Archive for September, 2006

A Fresh Start

September 4, 2006

wheel chair sign

After dad’s time rehabilitating in the nursing home was over, we spent several weeks with me caring for him at the house. Truly an adjustment for both of us, I figured out the best way to help him bathe, when to have him use his walker, and when to wheel him around in the wheel chair. Bathroom duties proved to be the most difficult for both of us. Suffice to say, I washed a lot of his clothes on a daily basis. He lost all interest in sorting through and reading his direct mail. Activity dwindled to watching TV and sitting on the porch to look at the lake and pet the dogs.

A physical therapist came to work with him three times a week. As his walking improved, I realized once again that boredom would soon become our nemesis.

Dogwood Haven, our new adventure, rescued us this time. With the help of my son Brad and the neighbors Jim and Brenda, we moved dad’s bedroom furniture into a room in Dad’s new retreat –Dogwood Haven Assisted Living. More like a carpeted house with many bedrooms, Dogwood Haven housed other elderly who found themselves in similar circumstances as my dad.

I seized the opportunity to return to LA. After being in Alabama for more than three months, instead of three weeks, obligations demanded my return. Dad and I decided to try out Dogwood Haven for a month, and I hoped it would become our saving grace. Seasoned with twenty years of experience, the owner suggested a month’s stay as the magic time period—just enough time to win over a new resident.

I started calling Dad daily and was able to reach him usually one day out of three. I discovered he couldn’t get to his phone very quickly. So I had to let it ring for a long time. Next I discovered he was holding the phone upside down with the wrong end at his ear. That didn’t lend toward easy conversation either. Sometimes his hearing aid batteries were dead. The owner and her staff helped iron out the glitches in his care.

I knew in order to win over his heart, Dogwood Haven must defeat the ever impending threat of boredom. Dogwood Haven provided a number of activities to keep residents occupied. However every time I asked Dad how he liked the activities there, he didn’t know what I was talking about. Even specific questions about activities I knew they offered– such as gospel singer performances and bingo games baffled him. I’d seen him eating several times with another elderly guy before I left for LA. I asked him how he liked his new eating companion. He didn’t recall having a new meal companion.

Another Crossroad

September 4, 2006

Geezer crossing

It’s clear we had reached another crossroad. Dad could never be left alone to live by himself.

After a night spent falling out of bed, Dad was exhausted and disoriented. As I sat with him in the Rehab Center, he was looking for cans under the bed and asking me if I’d mailed the stack of letters. Neither question was relevant to anything actually occurring at the time. However the following day, we actually had a decent conversation. We talked about his accountant and how the accountant pushed things back and seldom returned calls. He understood where he was and that his hip was broken and healing. He spoke about his roommate Herman. He also looked at me and told me he appreciated my coming to visit him every day. He told me he couldn’t believe both of his parents were gone. I knew what he meant.

When a good friend of mine called, she often talked to my dad too. He loved that and referred to her as his little girlfriend. I let her know my dad has lots of girlfriends– the gal at the bank, our neighbor Brenda, the dental assistant etc. She didn’t seem to mind.

When she spoke to him in the nursing home, she asked if he was looking forward to going home. He told her he would have to see how things worked out.

Medicare covers twenty days of nursing home rehabilitation. As we neared the end of paid coverage, I let Dad know that choices lay before us. We both agreed the nursing home fee of $123 a day wasn’t a preferred option. My heart sank when he said “If care is going to cost too much, maybe I should just end it.” What did he mean just “end it”? Fortunately, it didn’t mean overdosing on medication or asphyxiating in a garage filled with carbon monoxide. He simply figured once he decided to end it, life would cease by virtue of his decision. I explained that it does not always work out that way, and besides, we had plenty of favorable options to consider.

An All Expenses Paid Rehabilitation Vacation

September 3, 2006

Senior Citizens

According to the chest x-ray, dad’s pneumonia had cleared up. A week after being admitted, he was released at 5:00 p.m. and driven by ambulance to the Rehab Center (nursing home) in Fort Payne. Here he would remain until able to get around better. At this facility, family members were not allowed to stay all night in patient’s rooms. I sighed with relief.

