a crisis and a decision
I perched on the edge of my seat next to my father’s bed, ready to quickly move out of the way for the next nurse or patient care assistant that needed to get where I was. So far there had been three, and each time, I stood and moved to the other side of the bed, or generally just got out of the way. I felt out of place, in the way.
The first was a stern-faced woman, her hair pulled back in a tight bun and wearing turquoise scrubs. She brought my father a lunch tray – green beans, cornbread, macaroni and cheese, and a cup of brown tea with no ice – and, later, she checked his blood pressure and noted his vitals on a scrap of paper. She didn’t smile. The second and third wore red scrubs. They worked as a team to help my father stand, wobbly and listing to the right. With their assistance, he pivoted with shuffling steps and plopped into the chair that was also a digital scale. After getting his weight, they changed his gown. The sweat-soaked one he was wearing was removed, and almost simultaneously, a clean, pale-blue gown was draped over him, then tied in the back.
He was charming with each of them, even the one who would not smile. He joked that his weight was due to his incredible muscle strength (it’s not). He asked one if she was married (she isn’t). He flirted, and they humored him or ignored him, whichever was most appropriate.
But now we were alone. I sat in the chair beside his bed, holding his right hand for some time, letting go when it got too damp, holding it again. He watched the activity outside his door — other residents rolling by in their wheelchairs, nursing home staff in their colored scrubs pushing medication carts or bins of linens. And we talked.
“Why am I here?” he asked.
I did my best to answer that question, and my chest tightened with each word I spoke. My heart hurt.
You’re here because Mom can’t take care of you alone anymore, because none of us can. You’re here because you get confused, and when you get confused, you often get angry or mean. It’s too much for any of us. You’re here because we need help, and because this is for the best. You’re here because you need full care, more than we can safely do without some support. You’re here because Mom needs a break, and if she doesn’t get a break, she’ll die.
My father has dementia, and until now, we’ve mostly kept it quiet.
My father has dementia, and even though it is breaking our hearts, we made the decision to put him in a nursing home this weekend. Everything came so suddenly, after an evening of crisis. None of us were ready for it. But then again, I’m not sure we ever would be ready. I hope this current placement is temporary, a bandage, until we can figure out a long-term solution. I fear that it will become permanent.
I came home and baked yesterday. I baked a key lime cheesecake, one of Sam’s favorites. I grated limes, measured juice, whisked lime curd, blended cream cheese and sugar. The routine of the process calmed my mind as the sweet aromas of cheesecake filled the house.
The baking helped for a time. It helped until today, when Dad told me he wanted to go home, told me he wanted to die if he couldn’t.