The irony was too cruel. He was walking more steps, without fear of falling and the physical therapists said he was doing so much better.
My father died on April 11, 2012. He had been hospitalized 3 different times in 2 months because of a recurring urinary infection. The last time he was in the hospital was especially difficult. The infection had spread so virulently that he wasn’t himself. He didn’t know who I was and was so angry and confused, unaware of what was happening and he had to be restrained. He kept trying to get out of bed and didn’t have the ability to walk on his own. I was horrified that he didn’t realize who I was. The doctors were not particularly reassuring. They said that when infections were severe enough to fill the blood stream, naturally, that same blood supply feeds the brain. They told me after a few days of antibiotics he could recover all his memory…or part of it…or not at all. There were no guarantees. Luckily, he came around, recognized me and understood what was going on, and only 4 short days after being admitted, they told me he had to go to a rehab facility because it was apparent he was too weak to come home with me. I was frantic that it was too soon, that the infection was still not completely under control, but they released him to the rehab facility anyhow.
I lived in an apartment, there were stairs, and I could not carry him. He needed to be able at least to use his walker. He suffered such a severe arthritis and spinal stenosis, was bone on bone on both knees and his right hip was shot. He had such excruciating pain that not even time-released morphine worked. No surgeon would do any kind of joint replacements on him because he smoked. At 83, he wasn’t going to stop smoking (a habit he developed after witnessing the horrors of WWII as a boy of 11), no matter what was promised to him re an improved quality of life. And the truth is, the rehab after a knee or hip replacement would’ve been extensive and I think on some level he wanted to be with my mother so badly that he was totally disinterested in long term rehab to get his “fake” limbs working properly. So he went to rehab, kicking and screaming and I was there every day visiting. He desperately missed his kitty and wanted to come home in the worst way. His physical therapists had been working with him and for the first time in months, he was strong enough to walk well, albeit with a walker, but that was a huge improvement. Back at home, he was so weak he could not manage the few steps he needed to take to get from his chair or bed to the bathroom, even with the walker. He hated the indignity of all of it. He did so well 9 days after being in rehab, they said he was well enough to go home. We were both delighted.
I went over there around 4 pm, bouncing into his room saying, “OK, Dad, I’m here to bust you out of this place.” I thought he’d like that. Instead, I found him in the bed, ashen colored and disoriented. He seemed totally unaware that I was there to bring him home. I found out later he had been bragging to the physical therapists earlier that day that I was taking him home. I asked him if he felt sick and he nodded but could not speak. He vomited briefly and when I called the RN on duty, she could not find a pulse or any blood pressure after trying several times to get one. At rehab facilities here, they have no doctor on the premises so when the nurses come upon an emergency, they must call the paramedics or EMT. Within 5 minutes of calling, the EMT came into the room and took over. They rushed him to the nearest hospital and I didn’t want that. The hospital was not reputed to be a good one and all his records/doctors were at the hospital about 10 minutes away from the rehab. I wanted him taken there and the EMT told me that their policy didn’t allow them to bypass a hospital nearby for one further away; they had to go to the nearest hospital. They then told me that the way things were with him, my dad might not make it to that other, more distant hospital. 36 hours later, he was gone.
A flurry of people worked on him in the ER and got him somewhat stable, but he had sepsis (blood poisoning), undoubtedly the result of the urinary infection that had never been truly managed. He was somewhat lucid and a few hours later, in a small room just outside the ER where he was waiting for the transitional doctor to tend to him, he kept apologizing to me. That he didn’t want to be a burden. He kept saying, “Poor Luci, poor Luci” something he said to me whenever he was hospitalized and I would visit him. He told me to please not yell at his “boy”, the kitty he was so attached to and lovingly referred to as "his boy" even though his real name was Velvet (and whom I did yell at occasionally because he was so hyper and went charging thru the house at 40 miles an hour). Then he told me what turned out to be the last words I'd ever hear him say, “I’m so tired, Lu. So very, very tired.” And I knew immediately what he meant. He wasn’t tired from a lack of sleep or from the ordeal he was going thru at the time. He was tired of living the way he was. His quality of life had diminished in so many ways, a part of him truly no longer wanted to live. I found out later from friends that he fought to stick around all this time because he knew I’d be alone once he left, and he wanted to spare me that awful mourning as long as possible. 36 hours after the EMT picked him up from the rehab and took him to the hospital, he was gone. The ultimate irony. Instead of going home with me, I went home alone, never to be with him or see him again. Blood pressure can only be “simulated” with medications for so long. Pulse was so faint as a result. He wound up on a ventilator and he wanted no machines and before I could even notify the few friends that might have wanted to say goodbye that things were bad and I was taking him off the machines the next day, he decided to leave…without waiting for any more goodbyes. I went over to the ICU to see him the night before the machines were supposed to be shut down. The doctor met me at the door telling me he just left me a phone message. He had deteriorated so rapidly that “tomorrow” was no longer an option. He told me he likely had only a few minutes left to live, that not even the ventilator was enough because pneumonia had set in and a number of other things besides. The EKG he showed me was almost already completely flat-lined. I spoke to him and caressed his face and desperately hoped he could hear me say I love you. People always say that whether or not a person can respond to you when they’re in that condition, they do hear what you say. I have no idea whether that’s true. Who has the proof? No one has come back after being gone and told a loved one, hey, yeah, I heard what you said and I love you, too. A couple of my friends who had planned to go see him that night anyway, did come, but they were too late. I cannot begin to tell you how devastating a loss this has been.
My dad came to live with me 11 years earlier after my mother died. We had a difficult, complicated relationship for a large part of my life, but he couldn’t remain in the same place where he lived with my mother…not possible financially and too many bad memories for him if she wasn't with him. My mother was his life, together 51 years, and he was a lost soul. I knew it would not be easy for us to live together and we had many challenges to work thru. I know my mother fully expected that I would take care of him when the time came and I adored my mother, so not taking care of him was never an option for me. I’m lucky that we had resolved most of our challenges and although I doubted whether he loved me for much of my life, I had no doubts about that when he died.
But here I am, nearly a year after his passing, and I feel so lost and so abandoned. My family was very small and I have no one now except for a sister in an assisted living facility thousands of miles away and we have never been close. She’s got some mental disabilities and I’ve got physical ones and I am in a fairly unique situation. My friends are scattered and far away and we don’t see each other often…people are busy and have their own lives to tend to. My family is virtually gone. I’m divorced after a very short, terrible marriage years ago and I have no children. So the silence in my heart and in my household is deafening. I would like to think that my parents are now reunited, continuing their incredible love affair of more than 51 years wherever they are in eternity. And both of them are now without suffering. As for me, my suffering is unbearable and I have no clue how to put my life back together again. Without the routine of a job and the structure that that kind of thing imposes on your life, I have nothing but time to dwell on all of it. I have been a caregiver of one kind or another for most of my life. Now there is no one to care for. And truthfully, I don't want to do it anymore...a suggestion people have made to me since he passed away. Friends tell me it’s finally time to take care of me, but that is not a message I’m able to hear right now. I so appreciate having the opportunity to write this here. It is the first time I have given a voice to what I have felt. Thank you so much for allowing me to say what I needed to say.