Four years ago this morning, my dad called me at around 8:00 a.m. He knew I generally slept until noon (up all night), so I knew it was something different and serious before I answered the phone. He told me he couldn’t walk right, and asked if I could come to the house and see what I thought (have been an RN since 1985, though disabled for the last 15 years- I keep up with medical stuff by keeping myself alive). I asked him if I had time for a shower, anticipating we’d be going to the ER, and he said yes, but don’t take too long. Dad had been having back issues and some weird symptoms on and off since the November prior to March 3, 2016. He needed a better work-up, and at this point, the ER was our best bet.
I took my shower and packed my meds/insulin figuring that I’d be away from home for hours. Then I drove to the house. I wasn’t really prepared for what I saw. Dad stood up when I came down the hallway after letting myself in with the garage door opener I kept for checking his house when he was on vacations. Dad was standing next to the bed, with ‘balance’ that looked like someone trying to stand on an inner tube in a pool. He had no clue where his body was in space (proprioception problem). I told him to sit down, and I’d get what he needed. First order of business was breakfast, even though I suggested he wait because of any lab tests that might be done, but if I didn’t feed him, he wasn’t going to the hospital. OK… food first. I don’t even remember what I got for him. I do know it was in a bowl, and doubt I made oatmeal, so likely cold cereal.
His lady friend (not going into detail about her, as she was a self-serving “care taker” who was handy on occasion) came over and got some of his belongings together to take in case he was admitted. I wasn’t going to take him home in his condition, so started getting my speech ready for that conversation with the ER doc. I got his electric shaver and warm washcloth, as well as his toothbrush- he wasn’t going anywhere ungroomed. Then I told him I was calling 911, since I knew there was no way to get him in and out of the car safely with what I saw of his balance issues. He didn’t argue. I knew he was scared.
The ambulance took some time to get to the house, as his address was in the county (by one block), and the station responsible for sending emergency help was several miles away. They came in and got him loaded up, and I told them in no uncertain terms that we were to go to a specific hospital that wasn’t the closest. His vital signs were fine, and he was not in respiratory, cardiac, or any other distress physically. They agreed. I followed in my car (and lady friend took her car).
I told the folks at the ER that I needed to be back with dad, since he tended to downplay things to strangers. They needed to know about the months of erratic symptoms. They also needed to know that dad would not do anything medically unless he could ask ME if it was legit. He used to say he was getting a return on his investment in sending me to nursing school. They let me back as soon as they had him gowned up. He was terrified.
As with any ER, it takes time to sort through everything and get testing done. We were there for at least 9 hours, in which time he had several tests done, including an MRI that almost didn’t happen because of dad’s claustrophobia. He almost changed his wishes for a traditional casket burial because of claustrophobia. They sedated him (a Benadryl made him loopy for a couple of days, so the stuff they gave him IV really made him blotto, which is what he needed so the MRI could happen). They found some strange lesions on his spine- not what we were expecting. There was talk of sending him home (alone), and I pitched a semi-dignified fit. They said that the ER was for finding problems – and not necessarily to admit people. I told them of his living situation, my disability in not being able to care for him adequately when he couldn’t transfer safely, and the other safety issues in sending him home. They did admit him, and he never saw his home of 40 years again.
I’ll never forget that day, or the 19 hours on April 3-4, 2016, just a month after he was admitted, and going a rehab facility that repeatedly blew off his complaints of abdominal pain. On April 4, 2016, he died after a diverticula that hadn’t been diagnosed ruptured and caused catastrophic infections in his abdomen, extending into his bladder and filling it with gas. He was a great dad- and I’m so fortunate to have ‘landed’ with him when I was adopted at 10 days old. He is still missed daily, though it’s easier to remember the good and goofy stuff. My mom died in 2003, and I couldn’t anticipate the devastation of losing my last parent, and the one who was constantly looking out for me and my best interests starting from that first day in 1963. I didn’t grow up with siblings. My mom did things in her own way to show her love, but dad was more open about it. We had a great relationship when I became an adult, and I could tell him anything. When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate his work stress, or the ways he made sure that all vacations included things just for me along with general sight-seeing. He’d go out of his way to make sure I got something special out of each trip.
I now live in his house (was also my home for 9 years as a teenager through nursing school), and I’m so thankful. I have him, and my mom, in every room of this house, whether it’s some trinket or photo, or memories of things that we did here. I couldn’t live anywhere else. It’s home. It’s my family in a house. It’s what I have left.