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Well, Dad has been suggesting for the last six months or so that I do my best to never get old. My typical response is to joke back that I’m not so sure I’d enjoy the alternative. Lately, watching him seesaw between almost and never recovering, I’m beginning to reconsider that response.

He got transfered from the hospital to the rehab facility two days ago. He was in this same center for a couple weeks back in August, and I was impressed with the place back then. In the last couple days, several of the staff have recognized one or the other of us, and Dad seemed to be settling in just fine yesterday, his first full day. He got dressed for the first time almost a week, and even had his first, short occupational-therapy session, walking with the therapist from his bed to the doorway and back, using a walker, but no hands-on assistance. He also talked a couple times with one of my sisters, goading her on about her losing NFL-playoff picks – and trying to convince her they actually had a $50 bet on the games.

Today, it’s a different story. I paid a noontime visit and found Dad to be pretty much a mess. It’s hard to be much more specific than that. He has a nosebleed that began back in the hospital that seemed to be healing, but opened up again at 4 a.m. He may have to go to the ER to get it cauterized. His blood sugar is see-sawing, and his toe wound is hurting him again. Getting dressed is out of the picture – he was going back to sleep when I left him at 12:30, and it was almost painful watching him pick through his lunch.

On top of it, I’m having to keep up with the nursing he’s getting – it’s a good facility, but some things just didn’t get communicated from the hospital, like that his toe dressing needs to be changed 2x/day (not once), with a prescription-strength ointment, not just Bacitracin. And, I just found out that they’d admitted him under the wrong doctor’s care, so his own doc didn’t even know where he was. The staff was very responsive after I pointed these things out – and both may well have been the result of information getting garbled in the transfer. And, in the end, Dad’s own will is probably more important than the dressing on his toe or who’s reading his chart.

Although Dad bounced back strongly during his August stay, he’s in much weaker shape now. Plus, last time it was an infection causing the problems, and those problems resolved themselves once the infection was knocked out. This time, it’s his own body that’s not working. I’m beginning to have a not-great feeling about how this may turn out. I’ve stopped praying for recovery, and now am just praying for whatever is the best outcome to happen soon. I ran into his doctor at church yesterday (yes, it’s that small a town), and he said that how Dad does this next week could be an important indicator as to how far he recovers overall.

Dad’s 88th birthday is a week from today, and I’m beginning to see it almost as an omen, rather than a cause for celebration. How many times have we all heard stories of older folks passing on, just after an anticipated birthday has been reached. Up until now, I’ve seen this as relaxing after a final goal has been met, but I’m starting to rethink this interpretation as I’m watching Dad get weaker and weaker. Instead of indulging in a well-deserved rest after a significant accomplishment, I’m beginning to wonder if these folks are, instead, realizing the next such milestone is an unimaginable year away. Like a climber who can’t quite make it to Everest’s peak, but, instead, is forced to turn back at the last base camp, they hit their own personal limit, beyond which further progress is impossible.

Which brings me back to Dad’s never-get-old advice. The problem I have with with the old codger’s directive lies in the fact that we don’t know when we’ll get old until we get there, and discover what old really means in our own way of life. None of us can predict where our own limit lies until we turn a corner one day and find it staring us in the face. Today I saw in Dad’s eyes the reflection of a signpost that seemed to say his destination is drawing close, and I just have to wait and see which exit he decides to take.