Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Happy Birthday

I arrived at the nursing home with a cupcake and candle, and two pointed party hats. My father was sitting outside in the shade, staring at the parking lot. I crouched in front of him and slid the hat's elastic strap under his chin.
"Dad, guess what? It's my birthday. I'm fifty today." I put on my own matching hat.
He scowled at me, or through me.
"Fifty years ago, you were in the Air Force and Mom's doctor wanted to play golf, so he induced her."
My father's pale eyes found mine. "He did?"
"Yes. There was a tornado that day and everyone was terrified. Do you remember? In Sherman Texas. Perrin Air Force Base."
"I was carry corry carry curry..." his voice stuttered over the repeated sounds.
"You were a captain," I said, placing the cupcake in front of of him. I put the candle into the stiff chocolate frosting and reached for my lighter. When I turned back, he had frosting on his palm and the cupcake was gone.
"Where is the cupcake?"
His pant leg was streaked with frosting.
"Dad. What did you do?" I stood over him. There was a blob of chocolate frosting on his waistband. "Did you put the cupcake into your pocket?"
"Four. Nine. Three and sixteen." He sat still as I felt around his legs and back. The aide came to take him back inside.
"There might be something sticky in his pocket," I said. As they walked away, I snatched off his party hat. It was a ridiculous idea, like dressing your dog for Halloween. I realized, I had stolen some of his dignity. My throat burned with dismay.

I would never, ever do that again.

Monday, May 24, 2010

That Kind of Day

I'm gearing up to visit my father. In order to go into the dementia ward, I have to prepare myself for what I might see. Best case: he's sitting quietly or walking in the main room with the other residents. Worst case: well, it's hard to pick a single scenario. Once, I arrived to find him in a rage hoisting a heavy upholstered chair over his head, intending to throw it through the window. Another time, I found him pinned to the wall, with three security guards jostling to control his flailing fists. At the other extreme, I'm exceedingly distressed when he is slouched in a chair, near catatonic, drooling and non responsive, numb from the anti-agitation medication that he undoubtedly required. There are so many hideous visuals: images that torment me during the night so that my jaw aches when I wake from clenching my teeth.

I start by coaching myself: Today may be different. Today my father might smile upon my arrival and offer me his hand. "Nice to meet you," he'll say. And I'll shake his hand and introduce myself.

I hope today is that kind of day.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Run Away! Run Away!

Before nine this morning I had three phone calls. The nurse from the dementia ward called to report that my father bit someone and would be medicated and in restraints. The head of the agency providing private aides called to inform me that they are terminating our contract in 48 hours due to "failure to meet the unreasonable expectations" of my mother. My mother called to say that the nurses/aides/staff don't know how to handle my father. She was en route to the home at the time, letter of complaint in hand, unaware for the moment of the above developments.

I am running away from home.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


The nursing home is threatening to throw my father out. He is acclimated, content and easily managed. He has 24 hour private aides who keep him company and hold his hand while he paces. He has no medical issues, no special needs. So what's the problem? It's my mother!

In her quest to make his last days (more likely, years) pleasant, she has alienated everyone who cares for him.
Don't let him sit in his room
Don't put him in front of the television
Don't give him tuna sandwiches more than once a week
Don't talk to him like that
Don't walk too close/too far from him
Don't feed him
Don't let him go without eating

The nursing staff scatters when my mother arrives, like fish sensing a predator in the water, they flee. The aides who sit with my father ask to be reassigned. The administrator calls ME to express his dismay: "We cannot satisfy your mother." I guess she wrote one too many letter of complaint, left one too many phone messages and emails. Now what?

Now what?