One Day Last Month

IMG_0896My father is 94. Although  deaf and partially blind, his overall health has been good. For the past four years, he has lived at home receiving help from paid caregivers, until one day last month.

Dad had a very bad urinary tract infection that would not go away. It had begun to travel to his kidneys. He could not sleep because he constantly had to go. He didn’t want to wear diapers; it hurt his dignity. So, he struggled dozens of times to the bathroom about 10 steps from his bed. His caregivers and his family all worried that he would fall. Again.

My brother, who oversees his care day to day, told me he had to be hospitalized and that his caregiving team was very worried. But my brother had just moved into a new house, had a new job, and was finding it difficult to manage it all.

So, I flew to Colorado to help. Dad had only recently been approved for VA health benefits and was admitted to the Denver Veterans Administration hospital. His condition was “touch and go.” The young physician I first spoke to was at first puzzled, but said he and his team were hopeful. I was worried that he might be receiving substandard care, but I shouldn’t have been.

I was by Dad’s bedside for two days and I don’t recall there ever being a time when a nurse, nurse assistant or doctor wasn’t visiting. At one point, a team of physicians including the head resident stood in the room and explained in plain language just what was going on.

During one of those team consults, I told them that I had transcribed Dad’s South Pacific diary and it could be read online. Every single physician read it overnight. I recall that a few of the nurses did too. In other words, they took extra time to get to know my Dad; he was not just another number on a chart.

My brother, who has visited Dad in other nearby not-for-profit and for-profit hospitals over the past several years, said this was the most positive hospital experience he could recall. Rarely have doctors elsewhere spent the kind of time these folks had. Rarely has a team of nurses and nurse assistants been so attentive to his needs.

Dad began to recover; the doctors finally figured it out. However, since he would need a permanent catheter and round the clock care, the verdict was in. He would need long-term care in a facility; he could not return home. I was given a list of the homes the VA contracted with. Naturally, I expected the worst. But, once again, I was wrong.

With a few clicks of the mouse, I found not only an Eden Alternative home but one with stellar Nursing Home Compare ratings. It was 10 minutes from the VA hospital on a quiet city street adjacent to the city park. My brothers and I checked it out and Dad subsequently moved in.

Dad now eats with others in a common area, not alone in his apartment. He is able to walk the halls with his walker and an aide; at home, he rarely went for walks. His caregivers were concerned about his falling and their inability to pick him up. He is receiving speech therapy now, something he had trouble accessing at home through Medicare. His ex-wife and their dog can visit anytime.

So far so good. Dad seemed content the day before I had to return to Northern Virginia. He described his room, which is filled with sunlight most of the day and accommodates his furniture, artwork and family photos, as like a stateroom. This US Navy veteran of years at sea should know.

My father passed away in July 2016. 

 

 

Advertisements

Days of Rage Redux?

protesters-arrested-during-the-days-of-rage-chicago-11-oct-19691In 1970’s America there was a bombing somewhere in America almost every week. It was called Days of Rage. Now there are mass shootings that occur as often as that, but are far more shocking and frightening.

Yesterday, I went to the local post office. The shootings at San Bernadino were still in the headlines. The clerk and I spoke briefly about the shocking incident and I said on leaving, “Things are out of control.” To my surprise, that night on NBC Nightly News a parent of one of the victims said precisely the same thing.

I had forgotten about the Days of Rage. The bombings, when I heard or read about them, seemed distant and random. Somehow they seemed less frightening since the target was property not people. But, people did get killed and support of the Weather Undergound, if there had been any to begin with, soon disappeared.

Mass shootings are domestic terrorism, but with few exceptions seem unrelated to any consistent movement to change our society or political culture. They are random, but feel far less distant and far more frightening than the bombing of a university ROTC building or a city draft headquarters.

I remember when the Washington area was paralyzed by two mass shooters who shot innocent people randomly for weeks on end. My children’s school events were cancelled and we were even afraid to buy gas for fear the snipers would shoot us. For the first time, I knew then that it would be easy for anyone, from a foreign country or from within, to terrorize a city or the entire country. All they needed was a gun.

Today’s pundits and politicians  fear calling most mass shootings terrorism. Political leaders who send prayers to families of victims offer no solutions yet seem to get away with it.

People all over America should be angry, not just afraid. We should translate that anger into action to stop the plague of gun violence. We should challenge those who would rather pray than act. We must confront the gun power structure that holds America hostage and should be blamed for the deaths of far too many innocents.