Thursday, February 24, 2011

We Really Have No Idea . . .

A few years ago, while still married, I was in a couples bible study gathering. The subject of discussion was the very real possibility that my generation would be one of the first to raise our children, and then become primary caregivers for our parents who, as they aged, would most likely spend their last years infirmed, but not succumbing to a quick demise. I gave little thought to the subject. It was almost impossible to understand because both of my folks were, at the time, still active and showing few signs of slowing down. Dad was in his early-to-mid sixties; Mom was closing in on beginning her seventh decade of life. As well, my personal struggles with depression had recently found me contemplating the unthinkable. Even if I pulled everything together, it was not conceivable for them to need to depend on me for their care.

As the first decade of this century was starting to wrap up, both of the folks began to acquire issues. Dad was battling High Blood Pressure, Diabetes, and a nasty bout with Lyme Disease. Mom was slowly slipping into that halcyon state of Alzheimer's Disease. Still, things were okay even as 2010 saw me having to temporarily move in with the folks. My house, a casualty of the May 2010 Floods, is undergoing renovations that have lasted, as of right now, almost a year. As the days progressed, I began to see first-hand the slippage of their faculties. And now, where before I might go two or three days without seeing the folks, it was a new matinee double-feature every single day.

As 2011 dawned, Dad awoke feeling ill and decided he needed to go to the hospital. Off we went and things were never the same. He came home nearly three weeks later, obstensibly to recover from Congestive Heart Failure, Diastolic Heart Failure, Kidney and Lung issues (despite never having smoked a day in his life). Personally, I felt quite strongly that his doctor, sensing nothing could be done in the hospital that could not also be done at home, sent him home to die. But, I digress . . .*

Even in the best of circumstances, a man with no medical training cannot foresee the complexities of being a caregiver. Without sounding chauvinistic, I feel that the maternal instincts of a woman prepares them to be more intuitive with the art of care. But no matter who is the primary caregiver, all of a sudden, you are forced into planning medicine schedules, doctor visits, and mealtimes (perhaps even the diet itself).

Unfortunately, with Mom's burgeoning condition, we three Nichols' lads (my Dad, my brother and me) were already having to be on high alert. When Dad's situation was added to the mix, it was twice the fun with none of the laughs. Mom had to be coached through most tasks where thinking through steps were a requirement for success. For example, after meds she often asks two or three times within the span of 15 minutes if she has had her, " . . .Uhm, . . . uh, you know that thing I do." Recently, after I had prepared both of the folk's doses, I looked around to see that Mom had taken Dad's meds. Thankfully, it was nothing that could kill her . . . but, as he was on a diuretic, she did make a few more, uh, visits to the facilities during the night.

Don't get me wrong, I am appreciative of having this opportunity. If for no other reason than to be able and say, "You were there for me . . . so I'll be here for you." It is an honor, not an obligation. And, I suppose, it would be a Utopian existence for our lives to be filled with happiness, laughter and, at the very least, peaceful feelings all the way to the end, with no undue stresses on anyone to be our caregivers, if only for a day. But this is what life gives us. And nothing but being there and experiencing it first-hand can prepare someone for the responsibility.

*Initially, I had drafted this piece in mid-January, a few days before Dad was taken back to the hospital for a longer stay. He almost died; his body was weakened by the renal failure, his spirit weary of the fight. This time the hospital discharge, which was on February 8, a stay of nearly two weeks, was a transfer to a assisted living facility for rehabilitiation and continued Dialysis. A few days ago, my brother called his doctor for some advice and, while speaking to the Physician's Assistant, swears he heard the doctor's familiar voice in the background, "Steve Nichols, is he still alive?"

Maybe my observation was valid after all.

Oh, and as of today, Dad is almost ready to come home again. Unless a relapse occurs within the next twelve complete rotations of the Earth, he will be walking out of the facility, not being wheeled out on a gurney.

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