Mom knows she’s not allowed to die before Dad.
One Tuesday evening a few weeks back, Mom had some urgent medical care for an infection in her right (artificial) knee. An infection in one of these man-made joints is a serious situation. She went to surgery about 5:00 o’clock. It took about an hour for Dr. Shell to open the knee and clean it out. After a really rough night Tuesday night and changing her pain medications Wednesday morning, she rallied. By Thursday afternoon, her three doctors–orthopedist, hospitalist, and infectious disease specialist–released her to Woodcrest at the Blakeford, her favorite rehab facility.
We told Dad early Thursday that we would be moving her to Woodcrest. He was sitting in his chair.
“I was afraid of that,” he said.
“Why do you say ‘afraid?'”
He shook his head slowly. “How long is she going to stay?” he asked, glancing over to the glider-rocker where Mom sits to watch TV, crochet, color….well, just about everything except to iron. She sits at the kitchen table to iron.
I answered him, “Probably three or four weeks.”
He looked over his glasses. “That’s a long time.”
“Would you like to go to see her tomorrow morning?”
“No, I’ll go to see her on Sunday. You’ll be going on Sunday, won’t you?”
“I’m sure I will. Hey, let’s put your hearing aids in.”
He cupped his hands over his ears. “No, no, I don’t want them.”
“We’ll try again later.”
“Mom always puts them in.”
He stayed in all day on Friday, said he just wasn’t feeling as well as he wanted. He had been sick to his stomach during the night. I went over to the apartment to check on him about 4:30.
“What did you eat?” I asked from the door to the den.
“Cookies. And I think I drank too much coffee.” Dad’s early morning pre-breakfast meal is a choice of Little Debbie honey bun or oatmeal cake and a pot of decaffeinated coffee. Or he might opt for two cookies instead of the Little Debbies, either chocolate marshmallow or Nutter Butter.
“How about if I fry you some eggs?” I asked.
“Don’t want any eggs. Don’t want anything.”
Some mornings he eats breakfast after Mom has had her coffee, sometime around 9:00. Sometimes he doesn’t eat until 10:30 or 11. That meal might be bologna or souse and crackers, leftover pork roast if there is any, or turnip greens if Mom gets them on early enough. We try to make sure he has a good mid-day meal.
I walked in front of him to Mom’s chair and sat down. “What else did you have? Did you eat lunch?”
“I don’t eat much, just don’t want it,” he said.
“I know that, but you have to eat. You can’t be working a garden if you don’t have food. That’s your fuel.”
Saturday, he worked a little in his garden, a huge plot with rows of cabbage, green beans, peppers, strawberries, and onions, all ready to harvest. I went over to Woodcrest to see Mom mid-day.
When I got home, I checked in. “I pulled up some cabbage,” he told me.
“Why did you do that?” (Mom continually warns him about pulling up plants. If he doesn’t think the yield is as good as it should be, if he sees brown leaves, or if he notices anything else that disturbs him about the way things are growing, he pulls it up. The major problem here is that he doesn’t see well.)
He answered me. “It needed it. It was too big and spread out.”
I have to say I don’t know what that means, but his little red wagon was full of cabbage heads and I started parceling them out to the neighbors.
Dave took him a drink, his typical Evan Williams and Diet Coke, about 4:30. I was in the kitchen when he returned.
“Your dad says he wants to see you.”
“Oh. I wonder what that’s about.”
“He says he wants to have a meeting.”
I headed next door again with pen and paper.
“Hey, Dad, what’s up?”
“Well, I got out my calendar here and I want to make sure I put some dates on it.”
“Okay.” I paused and pointed to the TV. “Dad, I can hardly hear you. If you would wear your hearing aids, you wouldn’t have to turn the TV up so loud.”
I repeated myself.
“It’s too late in the day to put in my hearing aids,” he said.
“Which dates do you need?”
He swiveled his chair toward me. “Is today the 20th?”
“No, it’s the 18th.”
“Oh, well, if Mom stays down there twenty-one days, she should be home on the 6th of July.”
“Okay,” I answered. “How do you know it will be twenty-one days?”
“Because Medicare pays for twenty-one days and I know she won’t stay any longer than that.”
“You and Mom have Blue Cross Advantage Care. It may be different.”
“Any other dates?”
“If you go to see her tomorrow, I want to go, too.”
“Yes, that would be good,” I said. “She’d like that.”
I put a load of clothes in the washer and sat back down. “I’m going to wash up all the clothes,” I said.
“We wash all our clothes on Monday.”
“I know. But I’m just going to have to do laundry whenever I can.”
He swiveled around to the TV tray where he writes. “Alright. Alright. May as well change my calendar.”
