“Remember that face.” He snarled at me, casting a suspicious glance in my direction.
He is 92 and adamantly refuses to use a walker, despite a feeble gait. He coached high school football and track until he was 90. He is a first-generation Italian. He is always in control and, more often than not, controlling.
He is fading. His ability to process new information is fast receding, as his remote memory is fast becoming his reality. He is fading.
His wife cannot manage him any longer. She has done well: long-suffering, loving, forgiving. Perhaps if he had been a bit more kind to the providers who occasionally sat with him, while his wife had a brief respite. Perhaps if he had been a bit more accepting of an occasional visit to a respite care facility, while his wife took a much-needed trip to visit family. Perhaps.
All those shadows of “things that might have been” evaporate into thin air as my brother and I shuffled my father into the car for a round-a-bout transfer to his new home in a lock-up, also called a memory care unit. He will leave the place feet first when he leaves. It was surreal and somewhat ugly.
We drove around town, thoroughly confusing him. “Is this the right way to go?” What a perfect question for all three of us. And a good spiritual question for all of us.
We drove around until a facility staff member called me to report that they were ready to receive him. I had slipped him a few Aprazolam an hour before the departure from his old home, so he was a little ropey-dopey when we hurried him out of the car and into the front door of his new digs.
We had avoided the first of our projected nightmare scenarios – street drama. We had heard stories of old folks who were moved into units, against their will, who wouldn’t get out of the car, or who laid down in the street and refused to move.
Dad shuffled into the lobby area and sat down. Within minutes, we were surrounded by a host of characters. A bright-eyed old lady brought her Yorkie over to meet Dad. Millie the dog was friendly and nuzzlie. Dad was neither. A straight-backed old timer walked over to us and greeted us with a winning smile: “The car is not the book come over walking time out?” He waited patiently for my response.
I smiled. “It sure is.”
He smiled that radiant smile. I liked that fellow. Dad didn’t.
Another old bird walked by and patted Dad on the shoulder. Then she patted my brother. Then she patted me. Then she stole the straight-backed fellow’s walker and took off down the hallway.
Dad fell asleep. The facility staff members gathered around and greeted us with sincere friendliness, as they adroitly interacted with the crowd of memory-care inmates.
Dinner was good. A bit pureed, but good. Dad woke up enough to dip a Saltine or two into the puree. We moved to the common area for Hallmark movie night. Millie’s owner and Pat-a-back sat near us and stared. Dad slept. I decided to introduce him to his new room. He shuffled in and went straight for the bathroom.
I have been through some of these geriatric issues during the last 33 years of practicing medicine, but my brother is new to the world of medicine. Dad needed help lowering his drawers at the toilet. I took care of this part of the process and held him up from the back side, while I asked my brother to make sure the front side issues were going well.
“He is aiming in the wrong direction,” my brother noted as he peeked at Dad’s less noble parts.
“Straighten him out,” I told him.
“Straighten it out so he doesn’t go all over the wall.”
My brother gave me a sheepish look as he helped straighten out the issue at hand.
“Is this the right way to go?” Dad asked.
“You’re doing fine, Pa.”
We got him into bed and heaved a collective sigh of relief. We had avoided the second of our projected nightmare scenarios, room drama. He didn’t yell, he didn’t pitch a fit. He went right to sleep. My brother and I pulled up some floor and a few thin blankets and made it to stage one of sleep.
“Is it time to go?” We held our breaths. “Is it time to go?”
“No, Dad,” I whispered, “its bedtime.”
“It’s time to go home!”
The all-nighter had begun. The next eight hours were a nightmare of yelling, threats, kicking, punching, moaning, complaining, interspersed with limp-as-a-fish dozing, and tight-as-a-tick wakefulness. We finally gave up trying to cajole him to sleep and stood him up. We walked the hallways with Dad. Up and down. Back and forth.
“Is this the right way to go?”
“You’re doing fine, Pa.”
The world of parent care and providers and home health and hospice and memory units and nursing homes is a brave new world for many of us. My heart jumps from relief for Dad’s wife, to guilt over my involvement, to mental images of a very distraught old fellow with whom I never had an ugly word.
My discussions with the Living God have been rather simple in the last few days: “Is this the right way to go?”