The first time I noticed that something was amiss with Dad was about 12 years ago, right after I decided to move to New York State. He was 75 then, still driving and working a part-time job at a local golf range. I had started making frequent trips up to my new house prior to moving in and on this occasion, Dad decided to come with me to help out getting things ready. I also had an appointment scheduled to see a customer, so he planned to paint one of the bedrooms while I was gone.
Dad was always busy doing all sorts of projects over the years. He had tremendous focus and discipline and could build or fix just about anything. As a kid I remember we always had the nicest lawn in the neighborhood. Dad would spend hours fertilizing, weeding and meticulously cutting every blade of grass. He would continuously work on manicuring the landscaping, which he had planted with a close landscaper, family friend back in the early 1960’s. It wasn’t a particularly large property, but you could see the sense of pride that Dad had when neighbors or passerby’s commented on how lovely everything always looked. So it wasn’t unusual to think that Dad would have the bedroom scrubbed down, caulked, primed and painted in the time it would take me to travel out to my appointment and back.
That morning I left the house early in the day after we had some breakfast together and got everything organized to paint. Between the hour and a half drive each way and my customer appointment, I didn’t arrive back to the house until sometime in the late afternoon. I was excited about seeing his progress and fully expected to see the room looking brilliant with the new color. When I walked into the house I called out to him, but heard nothing. Hmm I thought, maybe he’s upstairs? I headed up the staircase and called out again – still nothing. I peeked around the corner and arrived down in the bedroom. What I saw surprised me, the walls had only received a white coat of primer. Where was Dad? After looking around further, I found him in the backyard wandering around picking up sticks. He had started a small pile (there weren’t too many) and seemed somewhat vacant, for lack of a better description. It was early spring and the weather was still a bit damp and chilly, but I thought maybe he was bored or simply getting tired.
We continued on together that evening without anything else seeming out of the ordinary. He never did fully explain what went on that day. Maybe he was just having an off day or merely starting to show his age. Or, perhaps we had just seen a glimpse of what was yet to come. I suppose we will never know for sure, but I do wonder. Back then and even today, I still think of Dad as that active, bright, magnificent guy who could do anything. Maybe that’s why it’s so hard to accept his current situation and declining health. He will always be my hero.
After 3 additional days, we got Dad back on a regular diet with regular liquids – hooray! And what a difference they seem to be making. He is more alert, more agreeable and noticeably more comfortable. In fact I think the hydration has helped gain some of his appetite back, as he has started to eat the provided hot meals and requesting some of his more usual favorites like hot dogs from his preferred local convenience store. Unfortunately, his physical therapy is not progressing as well as I would expect or like.
There are several factors that affect Dad’s physical therapy sessions. Some of these things include; having just eaten a good sized meal (he gets sleepy), sessions later in the day (sleepy again) and his mental status (often sleepy) – you get the idea. On his good days when he is brighter and alert, Dad is willing to get up out of the Geri-Chair (a large comfortable, recliner-like chair on wheels) and walk on his own. This especially happens when I am leaving after my visits and he wants to walk me out, as he previously always has. However on those days, it still requires some persuasion to get him to stand up and walk a few steps in therapy. On the not-so-good days, he doesn’t appear to respond to the therapist’s directives and requires effort from all of us, myself included, to get him up and on his feet. When this happens, he can barely stand up on his own and steps are out of the question.
In the meantime, my plans to get him back to the Home are on hold. Until Dad can help assist the aids with his transfers in and out of bed and to chairs, he is not a candidate for their Enhanced Care Unit. I have an appointment with the Rehab Center team next week to discuss his progress and I plan to get more feedback on their thoughts and insights. I am uncertain whether his recovery is just going to take more time given his recent surgery and LBD advancement or if we have reached the next stage of Dad’s disease state. Regardless, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt and sticking with rehab for the time being in hopes he will soon rally.
There are many times in life that it’s important to stop, smell the roses and be thankful for the time we have together. Unfortunately, many of us probably don’t do that as often as we should. Dad’s 87th birthday recently passed. For many years, we have typically gone out for dinner. This year was no exception and he picked a local Irish pub for his celebratory meal. When I picked him up at the Home he was totally on his game. He was bright, cheerful and expecting my arrival (I had called him earlier in the day about our plans).
When we arrived at the restaurant he asked that I read the entire menu. After deliberating several choices, he selected the ¼ pound hamburger with French fries. Cooked to perfection, he devoured the burger, fries and a ginger ale. With some gentle persuading (it usually doesn’t take much), he raised his eyebrows and delightfully ordered the homemade bread pudding. If there is anything that LBD hasn’t affected, it’s his appetite for good food! The waitress kindly served the pudding with 2 forks. Having just eaten an entire plate of bangers and mash, I felt guilty about eating dessert. Then I thought to myself, “We may not have a birthday next year, this could be it.” With that thought it mind, both of us enjoyed splitting the yummy pudding.
We rolled out of the pub that evening like 2 pigs pleasantly stuffed and satisfied. In looking back on all the years we have spent time together celebrating birthdays or otherwise, I never thought about it being the last time we might do something together. The days are so hit or miss with LBD. You just never know how one day will be to the next. I guess that’s why we should make the extra effort with whatever time we do have left. It was a great birthday!