Monday, October 14, 2013

My Father's New Reality

About three weeks ago, my mother and I were discussing worst-case scenarios. My father had been rushed to the hospital earlier that day with a bad case of bronchitis, the latest in a variety of setbacks. In discussing his hospital visit so far, my mother mentioned that he had rewritten his will earlier in the week, "just in case." We nursed our dinners as we recapped our family's summer in the most sober way possible. I learned that he had updated his will earlier that week; that made perfect sense, but I was still taken aback.

After the tumor was removed, we wondered how long treatment would take. Now it's a question of how long he'll live with the lymphoma.

My father is not dying per se, but a full recovery is looking very unlikely at this point. The tumor removal has made it very difficult for him to read or see a TV screen. His hearing is spotty, but my father relies on a transistor radio for his news and entertainment. The chemo and radiation weakened him, and he can only walk short distances. He fought it at first, but now he wears an adult diaper. The bronchitis somehow snowballed into blood clots in his knees, which landed my father into a senior physical therapy facility. There's still a possibility he'll regain some physical strength but not much else.

As longtime readers of my blog know, my mother has had her own share of medical issues. Between my father's issues and her own, she's running a little ragged. Nearly five years after she put her younger brother is hospice care, she's now watching her husband of 30+ years slowly lose his capacities. She's the runner for not only my incapacitated father, but my grandmother as well. If she suddenly falters, than everything falls on me and/or my sister.

My father is a pack rat, or whatever you would call one notch below a hoarder. My mother has never been afraid to admit her mortification for my father's slovenly ways, so with Dad in physical therapy she's jumped head-first into cleaning out his belongings. Years of old magazines, newspaper clippings, and unpaid bills ("Don't worry," my mother said, "we always sent a check on the second notice") made a stealthy trip to our trashcans and recycle bins. Random things that disappeared over the years have resurfaced at the bottom of his cluttered bedroom.

His car, however was a whole different animal. For financial and practical reasons, we had to sell his 2001 Grand Marquis. It's a big silver boat that steers funky, with a trunk almost filled to the top with his crap. About 70% of the trunk was filled with more newspapers, catalogs, magazines, and declassified INS memos and paperwork. The other 30% was garbage; broken pens, old plastic bags, leftover fast-food napkins from maybe a decade ago. Worse yet, we found expired food; inside this black hole we found two unopened bottles of honey mustard dressing, untampered but still emitting a ghastly odor. I salvaged a scant handful of items; my mother was ready to get rid of everything. When the Grand Marq was finally cleaned and aired out, we sold it to a friend of our cousins.

When my dad finishes PT later this month, the new reality will settle in. The radiation is completed, but a third round of chemo is up in the air. Because my father is still regaining the strength to walk, his hospital bed might occupy our living room; his bedroom is too far away from the rest of our house for his physical convenience (i.e. the bathroom). His daily wardrobe consists of a plaid flannel shirt, pajama bottoms, and non-skid socks. What we'll do with his old room remains to be seen, though his old bed has been taken apart.

I'm sure there's some inspirational thought that will bring this whole missive full circle, but right now I'm just absorbing everything that has transpired over the last four months. My father was an eccentric Garçon before the tumor; his condition now is winsome, almost cringe-inducing. It's been a challenge bringing this up to friends and co-workers, largely because I can't stand that feeling of pity, but also because I don't want to sound self-absorbed. With that said, and for a lack of a better way of ending this post, please keep him in your thoughts.


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