What a difference a week makes.
The other day, as I made my way down the hall to my dad’s room at The Inn (my dad’s term for his nursing home), I was greeted by one of his nurses who I’ve become quite friendly with. (One of the perks of having a family member who has been a resident for several years is that many of his caregivers have become like extended family.)
This particular nurse is a pal. When she saw me walk towards my dad’s room, she smiled brightly at me and said, “Guess what? He’s doing GREAT!” She then reported that much of his flu-like illness had resolved and he was feeling much better. His fever was gone. His appetite had bounced back. Vitals were all good. I thanked her and breathed a sigh of relief. Buoyed by the good news, I made my way toward his room.
The lights were off and I found him lying down in his bed. When he heard me walk in, he propped open his eyes in surprise. Then I heard his familiar booming voice exclaim, “Well, HONEY! What a surprise! I’m so glad to see you!” He struggled to sit up on his own. “Hi, Dad! You look like you’re feeling better!” I said. He nodded and said, “Oh, YES! I’m feeling much better!”
I walked over to him and offered my hand to help him sit up a bit, and instead he grabbed it, brought it up to his lips and gave it his signature kiss. “You look just beautiful, today!” he proclaimed, beaming at me. At that moment, one of his aides breezed into the room to drop something off. As she turned around to leave, he stopped her and said proudly, “Do you know my youngest daughter? She’s #7! Isn’t she a beauty?” The aide who has known me for over 5 years, nodded and smiled patiently, then said, “Oh yes, Ed. I know your daughter very well!” She and I exchanged good-natured eye-rolls and she walked out.
Great to have you back, Dad.
My dad is 88. He once told me, “I’m not old, I’m chronologically gifted.” Well, anyone who is “chronologically gifted” combined with a rather complicated health history can sometimes be rendered incapacitated by a brief illness. Add to that the challenge of Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia, and one shouldn’t be surprised to see a period of decline. We are fortunate he has started the slow process of bouncing back after a few weeks under the weather.
I know better than to count him out just yet. It wouldn’t be the first time he pulled a fast one on us.
Six years ago, when my siblings and I made the heart-wrenching decision to bring him to The Inn, we struggled with the idea that we were “putting him out to pasture.” But he had become too ill for my mother to continue to care for him. Like many spouses who desperately try to manage the care of a partner when they become ill, my mother put my father’s health needs before her own. She became very ill as a consequence, requiring temporary hospitalization. It was then that we realized we had to step in and find a long-term solution when we discovered how my dad’s memory impairment and physical problems required around-the-clock care. My mother hadn’t wanted to alarm us, and so she had been caring for him quietly and with dignity, as best as she could. But the time had come.
When we brought him to The Inn, it was the hardest day of my life. I couldn’t do it. My oldest sister, a nurse, bravely took him over while I spent most of the day wracked with guilt and feeling like I was in mourning.
But when he arrived at The Inn, he began to thrive. He started to exercise and participate in group activities. Being around people reinvigorated him. His memory even improved. He regained his love of woodworking through taking classes and even authored a column in The Inn’s newsletter entitled, “Ed’s Famous Last Words,” where he would interview residents and staff on various topics he chose.
(The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.)
As my dad rebounds from this illness, he has an incredible army of aides and physical therapists by his side whose main responsibility is to help residents reclaim and maintain their independence. The only problem now seems to be that he has gotten way too used to his shiny new companion: his wheelchair.
In fact, I do believe he’s smitten!
No longer does he have to labor with trying to navigate his walker, which exerts great energy and exhausts him fairly easily. The wheelchair makes his life very easy. Too easy.
We want that thing GONE.
The other day when I was with him, he rhapsodized about how great his wheelchair was. It was as if he were talking about a new lover. “It’s just so convenient!” he told me. “I just get pushed wherever I need to go. It’s really great!”
Delicately, I said, “That’s nice, dad, but you know the wheelchair is just temporary. We really want you to go back to your walker when you get your strength back.”
He looked at me with confusion. “Why would I want to do THAT?” I went on to explain that the more he sits in a wheelchair, the more deconditioned he becomes. I went into great detail about how important it is to remain active and “upright.” His walker gives him much-needed exercise. It keeps him young! (Throwing him a bone about retaining his youth is always a crowd-pleaser!)
He thought about it for a minute, nodded and then said, “But it’s really great! I get pushed wherever I want to go!”
This may be harder than I thought.
Well, what can I say? My dad always did have a knack for finding the shortcut.
But then again, he’s “chronologically gifted.”
So for now, that’s how he rolls.