My phone rang as I was waiting for my flight to New York to take care of my dad. “This is Visiting Nurse Service. Our aide went to your dad’s house today and found him on the floor, so she called 911. The ambulance came and your father refused to go to the hospital. He’s allowed to refuse, so they left.”
“Oh, Lord. What was he doing on the floor? He told me he drags himself around on his knees.”
“Well, that’s what he was doing when she came in.”
Okay. “Well, what did she do after the ambulance left?”
“She got him cleaned up and she managed to get him into bed.”
“Okay, well, I’ll be there tomorrow.” We hung up.
Great, so Dad’s hospital material and he’s by himself, I thought. Great. I wonder what I’m walking into – stepping into is more like it.
When I got there, the aide answered the door. She was bathing him in the bathroom. I respected my dad’s modesty and waited until they were coming out. I heard her say, “Well, you stood for a long time. You’re doing great.”
“I can’t stand anymore.” I heard the edge in his voice.
“Okay, let’s get down,” she said.
I went to see what was going on. Dad was on his hands and knees, and the aide was trying to make him use a walker to hold himself up. I offered to help lift him to reach the walker and we got him to hold on. He looked like a sloth, with his super-long fingernails, loping hunch and slow crawl. To say he was crawling was generous. He could hardly lift each leg to move forward, and, tired from standing, his legs trembled. The situation was worse than I thought.
The aide and I got him into bed and Dad said, “Maria, in the bathroom closet there’s a mommumum bag with some napkins. Go get it, will ya?” I brought one of several McDonald’s bags full of stolen napkins. “I use these as tissues,” he said as he blew his nose.
Outside his room, I talked to the aide about what she’d seen. She told me about the big sores on his knees from crawling – “I’m not even allowed to put a Band-Aid on them,” she said — and what happened the day before with the ambulance. “He just wouldn’t go,” she said. Yep, that’s Dad, alright.
I studied Dad as he slept. He looked even more frail than usual, which made sense because he was. His hunch made him sit up halfway in bed, like he was doing an ab crunch. It was hard to believe his spine wouldn’t let him lie down, but I hadn’t seen him sleep in years so what did I know? I finally understood what he meant when he said his shoulders hurt in the mornings. His shoulders faced the ceiling, holding up his back. He coughed – a big, phlegmy hacking cough – but did not wake up.
My nose started to run. The house’s bad air was kicking in. Probably why Dad had that cough, living here with no fresh air.
I went downstairs to start making arrangements to get him care. There was no way he could stay in his house by himself. I picked up his phone and unraveled the super-long cord so I could sit in the next room. There was a dirty cordless phone on the wall, taped to its cradle. I’d picked it up but it wasn’t hooked up. I made some appointments, with social workers mostly, and then I woke him up for dinner. I sat him up in bed and he hung his feet over the side. I’d brought him a sandwich from the deli at the train station.
“It’s hard to eat a sandwich with no front teeth,” he complained, as he had some difficulty biting it. I’d forgotten that he’d lost some bridges while at the rehab, so he had few teeth left. I asked him if he wanted me to cut the sandwich up, but he said no. After dinner, he asked me to get his urinal. I did, and left the room so he could use it. He told me he was done and I emptied it into the toilet. He asked me to lay him down and he slept, as usual.
The next morning, he asked me to take him to the bathroom. He heaved himself down to the floor and crawled, one excruciating step at a time, down the hall. Then he told me to leave and close the door. I went to make more phone calls.
I went to check on him. “DAD, ARE YOU OKAY?” I yelled through the door.
I opened the door. He was sitting on the floor near the toilet. I didn’t know whether he’d used it or not. “ARE YOU OKAY?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m okay,” he said.
“CAN I HELP YOU GET UP?”
“No, no, close the door,” he mumbled. I did.
Twenty minutes went by. I went back to the bathroom, cracked the door. Dad was sitting farther from the toilet. “CAN I HELP YOU, DAD?”
“No, nomph, shut the door.”
Twenty minutes later, I asked again. “No, no, close the door.” I kept checking for two hours. Same response. I called his neighbor for help — maybe he’d be ok with a guy helping him. No answer. I wanted to respect Dad’s wishes, but finally, I went in there and told him I was getting him up no matter what. I heaved him up to his knees, and he crawled back to his bedroom. Grasping the floor lamp with one hand and a chair with the other, he lifted himself back into bed. I pushed him to the middle and he went to sleep. My husband was right. He would die of his own stubbornness.
I spent the rest of the day finding services for him, and set up 24-hour care to start the next day. The aide came that day and cleaned him up, and I made him a turkey sandwich with mustard, which he said was “terrible.” Well, yeah, Dad when your whole refrigerator went bad and all you had was what the neighbor brought, gourmet sandwiches were kind of out of the question.
I went to bed, thanking God that the aide was coming tomorrow.