Pack a Different Type of Bag

Dad and I shaving.

It is possible that you have never truly known love until you have watched your fiancée push along your father’s IV tree as you wheel him around in his wheelchair.

Dad fainted getting out of the car a week ago. His eyes fluttered, then rolled back in his head, and he fell like a tree. Mom tried to get to him but couldn’t get out of the car quickly enough. His head bled profusely. He vomited, stopped breathing for one minute, then spent the next 36 hours unconscious. My mother relayed all of this to me over the phone, her voice rising to a keen.

Dad has fainted four times over the past couple years. The first three times he landed on something soft (or at least soft enough): sand, his bed, another car. This had been described to us as related to his Parkinson’s, though that is now being called into question and he is being visited by cardiologists. I feel foolish for not pushing the issue further with Mom and his doctors. But much of living life with a family member with Parkinson’s involves resigning yourself (or steeling yourself) to decline.

Carly, Alexis, and I flew back home to support Mom in Dad’s recovery. During a layover in Seattle, we ate shitty airport Mexican food, I drank some margaritas, and we made a silly video together. It was fun. The last hurrah before touchdown. Is it ok to laugh and enjoy yourself while your father lies potentially brain-damaged in a hospital? That was a dumb rhetorical question. It has to be ok.

Everyone at the hospital is lovely and kind and accustomed to dealing with overly-involved families who ask too much of the staff. I find myself swinging back and forth between love of and revulsion for the hospital. It is incredible. They are incredible. It is also a grim hall of death and dying. Alexis and I took the late shift with Dad the other night, and at the end when we emerged into the cool California darkness, people were going about their Friday night lives. “What are you doing?!” I wanted to scream. “People are dying in here!”

This is one of the most expensive hospitals in a state with very expensive hospitals. We hope that cost correlates with quality.

Dad is out of the woods in terms of anything immediately life-threatening but Parkinson’s complicates every aspect of his recovery. Rehab will be brutal and taxing but that is the good path. The other path is a nursing home, which is the right path for some people, plenty of people, but holy god please not for a man who is 66 and still actively repairing things around the house (he lives for projects).

There are obstacles in his path to the rehab facility and this puts Mom in the mindset that he has to “perform”. He has to show everyone that he is able to withstand the demanding physical therapy they are going to put him through. In tutoring, I try not to congratulate myself for my students’ success because then I would have to blame myself for their failures (maybe ‘lack of progress’ is a nicer phrase). I try to get Mom to stop ecstatically jumping on perceived advancements because that makes the perceived setbacks that much more crushing. And the last couple days have made it clear that there will be fucking plenty of both.

In one of my favorite short stories by Lorrie Moore (People Like That Are the Only People Here: Canonical Babbling in Peed Onk) a couple deals with a potentially terminally ill infant. The mother asks someone else in the ward how to cope and the response is, “You just put down your head and go.”


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