Alzheimer’s is a horrible disease. Cancer is a horrible disease. As I write this blog post, my 84-year old father lies in a hospital bed staring at the soft yellow wall in front of him. He doesn’t seem focused on anything in particular, and I wonder what his brain is telling him. My father’s brain has failed him. It’s impossible to know what he remembers and has retained from his surgery on Monday. I quickly realize he doesn’t remember a thing. It seems unreal and particularly cruel than an elderly man should have undergone a delicate and long surgery to remove a cancerous tumor behind his ear on Monday that cost him his ear. In a perfect and kind world, no one after the age of sixty should have to deal with any disease; they should simply grow old gracefully, and with dignity and no pain.
According to the doctor, my dad is healing quite well physically, and the nurses inform us my dad’s agitation and anxiety of Monday-Wednesday has lessened. He is no longer fighting with the nurses and his night time caregiver who he cursed out royally yesterday. My dad seems calm, but entirely confused. His roommate, a 98-year old man, is yelling for help at the top of his lungs, and clawing at his sheets. I see the man trying to swing his legs over the side of his hospital bed. We are shaken and feel for him, and relieved for our dad when a nurse comes in and gives dad’s roommate a sedative. The screaming is weighing on my dad; we are conflicted.
Every few minutes, my dad looks over at me and my sister and smiles as if he is surprised to see us. We are used to that. He asks us the same questions he has asked since Wednesday-‘when did you arrive’, ‘how long are you staying’, ‘when is Rebecca coming’, and ‘what the hell am I doing in the hospital’. At first we tell him we arrived on Wednesday, we’re staying a week, our step-mom is soon to arrive at the hospital for her visit, and we tell him he had surgery to remove a small growth behind his ear. His hand immediately goes up to his ear, and he pats the thick bandage, and then looks back at us. We wonder if he knows his ear was removed. My sister and I look at each other. He doesn’t seem to be in pain, and we can’t imagine what he looks like under the bandage. We are heartbroken for him. We now lie to our father. Every few minutes, the same questions. None of our answers have been retained.
My step-mom finally arrives, and my father’s face lights up like a kid on Christmas morning. Even the nurse’s assistant, a young Haitian woman, notices the change; it’s amazing. My step-mom babies him, spoons feeds him his lunch, and again, my sister and I are thankful for Rebecca. She is wonderful with my dad, and we are blessed. They’ve been married eighteen years, and the love, care and commitment shows, but she is tired.
My step-mom never had kids, I have two children, and my sister has two children. Rebecca now has a child in my father. A strange thought enters my mind. I am a 57-year old woman, and I’m thankful I’m single. My adult children are out of my nest, and it’s only me at home in West Virginia. My sister and I are caring for my dad this weekend when Rebecca goes to a hotel for some much-needed R&R. I wonder who will take care of me when I’m 84?