My father’s waltz

16 11 2008

I didn’t have access to the Internet for a few days, and I thought that was a TRAGEDY!

Then I got a voicemail from my mom, telling me my dad had had a stroke.

Ah.

He’s in the hospital, has a slight weakness in his right hand, but otherwise retains his large motor functions, still has his gag reflex, and is able to walk, go to the bathroom, and eat. (He did need assistance to get to the bathroom, but this may have been due to the pre-MRI sedatives.) He was supposed to have that MRI today, but was still too agitated even after sedation that the docs had to call it off; tomorrow, with the help of stronger drugs, he’ll get his noggin scanned.

He’s not talking much, but, again, he’s been drugged up. It’s clear to the docs, however, that the stroke occurred on the left side of his brain, so that his speech has been affected is unsurprising. He was, at least, able to respond to a nurse who asked him some basic questions about eating.

And you know the whole hide-the-pills-in-food thing pulled on children and pets? They do it with adults, too, in my pop’s case, applesauce. (The nurse noticed he was tucking the applesauce into his cheeks, but he did eventually swallow it.)

I get along with my family, but in many ways we are not close. As I’ve joked with friends, there’s a reason I live a thousand miles away. Still, when one gets a voicemail informing one of a parent’s medical crisis, well, one feels every mile of that separation.

I’m worried about my pop, but I’m worried about my mom, too. They are extremely close: they met when my mom was in 8th grade and my dad a sophomore; began dating two years later, and married two weeks after my mom graduated high school. My pop was in the Air Force then, so they spent some time apart, but for the past 50 years (yeah, they celebrate their 50th anniversary next year) they have been inseparable. There’s no one the other would rather be with.

They are also very clear about wanting to preserve their independence, and to live their lives as fully as possible. Some years ago they filled out living wills, authorized my sister to carry out the terms of those documents, and have told each of us (sister, brother, me) that they have no desire to have their bodies preserved beyond what they would consider a decent life. My siblings and I respect that.

So while it’s too early to form any long-term prognosis for my pop, I am concerned what this stroke means for that decent life, for their shared life. I use the singular deliberately: they became adults together, became the people they are today together, so while they are most definitely individuals, I think they understand themselves as a necessary, beloved, part of the other.

I hope that will be enough to pull them through.