I warned the Rehab Center staff about dad’s leaving attempts. Equipped for situations like these, they connected beepers to patients’ beds. One end of a strap attached the beeper to the patient’s gown, and the other end attached to the bed. As the patient moved and pulled on the strap, the beeper sounded off to the tune of “Mary had a little lamb”.

At first the beeper sensitivity was set so high that whenever Dad made the slightest move “Mary had a little lamb” filled the room with her familiar tune. The music provided entertainment and became the brunt of on-going jokes between my dad and his roommate, Herman.

Dad finally settled down. His restlessness subsided, and his determination to exit lessened. The facility provided daily activities for old folks residing there. Ranking high on the list was gospel singing from visitors with hearts of gold, who genuinely loved and cared about old folks. Their warmth made up for off key singing that Dad must have found soothing. He kept nodding and falling sleep during their performances, which I welcomed as a good sign. His body needed rest in order to heal.

However, his stay at the Rehab Center wasn’t uneventful. During his first night, when the staff had not yet hooked up the beeper, at 3:30 a.m. they  found him on the floor. A week or so later, I got a call at 6:30 in the morning. They found Dad on the floor again. Fortunately he didn’t seem to be hurt and had no new bruises. The beeper only alerted the staff, but did not prevent Dad from getting out of bed. Invariably he was trying to go to the bathroom. No amount of repetitive explaining about pushing the nurse call button, or warning him he could fall, affected his fixed thought patterns regarding bathroom detail.

His pattern of fierce independence prevailed, even when it seemed there was no recourse, but to ask for help. His immovable decision to do things on his own had endured every test. One could only hope he would realize the non-survival aspect of his decision, especially when his attempts proved so disastrous. I hated seeing Dad downtrodden, but as life winds down you are able to do less and less. He still had his sense of humor. Looking around the Rehab Center, (I didn’t dare call it a nursing home) he said he could see he wasn’t the only sad sack there. Truly, he was much less of a sad sack than many of the old folks we saw roaming the halls with walkers or wheelchairs.

Dad in Wonderland

September 3, 2006

fishing dad

The next day Dad was still awake and hallucinating due to lack of sleep and the “sedative”. In his crazed state of mind, he began seeing bugs on my face and hot dogs in the trees outside the window. He started threading a line on his invisible fishing rod and casting from the bed. From his food tray he was taking bites of imaginary dishes. As my dad was laughing and having his first psychedelic experience, I was short on sleep myself, and thought it would never end. That night they gave him a sedative that actually put him to sleep, and we finally got some rest.

Despite all the marvels of modern medicine, the following night, the exact same sedative did not work. During his sleepless commotion, he managed to pull out his catheter and IV, and once again became very busy with hospital exit strategies.

Prior to dad’s surgery, doctors discovered he had a heart murmur. However, a number of tests determined he was in good enough shape for hip surgery, despite his heart condition. The hospital cardiologist returned at the end of Dad’s stay to do a follow up heart test, an echo encardiogram. The cardiologist proposed exploratory minor surgery to determine the severity of heart valve damage causing the murmur. I discovered by questioning the doctor, heart murmurs develop over a long period of time, in fact, years.

I figured anyone walking two to four miles a day for the past twelve years was surviving quite well despite a heart murmur. Piggybacking another surgery on top of the one he had, sounded like an exercise in ignorance for a man my dad’s age. Dad would hate every minute of another surgery. It might crush his spirits completely, severely lessening his chances of longer survival. I told the cardiologist “no thanks” on the offer of minor surgery exploration.

When I encountered the cardiologist’s assisting intern in the elevator, he said no further surgery was a wise decision. I felt vindicated. The assistant seemed to have a higher level of care and honesty than the doctor–perhaps because surgery did not represent a paycheck for him.

