Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Dad, 93, Christmas 2011

Dad developed a severe lung infection that required hospitalization and chest tubes late fall.  He was even quarantined for a bit when they worried he might have TB.   With the excellent medical and nursing care at the Queensway Carleton Hospital he revived and was able return to his assisted living home, Stonehaven Manor.
My brother and I were in close contact during this time.  I even phoned his doctors and was reassured they were indeed the best, doing all I could hope for.  When he was discharged he wasn't fully recovered by any means, improved from before, and stable, but suffering from inactivity of illness, stress and the loneliness of modern hospitals. Talking to him I was concerned.
Normally I'd fly out to visit after Christmas because with nephews, their friends and Adell's family he has a lot of stimulation already then. This year though, talking to him ,I was concerned he might well not rally and this might well be our last Christmas together.   My brother and I decided a family Christmas everyone together would perhaps be best than our usual staggering of the winter visit.
Unfortunately we were told that Westjet wasn't allowing pets to travel, so Gilbert, my cockapoo, who Dad so loves, wouldn't be allowed to come. I was told all the the airlines had a Christmas policy excluding pets.  As it turned out Westjet told me later they would have allowed me to take the little guy as carryon but they weren't allowing animals to travel down below.
Gilbert rallies Dad. His enthusiasm for life is infectious.  Last year Gilbert jumped on his lap, licked his face and ears and the two of them wrestled.  Dad always had dogs. We grew up with dogs.  Now Gilbert would have to remain in Vancouver while I went off to Ottawa. Since I often depend on Gilbert to rally me I was disheartened.
Asked I would have Dad was 92 but he corrected me this trip telling me he was 93.  "No wonder you fell old, " I told him.  "I thought you were only 92."   Ron told me he'd begun to get better in the week before I arrived. He'd lost 40 lbs recently but was beginning to eat again.  He'd had such difficulty getting out of bed, walking with breathing difficulties, arthritis and problems remembering where he was going, all one could do was admire him.
One of the fellows who he eats breakfast with daily, told me, "Your dad is a tough one, after all he's gone through this fall." I could only agree.  The man telling me this had just got out of hospital that week after a heart attack himself. I told him Prince Phillip just had a heart attack too so maybe he was now "related' to the Royals.  He was French Canadian and replied, "I don't care for the Royals."  Late 80's he was the youngest at Dad's breakfast table.
When I got to Stonehaven Manor, I was just glad to see Dad sitting up in the festively decorated lounge.  He has macular degeneration and didn't recognise me.  He usually calls me by my brother's name but even with cues this time he had difficulty identifying me as his son.  Then he knew me.  Then he beamed that I'd come to visit.  I've friends who dutifully visit their parents who have long forgotten them in their disease and dying. I felt how they must feel and thanked God that Dad's mind was still intact.   I felt so good to be recognised by my father.
My brother Ron is with him every week taking him on outings every day or so.  Stonehaven Manor is an excellent place with lovely facilities, white table cloth dining, great food, variety,  entertainment in the evenings, bus outings, near by restaurants and parks.  Dad's loved being there these last 4 years making many friends some of who have passed away.   He always hushes his voice when he mentions the deceased.
Ron and I've enjoyed the staff. Administrations have changed but mostly the wholesome family oriented flavour that first attracted Adell to this place has remained.  When Mom died in Winnipeg Ron and Adell accepted it would be best for Dad to move to Ottawa.  Ron was retired while I was still working more than full time and living on a sailboat.  The nephews could visit Dad in Ottawa as well, and Adell whose done so much for him.  I feel guilty at a distance and love the care my brother and sister in law extend to my Dad, our Dad.  I make a point of calling every week or more, and flying out to visit each season.  I should do more.
Ron and I got Dad out for lunch the next day.  We got him out to a mall figuring the hustle and bustle of frenzied last minute Christmas consumer shopping world would do him good.    He insisted we get Adell a present and he just happened to need a rest beside a jeweller.  The lady said she thought Adell would enjoy the emerald necklace. Dad was so pleased. "She does so much for me and everybody else," he said.
