Dad is back in rehab. He fell twice last week, his blood pressure started getting wiggy all over again, he picked up my nasty chest cold, which didn’t help matters any, and by Thursday, after the second fall, I began feeling overwhelmed by the responsibility – how was I going to get him from the bed to the bathroom in an emergency? Shouldn’t he be moving more if he’s got chest congestion? When do I move from concern to serious freak out? Most fortunately, that was also the visiting nurse’s day to stop by and check in on us for the week. She heard my story, took a look at my face, at Dad, flat out in bed, and said she’d do what she could to get him back into care.
The blood tests that were run on Dad’s re-admission show he’s more anemic than he was two weeks ago, to a point that has his primary care doctor getting concerned. His lung CAT scan could be indicating he has both pulmonary fibrosis and COPD (essentially, lung scarring combined with emphysema). His pulse rate is running into the 80s. And he’s not showing a lot of enthusiasm about getting up out of his wheelchair and walking, again.
The latter is especially concerning, because my house is not built for wheelchairs. It’s a two-story Cape, maybe 550 square feet on the first floor, which incorporates a decent sized living room and kitchen, with two bedrooms and a bathroom – not what one would consider an open floor plan. The doorways are too skinny and there’s not enough turning radius for a wheelchair to move around. If my father can’t walk, he can’t live here.
Which brings me to that word that rhymes with “mad.” “Sad.”
Sadness is like the mist over the lens through which I view my life these days. There is a not-unthinkable possibility that I could have to tell my father that we have to re-think our living situation in the near future. And I am seriously wondering if he’ll see next Christmas, my September birthday, the Fourth of July, or, even, possibly, the first day of summer.
So, I interview corporate reps about electrical systems and audit corporate websites for out-of-date content, all to keep the mortgage paid. I do the weekly shopping, trying to figure out whether the hothouse-grown tomatoes are a better deal than the ones that are still on the vine. I try to remember how many bananas I already have in the kitchen bowl. I get the dog out on walks twice a day. I work really hard to get myself to the gym, because of how much better I feel afterward.
And I visit Dad at least once a day, and talk to him on the phone. I schedule the doctor’s appointments – with an existentialist’s skepticism regarding the real point for such an exercise. And I ask the doctors questions as though the answers actually could make a difference, at this point, to Dad’s life expectancy.
Through it all, I am watching my father slowing down. I don’t know if he realizes how serious all these medical issues are, because I just don’t have the spirit in me to force that question. It just seems like every time I walk into his rehab center room, he’s a little bit less. Engaged? Motivated? Alive?
It seems so cliche to mention at this point that I know things eventually will be different. Five – or, maybe, even three or two or one – years from now, that fog will have lifted. Now, though, I’m like that old-school Sherlock Holmes, as played by Basil Rathbone (and definitely not Robert Downey, Jr.), looking out across those moors in The Hounds of the Baskervilles. Do you remember those moors? They were like miles-long cranberry bogs, with a steam that looked absolutely fetid rising up and surrounding them. This is what I see all around me right now. And that rising fog is a sadness so thick I feel like I could take a pie knife to it, slice it and put it on a plate.