The Inevitable Hospital Stay

September 3, 2006

Looking Better

After consulting with our neighbor Wydean, the neighborhood authority on who’s who and what’s what in Fort Payne, we were up-to-date on hospital horror stories. We followed her strict advice to admit Dad to Gadsden Regional Medical Center through their emergency section the next morning. The following day, the orthopedic surgeon operated on his hip and put in five screws and a plate. Surgery went very well. The surgeon said Dad lost very little blood, and it had been a clean break.

I stayed beside him day and night, sleeping in a chair that opened up into a bed. Hospital policy stated a family member or friend should remain with an elderly patient throughout the hospital stay. It was a wise policy, especially in my dad’s case. Keeping him in bed became the most difficult aspect of caring for him. He was obsessed with getting out of bed—either to go to the bathroom or go home.

After two days, when my son Brad and our neighbors Brenda and Jim came to visit, I finally got a chance to go to the house, take a shower, pack a bag of clothes, and return.

In my absence, the physical therapists had worn dad out walking him around. Brad said he protested loudly about the pain and after the exercise felt cold, shaky, and exhausted. He was fast asleep when I returned. A few hours later, after Brad and the neighbors had gone, the hospital attendant tried to take Dad’s  blood pressure and temperature. He could not wake Dad up. “Mr. Jack –wake up,” the attendant repeated over and over, while nudging him gently. No response. Putting a cold wet washcloth on my dad’s face finally aroused him. The thermometer revealed Dad was burning up with a fever of 103.5 degrees.

For whatever reason, the hospital attendant did not believe the temperature reading was accurate and kept insisting it could not be right. His theory that dad got hot from all the covers didn’t bode well with me at all. Dad used the same amount of covers the whole time in the hospital. I told this to the hospital attendant, who barely looked eighteen and reeked of inexperience. Dad’s face appeared flushed; his eyes were glazed over and his skin felt hot. I could see him try to talk, but no words would come out. His breathing sounded congested.

Still in disbelief, the kid said we would wait a few minutes, and he would re-take Dad’s temperature. Meanwhile, I wet a washcloth and started sponging Dad’s face, neck and hands. When the kid returned in 10 minutes to re-take the temperature it now read 103.4 degrees.

The hospital staff took fast action using ice packs and Tylenol to bring down the fever. Dad had developed pneumonia. I continued to sponge his face and hands. After a few hours the fever was down. They had him on antibiotics, and he was on the upswing. He started recovering from pneumonia with the highest temperatures never much over 99 degrees. However, he didn’t sleep for two nights. The supposed sedative they gave him the second night acted as a stimulant. He became a wild man doing bed calisthenics, with ongoing attempts to leap out of the bed.

Beware—if all is “well”

September 3, 2006

Come out now

Yes, things were going very well. Whenever Dad got a bit antsy, he would go for a walk, and his restlessness would fade away. As he was setting out for another walk, I cheerfully wished him a good one and said I would see him soon.

What other man 88 years old walks two, four, or six miles a day? Taking these walks provided a challenge, and he was proud of his accomplishment.

His walk usually lasted about an hour, and I was thinking he would be returning soon when the phone rang. When I answered, a woman asked if Milly was there. I told her Milly didn’t live here. She said she must have dialed the wrong number and was about to hang up when I thought to mention my mother’s name was Milly. The neighbor’s Labrador retriever was also named Millie. That Millie was taking a walk with my Dad. She asked me if Jack lived here. I told her yes–Jack was my father. Perhaps she was a family friend who had been out of touch and did not realize my mother had passed away.

But when she said Dad had fallen down on the road from our house, a harsh reality set in. Running with what speed I could muster and was quickly out of breath. Then I saw them just after the road slanted downhill. The mail lady was sitting with my dad in her car. She had found him lying on the pavement, moments after he had fallen. He was hurt and unable to walk.

Dad insisted he would be fine and was sure he hadn’t broken anything. I called our retired neighbor, Brenda’s husband Jim, to see whom they used as a doctor here in Fort Payne. Jim couldn’t remember. Given my dad’s animosity toward hospitals and doctors, Jim helped me take him to a chiropractor. The chiropractor took four x-rays and the last one showed a break in the upper femur near the hip.

