Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The River

First stop yesterday morning was work so I could sign the paperwork for a Family Medical Emergency Leave of Absence. That was swift and easy. Then off to the rehab where I had to sign the admission releases for my father who never got an opportunity to do that. Then off to work.

That was sure weird.

All the ordinary furniture of a standard workday--making sure the shelves were stocked, advising customers about toilets and cabinetry, taking abandoned carts to the front--except that I wouldn't be doing it tomorrow or the next day or the day after that. Instead, I'd be entering an unknown world of caring for my father at home.

In my mind's eye, I see myself on the bank of a river, my eyes focused on the far shore. Slowly I wade in, my feet feeling my way across the stones at the bottom, the water getting deeper and deeper, ankles to knees to hips. Preparing myself to make the swim through the currents to the other side. I know what the other side is like. But it's the crossing that's daunting.

I called the hospice program to let them know about my leave of absence and they said, "Great! I'll make arrangements for the equipment to be delivered tomorrow morning and for your father to be discharged and transported home!"

That splash you just heard was me making the initial dive. My clean, athletic stroke is taking me out of the shallows and into the deeper water.

After work last night, I headed to the hospital to visit my father there for the final time. Again I had the jarring experience of walking into my father's room and finding him not there. He had been moved down the hall, which I thought was weird, but then I understood when I walked in: he had a single room, all to himself. I assume they did this because it would be disconcerting to his roommate who was in there recovering from something to have a man in the next bed who might slip away at any minute. Especially when my father told his roommate that he was in because he fell and broke his hip.

But there was my father. Awfully animated. And talky.

Although, at this point, because his breath is so shallow and he's too weak to move his mouth to make words, he's difficult to understand. I caught what I could, but I couldn't get the gist of it. Which seemed not to matter to him. His eyes were fixed facing away from me, up in the corner of the room, as he related what I thought was some story.

Some story. My father's stories. Something of an inside joke in my family. About how the firehouse in Pottsville where he would spend his summers as a boy would raise money by getting a keg of beer from the Yuengling brewery and you would come in and put a dollar on the keg and you could drink all you want although the trick was you didn't know how much beer was left in the keg and you could be paying for suds. And of course, the pumper was horsedrawn, and the harnesses and such for the horses hung from the ceiling, ready to be dropped into place. About how when he got out of the army, his mother asked him to run an errand. His dog Blossom, a Springer Spaniel, went with him. Blossom would run ahead, and run up the stoops of certain houses on the block. My father realized that she was remembering when she used to come along with him on his paper route many years ago, stopping at the houses on his route. About how my mother worked on the congressional campaign of James A. Michener, who sat in our livingroom. About how when he was in Scotland with my stepmother he got a craving for milk. He went in to a little market in the High Street and bought a bottle and chug-a-lugged it right there. The shopkeeper said to him, "Yoo're an american then, Aye?"

All those stories. All ending the same way, with the same punchline: my father's amazement. "Can you believe that?" he'd say.

"Well, yes I can," we'd sometimes reply, "because you've told that story a thousand times."

And now, all those stories will only be in our memories.

I started to cry, stifling it. Steeling myself against it. Not wanting to upset my father.

He asked me to get the nurse so she could put him on the bedpan again. (I know when he's home, my father is going to drive me nuts with the bedpan, which seems to be his latest obsession.) When the nurse came in, I took the opportunity to excuse myself. I found a little lounge down the hall by the elevator, went in and closed the door behind me and let the tears come. Just standing there sobbing. They had a little table for kids with some toys and a few books. And one of the books was called "Are You My Mother?", about a newly-hatched baby bird who goes in search of his mother, asking that question of a dog, a hen, and a cow. I knew the story without even opening it because my father had read it to me with me curled in his lap.

More sobbing.

I composed myself and headed back to my father's room. "False alarm" he reported. Which when he said it sounded like "Fal Halar." I told him that tomorrow, he'd finally be coming home. He started grilling me. What did I do with the mail? What bills had come in? Was I saving the papers for him? Oh his anxious, obsessiveness. Which has driven me apeshit often over the past four-and-a-half years. Now I loved him for it more.

The nurse came in to check on him, and my father asked if he could have some ice cream. She couldn't understand what he was saying, so I translated. "What kind?" she asked.


"I'll see what I can do," she said.

She managed to find some. Only it was strawberry. She started in feeding it to him, spoonful by spoonful. My father would choke and swallow with difficulty, but always nodded his head, indicating he wanted another spoonful.

She turned to me. "Would you mind?"

Not at all.

With me feeding him the ice cream, my father did much better. "Don't think about swallowing it," I said, "Just swirl it around in your mouth with your tongue. It will go down on its own."

I liked the fact that I was doing a better job at feeding my father ice cream than the nurse.

Because that's what I do.

For the past four-and-a-half years anyway, I have fed my father. Bacon and eggs, macraroni and beef, meatloaf and scalloped potatoes, roast chicken, creamed chip beef on toast, brownies, gingersnaps, BLTs, pork and sauer kraut, fish chowder, jumbalaya. Even the fateful Shrove Tuesday pancakes.

So that was yesterday.

I fell asleep watching the results of the March 4th primaries last night, waking up and dragging myself to bed at 4 a.m. I got up this morning at Eight and started in getting the house ready to receive a hospital bed and all the other krankhaus paraphernalia that the hospice people are bringing this morning. No mean feat!

I'm out over my head now, heading across the river to the other side.

No comments: