I could feel my nervousness as I approached my father’s home. Based on what I was told, I expected to see my father less verbal, but mobile. I arrived with photos I planned on looking at with him, and hoped to listen to music together.
However when I walked into his bedroom, I was surprised to see him sitting up in a hospital bed, and not reacting to the people around him, including myself.
“Hi dad!” Nothing. No look of recognition. No eye contact. In that moment my soul must have slipped out of me because my emotions shut down and my practical self took over. In an instant I thought to myself: “Okay, so this is the situation now. Adjust to it and meet him where he is at.”
If I was sad or scared, I must have shoved it far behind me because I easily sat next to him and tried again, “Hey dad. It’s me.” Still nothing. I looked as his hands, and was shocked to see them so thin and bruised. I put my hand on his shoulder and felt his bones. I ran my hand down his arms, and they were so thin. What happened??
I held his hand, talk with my sisters in the room, and looked into his eyes, which seemed to be staring at nothing. I fed him slowly and he ate slowly. John Wayne’s “The Searchers” played in the background. I stroked his hair and studied his face, wondering if he knew I was there.
It took three people to get him up and out of bed. One to steady the wheelchair, and two to maneuver him. It was a slow process as we gave him time to gather his strength for each move. It was noticeable when his strength was there. I could feel his legs, arms, and hands getting stronger as he used the walker, then eventually getting into his wheelchair.
He was still able to use the toilet as long as we helped him onto it. I sat next to him and talked with him. Telling him it was okay. That I love him. He would look up at me with a questioning expression, and fold his hands across her sternum. This became a common position for him over the next few days, as if he was in deep thought. Then he’d look up at me again with eyes that seemed so lost and sad. As if asking me”why?”
That afternoon he sat in the wheelchair in the kitchen and ate lunch and dinner. The fact that he ate all his meals, and took all his medications, was a good sign. HIs brother was there and I could see the familiar attention my dad set on him as he spoke. My dad’s strength began to show as he held a glass, squeezed a tension ball, and walked two laps around the living room with his walker. We were hopeful that his health would progress.
It was Saturday and I planned to stay until Sunday evening. But now, I just couldn’t leave. Not with him like this. How much better does he have to get before I felt okay enough to go back home? My ignorance believed he would get better, because he always got better when faced with debilitating set-backs. Even with the dementia, he would still get back on his feet right?