Dead Set on Driving

September 2, 2006

Dead set on driving

Dad’s “re-activation” plan moved onto the next phase, and he began bugging me about getting the trucks fixed. The truck he bashed up was a 1986 Ford Ranger. His other truck, a 1987 Ford, had not run in awhile.

My son Brad came over and got the Ranger out of the tree. He drove it back to the house, and there it sat in the driveway with its bumper and radiator crushed and shaped into an almost perfect “V.”

After checking and testing various possible causes, Brad discovered the 1987 Ford wouldn’t start because it wasn’t in “park”. The column shifter did not indicate the correct gear anymore, so you never knew which gear you were in.

Upon hearing that, I thanked our lucky stars Dad had never been able to start the truck. Oh, and he had tried. I marveled at the analogy between the truck’s column shifter and my dad’s mind. Both were unpredictable. You never knew which gear would set them moving and in what direction.

Repairing both trucks turned into Dad’s next pet project. By this time, I had to face the fact that in spite of having crashed into the tree, Dad still had big plans for driving.

Although dad’s driving days were over, getting a stubborn, fiercely independent 88-year old man to see he should not be driving was a daunting task. Mentioning his poor memory problems and lengthened reaction time only fueled his stubborn resolve. My new tack to convince him not to drive had back-fired.

I told him his friend Harry Partridge didn’t drive anymore. His driver’s license had been revoked, and his kids had taken the keys away from him. The mention of Harry provided the opening Dad was looking for, and he cleverly pointed out that Harry was 101 years old while he was merely 88 years old. Then Dad launched into a lengthy digression on the subject of Harry, leading us far off the track, away from the subject of driving. While his memory may not have served him, his wily, divertive tactics still did.

Taking another approach, I shifted the topic back to trucks. If I couldn’t get him to quit driving the trucks, perhaps I could eliminate trucks to drive. I told him it was like pouring money down the drain to fix trucks we didn’t need anymore. He only used the one truck to dump trash in the landfill. We could start using a garbage disposal service, like his other neighbors, and get rid of the trash eyesore in the woods. He kept  insisting it was very handy to have a truck. I kept asking what else he would use it for, and he kept saying it was handy for things. A circular conversation ensued, resulting in a stalemate. Not even appealing to his frugal nature would budge him from his position. At this point I called in reinforcements.

When Dad went for his walk, I phoned Brad. I asked him if he could please return the other leaf blower and see if Dad had ruined the leaf blower full of anti-freeze. I also solicited his opinion about Dad’s driving. My inquiry unleashed Brad’s stored up protest which came gushing forth. Climbing onto his soapbox, Brad assured me there was no way Gramps should be driving;. He was a veritable hazard on the road to man and beast. Ah ha! An ally for my camp! A fighter in my corner! As the saying goes, “I love it when a plan comes together.” And as while we talked, we stamped the seal on dad’s driving fate.

Brad came over, and between the two of us. we convinced Dad that a garbage disposal service was better than an unsightly landfill. Brad nailed Dad down on the other handy truck uses–hauling brush and filling potholes. After building and paving the road to the house, those uses had disappeared. Dad relented, and in his moment of agreement I rushed him down to sign up and pay for the garbage disposal service.

Brad helped me figure out how to sell the trucks. I hid the vehicle keys. At last the turmoil was laid to rest. Life settled down and complacency gradually filtered into the coming days. I resumed my home-based business endeavors, and Dad returned benignly to his three routines of “finding out about the world” (watching TV), reading his stack of direct mail, and taking several, sometimes as many as three walks a day.

New Uses for Familiar Things

September 2, 2006


Our neighbor Brenda called and asked if she could borrow our leaf blower.  There sat the leaf blower ever–ready, outside on the steps where my Dad had left it. It dawned on me that it was out of fuel. I found the leaf-blower manual and was checking for fuel proportions, when Brenda drove up. I announced Brenda’s arrival to my dad so he could come out and say “Hey” as they do here in Alabama.

