Just a Hunch

I take care of Dad on Mondays and Wednesdays, from 11:30 till 5.  I give him lunch.  He always has something good in mind for me to construct for him (like sardines, ugh).  It makes my heart full to do anything at all to make his life easier, these days.

On Mondays the Hospice nurses visit.  They are certainly angels come to minister in a bleak and terrifying landscape.  Dad tries to tell her how Mom bullies him, he’s afraid of her.  Now that he’s helpless, he can’t do anything to hold her in check when she explodes.

I see it all the time: the way he looks up, terrified, when his barely-functional hands betray him and he drops food in his lap.  He says “Damn,” as if to let her know he knows he’s been bad; and he scrambles as fast as he can to pick the food up off his bib or his lap, wherever it’s landed.  He can no longer bend over from his wheelchair to pick things up off the floor.  Whenever something eludes him completely and ends up on the floor, he is near to panic.

I miss the obscenely obese old dog they used to have, who eagerly waited under the table for dropped treats.  He became incontinent and my mother had him put down.  I understand that she couldn’t handle my dad and the sick dog at the same time, but it makes me sad, and I miss the dog’s function.

But getting back to the hospice nurse who visits on Mondays.  She always checks Dad’s feet, since he is diabetic and feet are sitting ducks for getting ulcers and ultimately needing to be amputated.  We don’t want that.

He had sandals on, with Velcro straps that had been put on way too tight, probably by the untrained helper who gets him out of bed, showered, and dressed in the morning.  He does mean well, but he doesn’t understand certain things.  One is that Dad’s feet and legs are tremendously vulnerable, not only because of the diabetes but because his heart is failing, and that means his circulation in his lower legs and feet is even worse than usual.

On Monday, when we got his sandals and socks off, his feet were black.  I mean black.

The nurse was emphatic that he see a doctor about his feet ASAP; I didn’t need any convincing.

Since Mom was out, the nurse asked me to convey this to Mom as soon as she returned.

However, I know what happens whenever I do anything like that: “You make a big deal out of everything.  You’re always overreacting.”

I asked the nurse if she would please call my mother and tell her.  Mom would take her word of authority.  The nurse did that.

After the nurse left, I got Dad settled with his feet up on a cushioned chair, where he fell asleep.  I inspected his feet further, and as I did, I got a whiff of an odor I have smelled many times before: the sickly-sweet smell of dying flesh.  Tears wet my cheeks, made their way into my mouth, and I had to run for a tissue to catch the snot.  I always snot a lot when I cry.

After the nurse’s phone call, Mom did scramble to get an appointment with the podiatrist.  It’s now Wednesday, and he saw the podiatrist this morning.  A fungal infection, he said, and prescribed some cream.  I took a look at the feet today, and there are some bubbles; somehow I don’t think it’s fungus, but I will be very happy if I am indeed over-reacting.  I guess I have seen too much, and amputated too many feet during my time in practice.

Monday night I got take-out Chinese food for them.  I made an exception to my strictly Kosher diet, and ate some vegetarian fried rice.

Dad has been having dreadful, painful coughing fits, especially when eating (which takes more effort than you would think), and coughing up clear and/or frothy fluid: congestive heart failure.  The heart does not have the strength to pump the blood through the lungs and out to the body, so the blood stagnates in the lungs.  Fluid from the blood makes its way into the airway, causing cough and shortness of breath.  The person is literally drowning in their own fluids.

Dinner on Monday night was dicey.  He was coughing and eating fried rice, and I was afraid he would inhale it.  He was afraid he would drop something in his lap.

Although Tuesday is supposedly my day to catch up on errands, etc., I had a hunch I’d better stop by the house.  They were having lunch when I arrived.  Dad was really having trouble eating.  It seemed as if every bite he took cost him a coughing fit.  Finally the coughing overcame his will, and he succumbed to it.  He couldn’t catch his breath at all, and turned absolutely blue.

Hospice has provided us with an emergency med box, containing everything from Tylenol suppositories to morphine drops, to, frighteningly, drops to put under the tongue of a dying person to thin the agonal secretions and relieve air hunger.

Fortunately, the box also contains a few tablets of Lasix, a diuretic (water pill) that magically sends extra fluids to the kidneys, where they leave the body as urine.  That’s what was needed, to get the fluid out, and fast.

I rummaged in the box, found the Lasix, and then felt that I should at least call Hospice and let them know that I had pillaged the box.  Most Hospice family members are not doctors, and I thought it would at least be courteous to let them know I was going to use one of the contents of the box.

