Monday, July 02, 2007

Little Old Men

I have a nasty summer head cold, which is probably because I spent most of last week taking Dad to his usual round of doctors. I seem to be sicker after visiting doctors’ offices than I would be normally, which would make more sense if they had been g.p.s. But, no, somewhere between the optometrist, the dentist, and the cardiologist, I came down with a rhinovirus.

In keeping with my fairly recent determination to be good to myself, I’ve been taking it easy, drinking juice, snoozing (and snoring around the congestion) and letting other people take care of themselves. It’s going OK, although there are moments when various family members act as if I hide things from them. It’s hard to avoid yelling, “Oh, fer Christssakes! You’ve lived here 11 years, too, and it’s been in the same place for all that time.” Fortunately for us all, snot and inflammation have kept me gracious.

During the week of Dad and Doctors, I noticed his Alzheimer’s is getting worse. He repeats himself more and more, and it doesn’t always make sense, the way it kind of used to. He forgets things, like his indwelling catheter, which he’s had for over 13 years, and asks over and over to go to the bathroom to void. Over and over, as I would remind a distracted child, I remind him he can just let go. And then he asks, quite distressed, to go again.

We were waiting in the cardiologist’s examining room, and I was rubbing him gently across his bowed, tired, fragile old shoulders. He said it felt really good and thanked me. He wanted to go to the bathroom again. I was sitting about 6 inches behind him, and he couldn’t see my face without turning his head, which was bent forward while I rubbed his shoulders. He propositioned me.

My first reaction was a quick, short wave of shock, followed by a deep welling of sadness so huge I nearly burst into tears. I kept rubbing his shoulders, reminded him that I was his daughter, and said very calmly that maybe he was a little confused because that would be inappropriate. He said he guessed so and asked to go to the bathroom again.

I know it’s his Alzheimer’s, and the way it makes people’s inhibitions and filters short out, reducing and eventually eliminating their ability to think rationally and within social constructs that made him say it. Because my Dad isn’t like that and never has been. He has always respected women, and particularly women to whom he is related, to such an extent that he would have been driven to an atypical act of violence if he’d ever heard someone else say anything like that to me. It was his Alzheimer’s, and his confusion, and possibly a need buried beneath his hardening brain cells for intimacy. Or maybe it was just a series of words erupting that his mind fought to put into a sentence of some sort, struggling to make sense out of nonsense at some level.

But a little bit more of my dad has gone missing. Every time I see him, part of his personality has been shaved away by age and Alzheimer’s. Sometimes it’s a little fragment, and I need to remind him who I am, other times it’s something bigger. Every time, it’s a little shock, a moment of sad surprise, before I take a mental breath and adapt to the slightly new him. He shuffles a little closer to the end of his life every day.

I kissed him goodbye after his appointment, and put him on the hospital bus, which can transport him in his wheelchair back to the nursing home. I called his g.p. to come and test him for a UTI, thinking that maybe he was feeling a non-specific urge and that was triggering him to ask to go to the restroom so often. And I sat in my car, during an afternoon storm, and I cried and grieved a little for the missing molecules of my Dad.

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