Brenda said a wasp stung her while driving over in the car. The last time she got stung it took a week  for the swelling to go down. To avoid further aggravation from the sting, she decided to postpone leaf blowing for a few days. I offered to have her take the blower with her and gave her the manual. She would just take the manual and leave the blower at our house. In the meantime, her husband Jim could figure out fuel proportions and get the gas and oil ready for when she used the blower.

At this point, my dad picked up the container of anti-freeze sitting on the steps and offered it to Brenda to take with her. She asked what was in the container and my Dad replied that he didn’t’ know, but it might be something she could use. I told Brenda it was anti-freeze. She said their cars had closed engines and probably wouldn’t need it. Yes, I thought, that was one good reason not to need it, and the 70-degree April weather was also another. Rest assured fuel lines wouldn’t be freezing up anytime soon.

Brenda drove off. As I looked at the blower, I thought about filling it  with gasoline and oil to save Brenda and Jim the trouble. I turned the blower on its side, unscrewed the gas cap, and lo and behold, a thick green goo filled the opening to the brim. It appeared my Dad had, after all, figured out the use of antifreeze.

Though a far cry from a mechanical genius, even I figured antifreeze was not good for a leaf blower. But beyond that, I was clueless about what to do. So I called my son Brad. He couldn’t come over right away because he was leaving for work to begin his 2-10 p.m. night shift. Dad had two leaf blowers anyway. Brad said he would bring back the other one he borrowed, in case this one was ruined.

How did we end up with two blowers? Whenever Dad could not find something–which occurred frequently–he would go out and buy a new one. That is how he ended up with zillions of socks. He said it would probably take him a year to wear every pair, but that was assuming he could find them.

With the leaf-blower problem under control, I delved back into my new freelance business. However,  Dad had other ideas. My little office with computer was located to the side of the kitchen on a desk area, extending out from the kitchen counter. The banging began as my Dad started opening and shutting kitchen cupboards searching for something. I asked him what he was looking for and he told me a wrench. Well, amazingly enough…we don’t keep wrenches in the kitchen cupboards. I suggested he look on the shelves in the entryway where numerous other tools were located. I asked him why he needed a wrench and he answered vaguely, saying he was working on something. There comes a time when you just do not want to know. I had other things to do, and there would be no grilling him about what he was going to do with that wrench. The wrench remained an unsolved a mystery.

On a Roll

September 2, 2006

Bouncing Seniors

Hoping Dad would bask in truck crash memories awhile longer, I worked on my computer-based business. However, Dad was still set on proving his survival capabilities.

While chatting on the phone with our neighbor Brenda, out of the corner of my eye, I saw dad wearing a silly straw hat as he headed out the door. My mom bought that beach hat years ago. Fifteen manly golf caps hung on hooks inside the door entry area. Yet Dad sidestepped grabbing one on his way out. As he waved and scurried out the door I thought, “Who is going to see him anyway? He is just going for a walk in the woods.”

Then I heard an engine revving, and with the portable phone in my hand and Brenda still on the line, I bolted out the door to chase after him. He pulled out in the burgundy Chevrolet Lumina that he had come to call “the red car.” As I raced toward the car, yelling as loud as I could for him to stop, he became aware of my commotion and stepped on the brake. At least there were no dogs riding in the front seat with him.  I noticed his seat belt was fastened, but the door was ajar. Seat belts fulfilled a new purpose–they kept you from falling out of open car doors.

Out of breath, I asked him where he was going. He hesitated and with a look of confusion replied vaguely, “Oh, just down the road”. A bit of questioning revealed he was headed toward the woods. I asked him not to go far or take long because dinner would soon be ready. As I walked  toward the house, I warned Brenda he was headed her way. She said she would watch out for him. But, a  few minutes later,  he pulled back into the carport. The mailbox held an enormous stack of mail, which distracted him from his drive to the woods.  So, he returned to weed through the mail.  A remnant of his old routine reasserted itself–a welcome break from recent adventures.