One of the lessons I’m learning while living with and caring for my father is how even the simplest activity can get more complicated when you get to be his age. For example, since Dad now has trouble bending over, putting on socks requires the use of a “Sock-Aid” – a plastic, chute-shaped gizmo with a rope attached onto which you slide the sock. Then you pull on the rope to slide the chute up your foot and calf. Taking off a cardigan sweater can take a full minute, and watching him do it standing up makes me steel myself to catch him, because he often sways and has to catch his step. And doctor appointments often offer unexpected surprises that can just re-emphasize the chronic health issues catching up with him, even as his vital signs show some improvement.
The visiting nurses who have been tending to the wound on Dad’s left big toe had been urging him to see a podiatrist – they said a foot doctor could prescribe shoes that might rub less against the toe to help encourage the wound (a little smaller in diameter than a pencil eraser) to heal. So I got him a referral, and yesterday we headed for what both of us thought would be a simple 45-minute visit to order a new pair of shoes. But, when you’re 87, nothing is that simple.
After doing a thorough examination of Dad’s toe, the doctor suggested we needed to initiate a new wound-treatment procedure. Now three times a day, the wound needs to be cleaned out with a saline wash, dried with a piece of gauze, dabbed with a prescription antibiotic ointment and covered with a bandage. Oh, and we needed to drive over to the X-ray lab to get pictures taken of the toe to make sure no infection had gotten into the bone – a 15-minute drive, plus a 30-minute wait. All in all, the simple 45-minute appointment turned into a 2-hour event.
Plus, as you might surmise, given the difficulty with socks mentioned above, Dad can’t carry out this new treatment regimen on his own. So now, in addition to the once-per-day vital signs reading I have to help him with, I now need to take time out three times a day to clean his toe.
However, on many days, when he’s out in the afternoon, it may just be a twice-a-day treatment – he’s only really out of bed 12 hours a day, so mid-afternoon is the logical time for the second cleaning. But on his poker days, he’s gone from noon until 5 or 5:30 p.m., and it just doesn’t make sense to me to change the dressing at that time, and then again at 9 or 9:30 when he goes to bed.
One issue I’ve come to peace with over the last couple months is that I’m not a bad caregiver if I allow our personal reality to supersede the doctor’s suggestions. It was almost easier when I followed the doctors’ orders to a T – I could just say, “because the doctor says so,” when Dad asked “Why?”, and leave it at that. But that absolutism made for standoffs and resentments, and I’ve decided that’s just not how I want to be interacting with my father in what could be the last year or so of his life. He’s laid the underlying causes of his eventual death in place over a lifetime of eating and drinking habits, so I’m accepting that, while my actions may help him stay healthier than he otherwise would be, I can’t single-handedly keep him alive. It hasn’t been an easy acceptance, but it certainly does make things, well, simpler.