The nurse on call was not one I knew, and she didn’t know who I am.  She disagreed with my plan, and suggested I give him some morphine for comfort.  I explained that he had been on Lasix previously for his heart, but it had been discontinued because he was incontinent of urine, which made my mother mad.  Now she’s used to it, especially since other people change his bed and diapers, for the most part.

At that the nurse agreed.  I gave him the pill, and half an hour later he peed the fluid out.  He’s been mostly OK in the respiratory department since then, although I notice today that he’s starting up again.  I had our regular nurse call us in a prescription, so we’ll have a supply of Lasix for when we need it.

It’s Wednesday, and I spent the day with Dad as usual.  He’s been hallucinating a lot, and was pretty scared.  His feet were swollen again, so I wheeled him over where he could put his feet up on his hospital bed.  He took a nap for a while, and I read, until 3 o’clock when he woke up a bit restless.  He wanted the Westerns channel on TV.  I put that on for him, and suggested a l’chaim.  He lit up at that.  So I got us each a Scotch, and we toasted each other’s happiness, wherever our paths might lead.  Then we drank likker and made a running commentary on Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp, he with his feet up and me sitting on his bed, happy as a couple of cackling crows.

I’m really, really going to miss him when he goes.

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  1. My grandfather always like Ritz cracker, sardines and Laughing Cow cheese!

  2. Ah, Laura, such bittesweet times, aren’t they? I was blessed to be able to take care of my dad as he declined into dementia over a few years and eventually into infection in his colon which after 5 weeks he succumbed to. During the last 4 weeks in the hospital (two surgeries, ICU and step-down then back to ICU before we took him off life support) my dad went through a lot of pain, spasms and altered mental status. But, he held my hand tightly and looked me right in the eyes whenever I was with him, which was most of the time. He spoke when he could, I spoke when he couldn’t. As hard as it was, I feel truly blessed to have been able to be there with him and for him. After all, he’d been there for me in so many ways my whole life as a loving, caring, funny and intelligent dad. It’s been nearly seven years now…June 1st will mark that time. In some ways it feels like it can’t have been that long, and in others it’s seems I’ve been without him way, way too long. I miss him so very much…tears are falling as I write this. I still talk to him sometimes and try to hear his response, which I do sometimes. His death was incredibly hard on my mother, and she became quiet ill herself just before he died…pneumonia. She doesn’t have memories of his dying, and she has Alzheimer’s now, pretty advanced after those seven years. I adore her as well. She is everything good and wonderful a mother should be…and my dear friend. She still knows me, I thank God for. And she still has a wicked sarcastic sense of humor which she is freer than ever with. I love seeing her w/out some of the “boundaries” she put on herself for what was “proper”. It has been very hard to watch her suffer through her decline into Alzheimer’s, but now she lives in the moment and is mostly happy. She has a great deal of pain from scoleosis, Raynaud’s, no discs left in her neck, etc., but she rarely talks about it, as always with her. She lives in a Memory Care unit in a care facility 30 min from my home. She mostly gets really good care there and has caught the hearts of a couple of lovely caretakers who work with her. One is like another daughter to her, really, and our family is so thankful. Oh, I’ve just gone on and on. What you shared just really touched me, my heart and soul. I could feel what you described, including the pain of your mother’s actions and words…I cannot imagine what that must be like for you and your dad. It makes my soul hurt. Just enjoy every moment you have with your dad, cherish the moments and him. i know you do…it comes through in what you write. Take care, and Peace to your heart

  3. A very tearing of sadness thank you so much. My heart tear as I read.

  4. My heart is breaking for you. It’s been just over a year since my grandpa passed, and although at the time I sometimes felt that I couldn’t take anymore days of watching him suffer and slip farther away from us, I would give almost anything for just one more day.

    • We have to do what is necessary to keep ourselves healthy, even if that means backing off some. I know this is one thing we can’t do over, but on the other hand our loved ones don’t want us to suffer, even as they are leaving this world. Be kind to yourself: I know your grandpa would want you to.

  5. ❤ (((())))

  6. Laura, so sorry to hear about your Dad’s condition. Much strength and peace xx

  7. teddymear

     /  May 1, 2014

    Think of you often Laura…prayers and many hugs xox

  8. I send you thoughts of peace and comfort.

  9. savemefrombpd

     /  May 1, 2014

    Ah this is so sad to read my friend. It’s terrible to see a loved one decline in health, whether it’s due to old age or not. It’s so horrible to see as I can imagine.

    Keep on your mitsvas, do le’chaims and carry on being strong and such a loving and supporting daughter.

    I send you my love.

