had a seizure a week ago and it looks like he'll be going to a nursing home for another period of rehab.

He just got home in November after being away for a month and now he's back on the chain gang.

Only this time its worse. As one of the doctors explained to me, my father's condition has come down a notch for good. They can help him in rehab, but he will not have the same mental and physical abilities he had before.

I saw him yesterday and I have to say he looked terrible--like an ancient infant, helpless, confused, drifting between sleep and consciousness. We're heading into a new year, but for my father every day is the same.

I had come from the Patient Relations (hah!) Department on the first floor, where I had gone to look over several sets of dentures that had no owners.

The hospital managed to lose my father's own pair while we were at the Emergency Room on last week (God, it feels like a hundred years ago) and, to their credit, they were doing their best to find them.

I've never had to ID dentures before. I thought it would be like one of of those old cop movies where they pull the sheet back from the body and the victim's family starts sobbing.

However, this was more like someone cleaning out their attic, as one of the staffers came into the office with a cardboard box fall of false teeth and proceeded to put down several pairs for my inspection.

My father's was not among them, but I would like to know how all these dentures came to be here. Where were the owners? Were they all walking around gumming their food, or was this all that remained of them?

The hospital staffer told me there was a good chance my dad's teeth had been thrown out, which doesn't surprise me one goddamn bit, the way things have been going these last week or so.

He told me he'd put in a request for reimbursement, but I get the feeling the hospital is going to try and weasel out of paying for their blunder.

Once I got upstairs I found my father's bed was gone--removed from the room completely--and I felt that old panic, where I'm convinced he's dead and no one's told me about it.

But it turned out they had taken him downstairs for some tests and it was just easier to wheel the entire bed out of the room then to try and get him into a wheelchair.

Auld Anxiety

They brought him upstairs and I sat with him for about an hour or so. Missing dentures are the least of his worries, as he is being fed through his nose.

The doctors want to put a feeding tube into his stomach, but my family has heard bad things about this procedure, including the possibility of infection. But we may not have any choice.

My father shares his room with a young Orthodox Jewish man who appears to be in a coma. He has not moved any of the times I've been there and he has friends or family who sit with him during the day. While it's tough to see my dad in this condition, this other man doesn't appear to be a day over 30.

I tried to read while I was there, as conversation is pretty much impossible, given my dad's deafness and failing mental state. But he kept on trying to put out the IV and get out of bed to go to the bathroom. The nurses told him to just go in his diaper, but he didn't seem to get it.

Finally, they came in and restrained my father's hands, stretching his arms out so he looked like he was being crucified. I know this was for his own good, but it was awful to see him like that.

After a while, I kissed him goodbye and told him I'd see him soon. Mary, his aide, was down there today and she called to tell me he seemed a little better. She told me that as soon as my dad saw her, he said, "don't leave me."

You know I think I'm a little jealous, but Mary has earned his trust over the last year or so. And he has said similar things to me, but nothing so direct. I think is better equipped to handle his problems than I am.

God, he must be frightened and confused. I hate to say this, but I'm starting to wonder now if it would be better if he just went in his sleep. I'm not saying this for selfish reasons, honest to God. It's just that I can't stand seeing him like this. He has no idea what's going on, his body is failing--it's like cruel joke is being played on him.

And the doctors say his seizure was due to the fall he suffered last week. This enhances my guilty feelings, since I was home when it happened.

It was 2 AM, I had Edith, the night nurse, in the house with me, we had the baby monitor on in the room, and he still fell down and cracked his head open. I don't know what to do, short of strapping him to his own bed at night. I'm trying not to wallow in the guilt, but some days it's very hard.

I wonder if he will ever get to unwrap his presents and if he does, will he even know what they are. My sister and I put a Christmas tree this year, but he will never see it. He'll be in rehab well into January and by that time the tree will long gone.

So, when the ball drops on Sunday, my father will most likely be asleep. When he wakes up on Monday, the new year will be meaningless, and all the talk about resolutions, change, fresh starts, and new leaves, will not matter to him at all.

He'll be in another world, about as far away from the New Year's revelers as he could possibly be.


Calamity Jen said...

Hang in there, Rob, and try to stave off the guilt. You can't watch your father 24/7, nor should you be expected to. His fall was an accident, pure and simple.

Hope 2007 is a much brighter year for you.

Rob K said...

Thanks so much, Jen, and all the best to you for the new year.