“Dad, you’re not going to have to do all this stuff yourself.”
“Well, I can fold my clothes.” He paused. “I’m going to need some things from the store.”
“Okay, you just tell me what you need and I’ll go get it.”
He lifted his head. “I’ll make a list.”
“Okay, that’s a great idea. And I’ve been meaning to ask, ‘Were you sick again last night?'”
“Yes, and I threw up.” He sounded pitiful.
“On your bed?”
“I’ll change the sheets.” I got up and started down the short hall that joins the den and Dad’s sleeping room. He had already made the bed. He and Mom both make their beds every morning before leaving the room. I stripped the bed and told myself, “There’s no mattress pad on there. I could have sworn I put a mattress pad on this bed.” I made a mental note to add mattress pad to his shopping list.
“How are you this morning?” I asked as I sat in Mom’s chair with a cup of coffee.
“Oh, I guess the usual,” was the answer.
“You’re missing Mom,” I said.
He looked over at me and nodded toward the chair. “I’m just so used to seeing her in that chair. She doesn’t have to be doing anything, just as long as she’s there.”
For lack of any better answer, I said, “You’re going to see her today.” I leaned over to tap his leg.
He didn’t buy it. “It’s already too long.”
“Let’s leave here about 10:30, okay?”
“Whatever you say. But you have to fix my medicine. Mom always fixes our medicine on Saturdays. I don’t know what to do with it. I looked at it but I just don’t know. I never do it.”
“Yes, I will put all your pills in your boxes before I leave.”
We were finally on our way to Woodcrest.
“Oh, shoot, Dad, I meant to put your hearing aids in,” I said as we headed down Blackman Drive.
“I don’t want them.”
“You’re going to wear those hearing-aids,” I said.
“The truth of the matter is I don’t have to have those hearing aids. I can hear more than you think I can.”
“Oh, really?” I asked. I turned my head toward the window and asked, “Can you hear me?”
He didn’t answer.
“You’re going to wear those hearing aids,” I mumbled.
At Woodcrest, he seemed timid and out of sorts.
“Where are your hearing aids?” Mom asked.
“I said, ‘Where are your hearing-aids?'”
“Diana doesn’t know how to put them in.”
“Well, she can learn. You’re going to wear those hearing-aids!”
“I need my chair closer to you,” he said.
I dragged one of two really nice visitor chairs across the room and directly in front of Mom.
She looked up at me. “What time are we having lunch? Isn’t it past time?”
Dad leaned forward and looked around me toward Mom. “Are we going out?”
“Are we going out? I thought you were eating here with me,” she asked in my direction.
“Dad, don’t you remember, I told you we were going to eat with Mom today?”
The chef (yes, they have a chef) brought in a Sunday dinner. I had ordered prime rib for Dad and, just in case he couldn’t or didn’t want to eat that, crab cakes for myself that I could exchange for his plate. He ate three bites of the meat. I asked, “Can you chew that?” and he said, “No.”
I was quite pleased with myself. “Well, lookee here what I happen to have–crab cakes!”
“Oh, boy,” he said. I put the crab cakes on his plate and took the remaining meat.
He ate two bites of the crab cakes and not much else. My old sweet tooth daddy didn’t even like the dessert.
“I’m ready to go when you are, Sis,” he said.
“Well, okay, let’s get going then.”
On the way out the door, he said, “Let’s not eat here next Sunday.”
And, in the car, “I’m more worried about your mother than ever.”
I jerked my head around. “Why?”
“She looks so old. This is the first time I thought she looked old.”
“Maybe you’re not seeing so well. [He doesn’t.] She doesn’t look old. She might look a little tired.”
“I hope so. Maybe you see better than I do.”
On Tuesday morning, after being sick all night, he had a little TIA right in front of Dave and me. We looked at each other and almost at the same time said, “ER.”
They checked him from stem to stern with lots of diagnostics. Dave called to pronounce, “It’s not his head and it’s not his heart.”
“So he’s coming home?” I asked.
“Yes, with some medicine for the upset stomach.”
I gave him Zofran right after he got home. It was 7:00 o’clock, a long day in the ER.
The next morning, he was almost cheerful. Almost.
“I’ve been up for a while,” he said. “Man oh man, I slept last night. Whatever that pill is you gave me, that one that goes under my tongue, it works.” He reached over to his TV tray. “Here’s the list,” he said. “Here’s what I need from the grocery store.”
1 lb. Beef Bolana
Loft of Wheat Bread
Pack of Butterfaner Candy
One pack of Milky Ways
He never was a speller despite his multiple post-college degrees. I knew exactly what he wanted. And I knew I wanted to put his list in my file labeled “Keepers – Dad.”