With Dad in the ER
He is on the hospital bed. The nurses have dimmed the lights. It must be night…We arrived hours ago. He was stashed in a booth. The ER is crowded on this summer Monday. A nurse comes with questions. Then leaves. Then a doctor. He leaves. Time passes…
My brother, David, stands and I sit. We listen to Dad, almost accustomed to his aphasic communication. He is starting to wind down. He must be hungry as it is well past 5pm when he usually eats. It is also well past 4pm when he is due the anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic meds that have kept his rocketing post-stroke emotions mostly level. I go on a food hunt and scare up a plastic container with a turkey sandwich, a dish of pears, and a packet of Lorna Doone cookies. He wants ‘coffee coffee coffee coffee coffee’–he says it just like that, like a little machine gun. David goes in search of this. Dad eats. He is so hungry. It has been a grueling day. David returns with the coffee and Dad lets out a long grunt of pleasure. Ah coffee! We all have a moment of happiness…
Earlier today, after breakfast—it seems such a long time ago—Dad escaped from his long corridors at the nursing home and was discovered by alarmed staff sitting quietly outside on a bench under a tree enjoying the summer air. The drama began. Staff sitting with him under the tree. Staff trying unsuccessfully for a long time to coax him back upstairs. Staff finally getting him back inside. Staff sitting guard with him to keep him from escaping again. By the time I arrived at 11 he was haunting the elevator door, ready to bolt.
He and I sat together. David arrived. The administrator and case worker arrived with the solemn news that he will have to leave this nursing facility. They don’t have staff for this. Our hopes for Dad being settled into a supportive place were dashed. Again. The afternoon was a round of calls to to facilities, paperwork, packing his belongings (Where were all his slacks and socks and that little painting of the countryside? He seemed to shed items every time he moved…) while he went through an array of mournful, adamant postures. Lying on the floor. Curling into a ball on the sofa, holding this head in despair.
We finally heard that his former facility, where he had spent six rehab weeks, would love to have him back and everyone did a victory gig. Disaster averted! David and I packed him into a car and took him for a long drive. Dad was ecstatic as the air tossed his hair and streamed over his cheeks. He exclaimed with joy. He gazed everywhere as if newborn. We arrived at his old facility where everyone recognized one another, a homecoming of odd sorts, and David and I were happy. A good placement for Dad. There was only the distance between the front door and his room to cover. With an elevator. And a locked unit door…
A very unlucky thing happens. An administrator asks us to stop by the front desk. Just a little paper work. Oh no. He has no idea what evil he does. Stopping the momentum just now is the beginning of an unraveling because Dad remembers it all very very well, and No! He won’t go up the elevator. He will NOT!!!! Not to be locked inside away from the summer air, away from the grassy bank, away from a sweet smelling breeze…
An hour and half passes. Dad leads a growing group of therapists and nurses around the parking lot. He won’t go up. David and I do what interventions we know. Finally the administrator says no, they will not cannot devote more to this man. There are limits to every institution. They like docile patients or those in wheelchairs, patients they can control. Dad is too much trouble.
David and I are with Dad outside the facility. It is getting late. Dad lies down on the grass. He asks what is wrong with this? And it’s true. There is nothing wrong with a man who has always loved to lie on the grass in summer continuing to do so. Except it is against the rules for him now. He is not free. He is not free.
Clouds gather and sprinkle. He sits up. Now the rain falls. David helps Dad stand. Dad wants to go in, of course, and he’d like some dinner, but we tell him it is too late, they won’t let him. No, Dad says, and he conveys to us that now he will go up to the locked unit. But it is too late. David and I stand with our frightened, confused, tormented, ill father outside in the rain, all his medical records in our hands with no idea what to do next.
At long last the falling rain and gathering evening gloom convince Dad to climb in the car. Off to the ER. Everyone knows my father there. He has been admitted far too often this past month. For pneumonia. For chest colds. For agitated behavior. We request that he be sent to the geriatric psychiatric unit—called the Senior Behavorial Unit—where he’d had a recent stay, since we cannot calm his agitation either.
David settles himself on the chair by the head of the bed to wait. I sit near bed’s foot. Dad has drifted to sleep. We pull covers over him as he struggles onto his side. They’ve taken blood–I held his hand as he gazed into my eyes with such misery because it hurt and he is so tired of this. I cried. He squeezed my hand as if to say, don’t cry, daughter, and as if to say, thank you for being with me and empathizing with my pain. They’ve taken X-rays. When he came back he reached for my hand again. My heart is aching and aching…Now as Dad sleeps, David and I, in the hush of the night hospital, decide that this is a turning point. We want to stop the blood taking. We want to stop the hospitalization. We want to stop the life sustaining meds. We know and Dad knows he will not get better, there is no hope. Not wanting to die and not wanting to live are two different things. He has entered a slow death. Dad hates this. It is time for us, his children, to help him move with as much comfort as possible to an organic end.
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