Over the next few days we had him  over to Ron's place for Christmas turkey dinner and Christmas present openings. After a delicious Christmas turkey dinner at Stonehaven and another at Ron and Adell's, Ron figured we had stopped his weight loss and maybe given back a couple of pounds of all he'd lost.  I'd shot a deer this fall and had brought a venison roast figuring that would perk his appetite.  Adell did the roast to perfection in the oven and sure enough Dad was delighted to have venison again.  "I used to shoot a deer for food every year," he reminisced, telling me hunting stories I'd first heard in childhood.  Dad then reminisced about Mom and trips they'd taken.    Dad shared how he missed going to church this fall, his illness and the cold weather stopping him from attending the Anglican church down the way.
"I feel useless," he said. "I can't see anything, I can't do anything. I don't think I'm going to make it.  " he told us.  It was apparent that Dad's negativity with his brush with death this fall was wearing on my optimisitic brother. Ron's always been energetic, outgoing, a natural leader, and one who rallies people.  Dad wasn't having any of it when we took him to the park for a walk. "I can't walk, " he said, "My legs are useless and I can't get my breath."  We'd just walked him to Macdonalds and he'd done just fine, complaining all the way mind you.
"You don't think about all the bullets you've fire but concentrate on the ones you've still  got in your gun," I said,
"You can still eat and sleep and be with your family." Encouraging Dad to look at the positive I remembered them doing the same for me after I'd lost games in sports. What goes around comes around.
"Yes, that's true," he responded.  He seemed to like the answer.  "Count your blessings," I said wondering how many times I'd heard my Baptist mother say that to me.
When we were younger Dad had been the heart of enthusiasm. He was forever planning adventures, taking us on cross country car trips, camping and boating,  always excited about people and things. Now we had to be there for him. He started out farming and logging with his father before joining the RCAF for WWII. After the war he worked as a millwright before completing his engineering. Working for Mathews Conveyours he was in charge of  projects supervising a hundred and fifty men at a time. Those men he worked with I knew, told me, my father was a good man.  It was years later I learned that 'good men' weren't that easy to come by, especially in those you had to work for.  In his spare time, which he didn't have much of, he loved working on boats,  cars, trucks and  machines,  He had the best of friends.  An avid fisherman and hunter, he loved the outdoors. Most of all he loved mom and he loved his family.
Now ,hIMG 0422
e's afraid of falling down.  Sat down on the floor when I was with him mistaking the space between the table and couch as a chair. I tried to catch him but all I could do was help him get up.  Ill health can be depressing. He's lost weight and had lost his appetite but that's to be suspected with elderly people after major hospitalizations.  Ron, with the years of training as a parent of three boys , him a hamburger at Macdonald's even when he said he wasn't hungry. He ate it all and said, "that was pretty good." I can see it's hard on Ron, parenting his parent.
IMG 0405Adell's cooking also got through to him and he even had the hot cherry pie with ice cream he'd insisted he couldn't eat.    I loved my brother and his family seeing how much love they give Dad.  He wouldn't be alive today were it not for Ron and their love.
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When it came time to leave I told Dad that I'd be back in the spring with Gilbert.  "I miss that little rascal," he said.  I know, I thought, and wished I'd had him with me to spark Dad even more.  But with his nephews and Adell fawning over him over the holidays and Ron and me prodding him to participate he really had rallied, nonetheless.
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He had pedal edema and shortness of breath in the evening with some delirium as well.  Watching him carefully I know the staff probably put that down to dementia. It's hard to sort these things out but I was glad to talk with the nurse and ask her to mention this to the doctor.  I told her how I was really impressed but thought he might benefit from some medicine " tweaking" so he'd be less confused and disoriented in the evening.  She'll mention it to the visitting doctor.  He'll do what is right with the observations I've made. Being a physician I certainly didn't want to tell him what to do.  But blood work is usually done in the morning and potassium abnormalities might show up in the night. He's on some potent meds that certainly can cause electrolyte imbalance and the geriatric patients are like babies when it comes to mental process and electrolyte balance.  Even a fever can thrown them into another dimension.  Really pleasant caring staff  make all the difference..
But like all staff in medicine these days, over worked ,over stretched and caring for a lot more fragile or complicated  and older population than days gone by.  I never see the 'harried' looks I see in health care in general beurocratic offices so just feel that in addition to the constant proximity to diseasea and death the staff are working with restrictions and shortages that others can't imagine.
"I"ll be back in the spring with Gilbert," I told Dad hugging his frail body.  It was the best Christmas I've known since Mom passed over. IMG 0342IMG 0370IMG 0404

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