It had been a month since I had last seen my dad. What a difference a month has made. He’s not walking anymore, using a wheelchair now to get from bed to the table where he spends most of his day. His confusion has reached a new level. I apparently moved to Canada, unbeknownst to me. On the bright side, they do have a good health care system up there and the Canadian ecconomy is humming along. But he still knows me and he definately appreciates my visit.
On Thursday, I took my dad to see his one remaining doctor, a shrink who works in the cancer division of NYU Hospital, primarily with geriatric patients. He has been wonderful to my dad and to our entire family. While in the waiting room, my father was asked to fill out a form describing what his last two weeks have been like. He read it through carefully and then handed it to me without a mark. Ask me the questions, my dad instructed me, and you can put my answers down. Simple enough. All the reports I have received over the past few weeks have been quite depressing: he has not been sleeping, he has been angry, some days he won’t get out of bed, etc. OK, here we go. Dad, have you had any trouble falling asleep or getting up frequently through the night? No. How is your mood — are you sad or depressed? No. Do you find yourself getting angry or agitated? No. Loss of appetite? No. And on and on. After we completed the twenty or so questions, the aid at the desk looked up and smiled at me: “Looks like your dad is doing better than you are.” At that point, I could no longer hold in my laughter. It felt good to let it out. One might chalk up all this to his dementia, but my father has been really good at denial all his life. Some things never change.
My sister had a 2000 piece jigsaw puzzle at her house. I figured it was worth a shot. Maybe my dad could pick out the straight edged pieces or possibly connect a piece or two. Worst case, it would give me something to do for the hours we sat together at the table. It turned out to be a stroke of genius. My dad did find a straight sided piece or two, but for the most part, the puzzle was beyond him. On the other hand, he sat there with me for hours, intensely engaged by the fact that I was making almost no progress at all. The damn puzzle was of a villa in Tuscany. Of the 2000 pieces, 1000 were blue (the sky) and 1000 were yellow (the hay). My failure to make progress day after day somehow intrigued my dad beyond comprehension. When I stopped by this morning to say good-bye and woke him up out of a deep sleep, his first words were: “Did you finish the puzzle?” Cute.
My brother Rich, his wife Marie, and I took my dad to dinner last night. On the way, he asked to stop at every store window as if it were the first time he had been on the streets of New York. He also had a comment about every person who walked by, often loud enough for them to hear. One very pretty and tall young woman came past us, with extremely short shorts. “That one has some pair of legs”, my dad opined. Yes, she did. The dementia has not stripped him of good judgement.
As we walked home, my dad was struggling to figure something out. That may be the saddest part of all this. One can see his mind turning over, and nothing coming out. He turned to us and said, “I guess as long as we are together, it’s alright.” That’s exactly right, dad. That’s exactly right.
Lawrence M. Schall
Oglethorpe University, Atlanta, GA 30319