I have always said that my Dad is like Superman. He is my hero. He has always been the strong silent type; a man of few words that came in and did the right thing and lead by example.
When Superman is Human
But then there comes a day when you look and see that Superman is really human, a mortal, and can die. That he isn’t going to live forever.
And being the caretaker of someone with a terminal illness is not for the faint of heart. And there are many times where you have to decide to laugh or cry…and most of the time I choose to laugh. I have long said my life is like a sitcom – or dramedy, depending on which moment you may catch. These moments are no exception….
Before my father went into the hospital the last time for his ammonia levels being too high, he was very confused and acted like someone who has severe dementia (a symptom of too much ammonia in the body and affecting his brain). My father gets cold very easy so I bought him some special thermals for Christmas, called base wear, which are for people who go on exhibitions in the tundra. We were all getting ready to go to brunch one Sunday when he came out ready to go. And he had on these very tight fitting base wear thermals. After getting over the initial shock and panic, I remember thinking that all he needed was a cape and a giant “G” on his shirt (G for Geriatric-Man). Never one to miss a detail, he even found a place for his wallet in his tight new outfit. He had figured out that the thermal bottoms were tight enough that he could place his wallet inside the “pants” midway between his knee and hip. After gently explaining that his thermal underwear was called such because they were not appropriate for outerwear, he reluctantly changed into real clothes.
Another time was after he had been admitted to the hospital. When the patient is in a confused state as was he, they ask if a family member can stay with them at all times in the room to make sure that they are OK in between nurse visits. The only time my father is more miserable than in the dentist’s chair is in the hospital. And he did not really understand why he was in there in the first place, but he knew he was going to get out. At least get out of the bed anyway. Several times during the first few days and nights I caught him in various positions and steps of “escape.” One time in particular I woke up to see him, lying on his side, pulled up hanging onto the side bar of the hospital bed, with his leg going over the bar. I caught him juuuuuust as that leg was being flung over. The look on his face was one of serious concentration. He knew what he had to do, and being a detailed professional electrical engineer, no doubt he had thought about it and planned it all out.
“Dad! What are you doing?!”
You could see his expression change from concentration to “Crap, foiled again.” He let out a sigh and the leg went back on the proper side of the bar as he stated to settle back down.
The image of that moment will live with me forever. And had I had a camera. I would have snapped his picture and captioned it “The Escape.” Both moments reminded me of Cloris Leachman’s character on Raising Hope. She plays the adorable, but slightly deranged and kooky, grandmother. Sometimes she comes out with her bra over her clothes, sometimes she tried to eat mashed potatoes through a straw.
What I have learned in the 7 months of being a care taker, is that you have to have a sense of humor. You have to be willing to take a step back and laugh when the smoke clears. Because some of these moments are brilliantly comedic, once you get over them. And if you don’t laugh, you will go crazy. So take a breath, then take a step back and have a giggle.
Editor’s Note: I don’t talk about this often (publicly), but my mother basically died from medical negligence. There were several issues that were ignored by her GP and instead of treating her, he actually said to her “You are just an old woman, and all this is part of getting old.” By the time we truly found out the extent of her health issues and how long they had been ignored, it was too late. Now, it is a blessing and a gift to see my father get such amazing care and attention to every detail of his physical, emotional, spiritual and mental well being. The doctors at Emory are the best (Anywhere). I often wonder if my mother would still be with us if she had the same experience. We are blessed to have such great care now.