In the days beyond recall, I used to write a blog. Humans make plans and the Keebler Elves laugh. It’s been such a very long time ago that I last wrote. I honestly don’t know the last time was. What I do know is this: I was home dicking around knowing that I needed to do something, something productive, ANYTHING other than sit around obsessing about needing to do something and I couldn’t come up with anything–clean just a corner of my bedroom? Too much. Go to the law library and work on my bankruptcy paperwork? Way too much. Do some laundry? Again, no. All completely and totally overwhelming. Then a tiny voice piped up and said, “Write a blog post.” Ah, sweet relief! That I could do. That I wanted to do. That would somehow help me out of the miasma I’ve been floating in since I returned from Iowa.
I went home to Iowa to help my parents. My father had surgery scheduled to remove a cancerous growth in his left cheek–the parotid gland to be precise. My parents are nearly 80 and for whatever reasons my sister and brother, who live closer, couldn’t attend. I could buy (though not afford) a ticket and I could give a week to help them traverse the huge university hospital system where the surgeon would dissect the tumor and the gland from the nerve that serves everything on the left side of the face from his eye to mouth. He would even remove a patch of skin giving my father a mini-facelift on the left side (though I would be negotiating for fair treatment of the right side were I the patient).
I had a lot of anxiety about this trip because I really couldn’t afford it financially or time-wise, but my parents needed me and I couldn’t really say it was impossible to go and I truly wanted to be there for them. I hadn’t seen my folks in two years and those two years have been really tough ones for all of us. I recently read Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. She really touched me when she wrote about her elderly parents and how she had never gotten the chance to say how sorry she was for how age diminished them–how their bodies and their minds and sometimes those around them continually betray them and they lose control of their lives and choices. I wanted to go home and tell my parents how sorry I am for what they’re going through and most of all, as my father and I haven’t gotten along all that well in recent years, I wanted–NO…I NEEDED to go home and tell him I loved him before he had surgery. And I admit that I wanted to be again the good and helpful daughter for a change instead of the one always bringing trouble to their doorstep–different, difficult, troubled.
I really had no idea how much change two years could bring. My father was letting the assisted living people do all kinds of things he would normally consider his job–from changing lightbulbs to making appointments. And relatives had used the word “dementia” in reference to my mother’s mental state which felt like fighting words. I couldn’t deny anymore that at least for the first week, those words applied. I wanted to know what people had done with my mom. I used to put everything my mother was going through mentally in the depression basket. And I believe that prolonged depression has taken a huge toll on her mental acuity. But there’s more to the story now.
My father’s surgery went very well. Dr. Rodrigo Bayon is an excellent surgeon. My father recovered well in the hospital and when we arrived home. My mother was a total basket case. I don’t really know where she was in her head most of the time. She is a retired RN, and she’s usually interested in the process in a way I’m not. She’s usually overseeing that everyone is doing the right thing about her family member patient’s care. That mom was underground. She talked about how afraid my father was which I couldn’t see at all. I think she was projecting her fear. Aunts and Cousins came the day of the surgery and it really put her mind at ease and distracted her. That was great because I had to move our things from the hotel down the road to the hospital guest rooms. Later in the week cousin Kathy came and that meant so much to all of us. I think Kathy saw a bit of what had been going on with Mom. It was like she would duck out on herself. She never could remember what floor dad was on or what floor we were on. I wheeled her in a wheelchair all over that hospital and my glutes are in pretty good shape.
We ran into problems after we returned home. The rents were down at dinner one evening (I declined to go because I was having my own mini-meltdown). My father’s jaw began to swell and before long he looked like something out of a science-gone-wrong movie. We took him to the emergency room and they sent him by ambulance back to the university hospital. By the time the doctors made that decision it was 9:00 p.m. Mom and I chose to go in the morning for many reasons. We had to pack and I was going to have to drive on unfamiliar roads at night and I don’t drive well at night. We also had to kennel the dog in the morning.
When we arrived, Dad had been through surgery–the moment he arrived they took him in. He had a huge hematoma and they removed the blood. They couldn’t see anything that had caused it, but in the end decided to take him off coumadin. The surgery and the pressure of the hematoma on his throat made it swell and they couldn’t get the breathing tube out for two days, so he was sedated and lost two days. Mom, amazingly enough, was completely in her right mind for this surgery. Dad was weak as a kitten and I actually was afraid leaving him, but I left the day after we took Dad home. He was pale and weak, but since then, I hear in his voice he’s doing better and better.
My parents have always been my safety net, and seeing something tumble my very strong–both in character and health–father, was so difficult. I think about being little and how easy it was then, or so it seemed, to be a “good girl.” And every time I think this surgery is about my father, and it is, I am also reminded how much this is about us and our father-daughter relationship. I remember vividly being small and wanting to help my father polish his shoes before work and waiting for the day I could grow up and be a man. I wish it could have stayed that simple but that is not the nature of life. And whomever it was who designed this life cycle? WTF!?!? I need another lifetime to give to my parents all I wish I’d given them in this lifetime. The roles have switched and and even though I still need so much help, it’s my time to help them.
I think I’ve probably avoided quite a bit writing about what’s going on with me now by writing about what happened with my father, but hey, with my life I have plenty to write about on a different day and I didn’t know until I began writing how very much I needed to get this out. It’s been weeks since I’ve had my head shrunk because of the trip. But we can get to why I’m procrastinating later ;).
1.) For my children, amazing loving beings.
2.) For my family members who constantly provide me with opportunities to grow.
3.) For Kathy, for getting me back home and being there for me.
4.) For Peter, for preparing the way for me to see my parents as elderly.
5.) For my dogs, for being there when I got home and for Joseph and Gris for taking such good care of them.
“There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~ Albert Einstein.