    • Hello sweetie, thanks so much for the chizuk. I’m trudging along, doing the best I can, making sure I take my meds right and don’t go manic, or worse, depressed….The le’chaims are wonderful to share, even though my mother likes to call us “shikars,” I just laugh it off and make like it’s a joke, whether it is or not. I don’t care, really. The important thing is having quality time with dad, and it’s so sweet that when I say “Le’chaim,” he struggles to respond with “le’chaim tovim,” which he heard me say once and was thrilled with its meaning (“to a good life,” to all you non-Hebrew speakers LOL). Except he says “Tovin,” with a “nun,” and that’s fascinating because his father was a Talmudic prodigy, and then threw it all over and became a communist. But apparently Dad picked up some Aramaic along the way! And I say: “Le’chaim tovim ve’aruchim be’harbeh briut, simcha rabba le’olam tamid, amen, netzach, selah, va’ed. (To a good and long life, in good health, great happiness forever and ever, amen, forever, so may it always be.)” But I don’t say it so that he can hear it, because it would make him sad not to be able to learn all that.

      Love back–L

      • savemefrombpd

         /  May 2, 2014

        Amen ve’amen!

        Lovely words to speak with your father, even if he doesn’t understand all of it. Really beautiful. All of these create holy sparks and Hashem hears you loud and clear!

        SS – Keep strong and like I say, kol ha’kavod

        • Eek, Shabbos again so fast! Where will you be? I feel bad, I’ve between so wrapped up in my own shtuyot that I haven’t hunted up that family that I think is living in your hood. Big apologies and will try to do better!

          • savemefrombpd

             /  May 2, 2014

            Don’t feel guilty! It’s not shtuyot you are experiencing, you’re stressed out and working hard for your parents sake and they come first.

          • savemefrombpd

             /  May 2, 2014

            I’ve been alone since Thursday evening until now, Friday night and am just going to my sister’s for lunch tomorrow. But everyone always gets tired at the seudah so want to leave and go to rest! It is what it is for now, unfortunately, in not having more friends and family here, it’s very difficult.

            • That’s very lonely, I know, because I make Friday night dinner for my parents and that’s that. Nearest shul is an hour away. Do you have a shul near you that you can relate to?

              • savemefrombpd

                 /  May 3, 2014

                That’s lovely you make Friday night dinner for them and yourself.

                I’ll be honest, I’ve been 6 months in this apartment (albeit four months of those were spent in hospital) and I’ve never once gone to a shul since back in the country. There is a Carlebach one three minutes from my apartment that looks really nice and has lots of English speakers. I guess first of all, I not feeling the whole praying thing. I’m a bit pissed off at Him. And to go by myself. Ech. And to try to mingle. Ech. But I know I’ve got to do it.

                • Know what you mean about the praying thing. I’m not so into it myself for several years now, long story. But going to shul is something I really miss, because I love just sitting still and feeling, albeit vicariously, the connection. Carlebach is so much fun and so accepting….it’s worth just showing up, and you don’t have to socialize. I never was able to get out of my shell enough to answer the call for people who need meals, which is a great way to meet really nice people (when I had a big place and everything, I used to host big meals and invite single people who needed). I’m too shy for that, but le’at le’at got to know people and finally felt at home in my kehilla (Raz Hartman’s). ST and lots of love–

            • I think it would only be fair to tell you (a bit off topic but still) that treating my PTSD related insomnia takes a cocktail of the following: clonazepam 1mg, lorazepam 1mg, zolpidem 10mg, Seroquel 50 (homeopathic but it works), and lithium 300. I supplement that with other substances in a rational and controlled way. This is what it can take, other than a sledgehammer, to make a PTSD have a nice night’s sleep, only punctuated with one or two nightmares. And that’s where my dog comes in: if he was really climbing in my window, Miss Noga would go off lime a small furry blonde bomb. If I wake in a dream and she’s snoring, I know I can take a deep breath, get a drink of water, and go back to sleep.

  10. You’re such a wonderful daughter ❤ He is very lucky to have you …

  11. Wow. That was very powerful to read. I think you are very blessed to be there and be able to share with him the final stages of his life. I have never had a father figure in my life so this is something I will not experience. But you know what? As hard as it is to watch and be there in the end, it is also a blessing. You get to be there. See him. Hear him. Touch him …. And know that this man that you respect so much has lived a full life and he has fulfilled his purpose here on earth. Enjoy every single minute that you can with him. If not, you’ll regret it in the end. Kudos to you for being so strong in caring for him. You all need to be each other’s strength.
    Blessings to you!

  12. Though we have no choice in the matter, I wish its best if our loved ones just pop out. Its so terrible to see them fading away , each day. Hope you are keeping your strength.


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