Florida Hospital Update.
Friday – Dad had a calm day at the hospital, and I saw signs of him. That reads strange, I know, but if you have a parent or loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s, that’s the way it is. By signs of him, I mean, I saw his sense of humor return for a few moments, and caught a facial expression I recognized well. The experience warmed my heart, and I was happy I was in the room, and paying attention.
My father has suffered with Alzheimer’s for three years. The disease has progressed to the point where he asks the same questions every few minutes, and the past is further and further from his grasp. Some days are better than others. On Monday, my father underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from behind his ear, and lost his ear. There was nothing to be done; it’s done. Miraculously to me, he can still hear us, but you don’t know what he really hears and comprehends. Yesterday as we were waiting for his dinner to arrive, his right hand kept going up to his ear. I wondered if he knew his ear was gone, but with the heavy packing of gauze and the bandages, I didn’t think so. He kept asking us why he was in the hospital, when he was going home, and we’d answer his every question only to be met with the same question minutes later.
Yesterday I realized how frail my father is as I held him up while the nurse’s aide removed a soiled hospital gown and seat pad, and fitted him with clean ones. I kept a small sheet covering his now wide waist and my sister made sure the hospital room door was closed for privacy. My father was cooperative, quiet, and patient with us. The former Sergeant Major’s muscles have lost muscle tone in the arms, and he stood hunched over. We sat him down again, and he was comfortable again. I realized I’d never been in this situation with my father. Along with a favorite cousin, I’d taken care of my grandmother at home before she died, and I cared for my mother in the hospital before she died at age 57. Again, I wished my father and his new wife had moved closer to the DC area, and again I was thankful for my step-mother who is resting at a local hotel until Monday. But, such is life, and we will do the best we can.
My father’s sense of humor and devilish grin reappeared yesterday when the nurse’s aide asked my father not to touch the location of his IV, and the bandages around the right side of his head. He looked at her with no expression, lowered his hand, and minutes later, he was picking at the tape around the bandages. She kindly asked him to stop again, and he replied with a grin, “When lunch comes, you’ll forget, and I’ll mess with them again.” It took us all by surprise, myself, the kind nurse’s aide, and my sister had to laugh with him. I thought, ‘That’s my Dad. That’s who he was; a very funny man with a quick wit.’ Soon afterward, he asked me, ‘Why am I here, and when can we go home?” The disease was back or perhaps it never left. I find myself staring at my father – afraid he’ll look at me and not know who I am, and hopeful he will remember a bit more about the past. I realize both thoughts are selfish, but I can’t help myself.
I will be happy for small glimpses of my father during my time with him in Florida before I make my way home to West Virginia next week. They are precious moments, and I am I am looking for them. A familiar nod of the head, a recognition of a friendly face in the hospital or something on the television, and yes, even the grumpy man I knew and loved who isn’t happy the nurse’s aide has to accompany him to the bathroom, and watch him as he relieves himself so he won’t fall.