Monday, December 2, 2013

Out Of Mind

It was a lovely long holiday weekend. I was generally feeling pretty happy the entire time.

Then I went to visit my dad yesterday.

It had been a really long time.

Dad in his younger days.

He's been in an assisted living home for over 2 years now. His diabetes got the best of him a couple of years ago and he's been in deterioration mode ever since.

He never wanted to be this way. He always said - and I mean always - that when he got old and if he ended up in a wheelchair or couldn't care for himself to just shoot him. And now here he is. Wheelchair bound. One leg amputated. Completely blind. Unable to use the bathroom by himself.

I was on top of things at first. I helped find him a place to live. It was nearly impossible. Between missing a leg, being nearly blind, the constant diabetes care and then having absolutely no money, we weren't allowed to be choosey about where he got to go. But we did end up finding a place that seemed pleasant enough. All he wanted was his own room where he could do as he pleases. And he has that. A TV (which he can no longer watch because he can't see it) a microwave to make his popcorn, a place to sit and lift his weights (which he still tries to do to keep his arms in shape - just dumbbells), his own bathroom. That's all he wanted and that's what he got.

I made an effort to get out there at least once a month. It's over an hour drive from my house. But two of my sisters and his brothers live out there so he's not completely detached from others. I did make an effort at first. But it got harder and harder to do so. Or I got lazy.

I hadn't been out there since late July. And since he can no longer see to dial the phone and even getting to the phone to answer it is difficult for him now, I haven't spoken to him much in recent months.

I had no idea how bad he's become.

His mind was definitely not that sharp even the last time I saw him, but he really can't hold a conversation at all anymore.

He's a completely different person than he used to be. He was a fighter. He was tough. I guess he still is as he's still going. But he's tiny. He's helpless.

He's only 72.

He has a twin brother who owns his own home and still goes about a normal life.

My dad can't do anything without help anymore.

I walked into his room yesterday and it smelled. Bad. There was crackers and chip bits all over the floor. A tupperware container with some leftover food from who knows when was sitting on the table. There were obvious stains on the toilet that needed to be cleaned and empty toilet paper rolls surrounding it. His bed was covered in crumbs. The one chair was covered in crumbs. There was a towel on the floor. I asked him when people clean his room and he said Tuesdays - assured me they will be in on Tuesday - but that they are short staffed. I vacuumed the floor and threw away the tupperware container.

He was in the bathroom trying to wash his hands. The bathroom is not set up for a wheelchair so he gets stuck. This is made all the more difficult since he can't see.

I helped him get out and then that is how we spent the next 2 hours. He showed me how hard it is for him to get to the bathroom. I watched through tears of sadness and frustration as he went through the motions over and over again. Wheeling himself from the middle of his room to the bathroom. Wiggling the chair back and forth to get over the lip between the two rooms and to squeeze through the door. Going forward into the bathroom until he hit the wall. Grasping blindly for the wall rail to hoist himself up and then repeating this to get back into the chair. Then the struggle to try to back up and turn around in a very small space so he can wash his hands. And he can't do it. There is no room. He can't tell where he is and there is no room anyway. His foot gets caught on one of the guard rails by the toilet. Even if he makes it to the sink, it's set up for a person who is standing.

I went and got one of the people on staff. I showed her what he was saying. She had no idea - or so she said. We tried to come up with a solution. She even showed me a vacant room with a slightly larger bathroom but told me there isn't a room set up that is wheelchair accessible. In an assisted living home. WTF?

She tried to remind him where the call for help strings are that he can pull if he needs assistance, but he can't see so it doesn't matter.

He also has no idea where he is in the room. In one of the many attempts to show me how he navigates the bathroom, he would have no idea which way he was facing. The room is only so big so I tried to get him to use his bed as a reference. Feel for it. If it's on your left, you're facing the bathroom.

I just cannot imagine his frustration. It must be a 45 minute process just to deal with going to the bathroom.

The first thing he said to me when I walked in the door is that he wishes he could see.

And when I left and watched him just sitting there in the middle of his room, head to the floor, with a football game on the radio that was mostly static, I tried to assure him we would figure this out and find something that works. But I don't know how to do that. The nicer homes cost a fortune that nobody in my family has. The next step is a nursing home. He had to stay in one once when he broke his arm and he hated it. He couldn't wait to get out of there.

But I don't know if there is any other choice.

He is only 72.

It is terrifying to think of where you could end up someday. And to see it happening to someone I love is unbearable. Which is why I think I've stayed away for so long. Out of sight, out of mind. I tried to ignore it. But I can't. He's my dad. He may have not won any Father of the Year awards, but he's my dad and I love him and I don't want him to go out like this.

No one should end up that way. But a quick walk through any nursing home will show you so many who do.

His spirit is gone. He is literally just living. He gets up. He eats. He sits. He goes to bed. He loves talk radio and sports, and he had his radio on, but it was mostly static. I tried to get a better signal, but it wouldn't work. I asked him how he turns it on and off. He says he doesn't. It's just on all the time.

I just don't know what to do for him.

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