When I left the hospital yesterday afternoon the weather had changed from sunny to stormy. I gazed up at the sky and saw a mixture of wispy gray clouds as well as angry black clouds swirling above me. But off in the distance, a dozen miles west near my home, I saw the storm as an angry black and blue wall of rain. As I drove closer I saw occasional jagged streaks of lightning reach down to the ground. Perhaps death was angry. It had not been rewarded with a new soul. My 90-year-old Dad, “Built Ford Tough”, as the commercial says, came through his hip surgery with no problems.
Before surgery Dad ordered me at one point to remove the Intermittent Pneumatic Compression device from his legs but I refused. He smiled devilishly and said, “I always get what I want.” Not this time, I thought, the device necessary to force blood to circulate throughout his body, to avoid blood clots in immobile patients. But I had to laugh at his antics, never ever giving up his need to be in control of every situation.
After surgery the nurse called and discussed Dad’s situation, telling me how hard it can be to care for dementia patients. She patiently let me know that the hospital had an overnight staff member, available and knowledgeable on how to treat and medicate dementia patients. Dad had already forgotten his fall and surgery, the nurse said, and may try to rip out his IV’s and other essential cords and tubes. I told the nurse that Dad was already going down that road. Nurses are not easily fooled though. He is in good hands.
In emergencies people say, “If there is anything you need, let me know.” It isn’t simply a feel-good phrase, it’s often a desire to honestly make your bad times better, to lighten the load. For me, knowing that there is someone available, a shoulder to cry on perhaps, is all I need. Yet when someone wants to take control and orchestrate every move I make it becomes more of an assault on me, an extra unasked for burden. How does one gracefully tell someone to back off? I do things my way, for my own reasons, in my own time. Emergencies are a bad time for judgments, for should-have’s and have-to’s, a sad intervention that destroys friendships.
When the day was over I still had a question to ponder. At one point before surgery Dad suddenly broke into tears and asked me if he was going to die. Unprepared, I answered the question with a patronizing no, fearing that he would become unraveled if I said maybe or I don’t know. I took the coward’s way out, thinking that he should not ask me to be God, to see past the wall of the present to the future.
As the evening progressed, a second storm thundered its pending arrival. Yet it soon dissolved into nothing and the setting sun took over the sky. Even highly trained scientists cannot definitively predict the weather. Like them, neither can I definitively predict the future. But, yes Dad. You’re going to die eventually, as will I. The exact moment is still a mystery. Until then, we are all in this life together.