Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hey! She's Mine

My dear father, at a loss without my mother beside him, and confused by dementia was diagnosed with pneumonia. He was put in the hospital. He was put in an isolation room until they could get the results of a TB test. The worst place in the world for him to be put was isolation. He was confused and without someone to calm him. He would pull out his IV's, get dressed and disappear. They found him twice in the lobby looking for his car so he could go home. They put restraints on him. His confusion just got worse. Finally, after a lot of nastiness, they assigned a young, pleasant nurse's aid to sit with him. She kept him reasonably calm and tried very hard to help him understand what was happening. The whole while that they were trying to heal him they were at me like I wasn't quite bright. Blah, Blah, and Blah about a daughter in a wheelchair taking care of a father with dementia. "He belongs in specialized care", "He's too much for you to handle", "You can visit him every day", "He's only going to get worse" and one female doctor's "You must love him a lot to fight for him the way that you do"! I would come home from the hospital with their words bouncing around in my head like echos. When the doctor discharged him.............he discharged him to a nursing home. Could I have fought to bring him home? I'm certain that I could have fought harder, but I was worn down. Maybe constant on-site medical care was what he needed. My brother and sister kept telling me it was, the doctors kept telling me it was, the friends around me that loved the both of us kept telling me it was. Maybe it was. I still haven't worked that rationalization out. It's all tangled around my guilt. My feeling that I let them overpower me.

He was admitted to a Rehabilitation/Alzheimer's Facility. Basically the facility was two wings. One of the wings was dedicated to dementia and Alzheimer's, the other wing was dedicated to people that had medical problems or were recovering from major surgery. The wings are connected by a lovely patio with large trees, bird feeders, a fountain, and a smokers area. There were tables, chairs, and benches, a covered eating area much like you find at a park, walkways with hedges, and a bar-b-que area. When you sat in the patio it would be easy to forget where you were, EXCEPT people from both wings were allowed to lounge there.

When I had to accompany my father to be admitted I called my sister and brother and told them that they didn't have a choice, they WOULD meet us there and they WOULD accept some of the emotional responsibility. None too happy they both agreed. So we arrived 'en masse'. My 6'1" father, a man in his mid eighties, weighed less then 110 lbs, walked feebly with a cane, and had a look of sheer terror on his face when we walked through the door of that facility. They were waiting for us and the minute we came into the lobby a very compassionate looking woman came up behind my wheelchair and started pushing me down the wing for the wounded minds. All the time that she was pushing my chair she was cooing and soothing me. I kept trying to explain to her that I wasn't the patient. She assumed that my resistance was because I was dealing with a mind that wasn't working quite right. My lifetime fear of one day being put in a place just like that manifested itself and I kept saying, "Not yet, not yet!" It took my sister, with the loud voice to finally get across that I was in a wheelchair, but I wasn't the patient. Then I started to cry and the tension that we had all been feeling broke like a dam and those that weren't crying starting laughing.

It took about a week, but finally the other patients got used to seeing me and my father sitting in the paito every day. We soon became embroiled in their society. Several of the men argued over who I belonged to, and I heard one of them say, "Hey! she's mine." The place turned out to be a flippin hot bed of romance and gossip.

THE COLONEL - He had been a Colonel in the Army. He had had a stroke and the right side of his body didn't work like it should have. He was bombastic and loud. I could imagine him commanding a group of terrified G.I.'s. He always wore a hat and he smoked large cigars. He would yell for his food to be delivered. He would yell for his wheelchair to be moved out of the sun and he would yell, "This place isn't the Vermont Health Center. It's the Vermont DEATH Center." He had a wife that came to see him once a week. She would cut and brush his hair and mustache, rub cream on his arms and legs, and serve him iced coffee. He also had a young, sexy, African American woman that visited him often. She would bend over him and let him put his hand in her bra. He would massage her breast and pull her nipples while she cooed into his ear, "You gotta get well Colonel. I miss our fun times."

PAUL - He was young. He walked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. He told me so many conflicting stories that I don't know what the real truth was, but every day he would say to me, "I'm going to find work tomorrow. I going to work at a gas station pumping gas." The more I told him that people pump their own gas now the more amazed he would become, but the next day we would have the same conversation. The only time he ever became animated was when he talked about all the drugs that he had taken. I don't know if he had burned his brain or he had an accident. But his thought process's were certainly damaged.

THE SISTERS - They weren't really sisters, but they looked so much alike that everyone called them 'the sisters'. They shared a room and were constantly angry with each other. They both decided they were in love with my father and they would fight over who got to sit next to him on the bench. Once in a while one of them would push the other one off the bench, declaring herself the winner. My father treated them both as if they were the most beautiful women in the world; kissing their hands and stroking their shoulders. Both women had dementia and both women were lacking teeth, but they were funny as hell fighting over an 87 year old man that greeted them every day with, "I know you from somewhere".

MIA - She was short, overweight, bossy, cantankerous, had hair that reached below her hips and was the queen of the patio. She looked to be somewhere in her 40's. No one made a decision without her permission. She wasengaged to

THE MUSIC MAN - He came out every morning and plugged in a CD player and played his music all day. He would then expound on the history of the music and the musicians. He appeared to be somewhere in his 50's. He and Mia had met at the nursing home, but he was going to get the two of them out of there and they were going to be married. I didn't see how he was going to accomplish that, but it was common knowledge that if you wanted to keep the peace with Mia you kept your hands off of the Music Man, He had a heart attack while walking in the hallway and died. A week later Mia was engaged to marry

JAMES - He had MS. He looked as if he could have lived independently, but he had never married and he had given his sister the legal power to make his decisions and control his money. He didn't seem unhapy with the arrangements, until he became engaged to Mia. One week after the Music Man died Mia and James were planning to go to Las Vegas to get married. James sister soon put a quick stop to that. James contacted a lawyer and the situation became big and blown. I heard a Social Worker tell Mia that she had read that Mia had been charged with drug abuse and Mia informed her that her drug of choice had been alcohol and the Social Worker asked her if she was saying she was an alcoholic and on and on and on it went. When my father died Mia and the Music Man were still fighting the ruling that they weren't allowed to get married, but Mia had been discharged to a halfway house and she didn't visit James very often.

THE COWBOY - He was handsome. He told me he was 40. He always wore a cowboy hat. He had a brain tumor removed and it had left his legs useless. He told me he had to find a wife so he could get out of there and then asked me if I was married. I told him I wasn't married and had no intention of getting married so he got James to set him up with one of the nurses aides. He pushed his wheelchair over to me once to tell me how wronged he had been. He said that he had gone out the night before and had a couple of drinks. One of the nurses had lodged a complant against him because she said that he had come back drunk and had taken his penis out and tried to show it to her. "Do I look like someone that would take their penis out," he raged. I tried to ease his indignation, but he was irate. "Take my penis out! Would I do that?" Hell if I knew. Most men will take their penis out if the opportunity arises, wont they.

THE GOFER - He was a big, lumbering African American man. He had taken it upon himself to care for everyone that frequented the patio. If anybody wanted a coke, coffee, something to munch, a wheelchair pushed somewhere he was the person that jumped up to help. Then he would come back to the patio stretch out on a bench and soak in the conversations he was privy to. He would take orders for fast food and cigarettes and go shopping a couple times a week. He was the connection to the 'outside' for many of the patio dwellers. He told me at least twice a week how much he desired me and how if he had only met me when we were younger we would have run away to a paradise. When he met my sister he told her the same thing. He was eventually discharged, but he couldn't seem to stay away. Most afternoons would find him coming through the door with bags of goodies for those that were left behind. When I asked him if he was happy now that he was part of the 'well' world he answered, "I'm fine, but I miss my friends. I have to come back here to make certain that they have their cigarettes.

These are just a few of the people that became my fathers and my friends. When my father died I could see the fear in their faces; they lived with death. But they put their arms around me and comforted me in my grief. I wonder about them often. I wonder if they have enough cigarettes. I used to buy cigarettes and cookies for them. But I can't go back there. I would see my father everywhere. I would hear his voice say to me, "When is the doctor going to let you out of this place, Penny?" He thought I was a patient too.

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