Adventures in Caregiverland, Chapter 301
By Peg Dwyer
Saturday night 12/6/06
I never had any desire to visit a wax museum. I remember seeing a few pictures as a kid, and just thinking about being in the same room with one of those pale weird statues gave me the willies. I thought it would be really creepy. I was right.
I got home from work last night just in time to help Dad to bed. It's been getting harder and harder to wake him in the mornings, and as soon as the daylight starts fading, he's ready to quit. The drive home had been sketchy- one of the first commutes of the season involving black ice and cars off the road. One of them was mine. A really nice, stinky old guy with a beat-to-shit old pickup and a tow strap yanked me back up on the road, and there was no injury or damage, except to my timetable and Nelda's . Dad was sitting at the kitchen table "working" on the computer – he's had the same MahJong game going for a month now. Nelda had had a long day, but she still gave me a hug and hit the road before the dome light in my car turned itself off. Two seconds later, he announced that he was gonna give up.
I help him up out of his chair – yucka – needs another shower – I tricked him into the bathroom, coaxed him into the shower, and cleaned him up. As I dried him off, we joked about how good his bed was going to feel. Poor old guy was tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiired. He shuffled into his bedroom, flopped into bed and we perform The Ritual – I tuck him in, kiss him goodnight, and say “God bless you, Dad.” He says “He does.” I say I'll see you in the morning. He pulls the covers over his head, and says “Not too early.”
I feed the dogs and toss the horses a good slug of hay, since the temperature's dropping like a stone. When it's really cold, they need extra fuel. I open a beer, walk out to the living room, and flop down on the couch. Wow. I hadn't realized that I was so tired. I did a little Christmas shopping on the Internet, but just wasn't into it and decided to give up myself before I even finished my beer. No one had to know I was in bed before 9 on a Friday night. I'm such a loser! Jim's gone, but I don't even have the energy to miss him anymore. I like the house this quiet. And I kinda like the extra two feet in my bed.
I don't remember dreaming. I do remember that at some point, something woke Beckett up. He growled and let out a soft woof or two before I grumpily barked at him to come. Sit. Lie. Down. And stay, goddammit. Stupid dog. I think he's scared of the dark. I drift off again, but wake up to noises the cats are making downstairs. Shit. I thought I'd put them out. The cats used to come and go at will, but the new dog door actually seals pretty well, and now I have to pay attention to which side of the door they're on. I ignored them until I heard boy-am-I-proud-of-myself noises. I got up, sleepily stumbled downstairs, and took a field mouse away from Smudge. It didn't look hurt, so I went out to the mudroom to toss him outside. I see how the cats got in. Nelda must not have pulled the door tight, and it blew open. Again. Aarggghhh!. This big old house is bad enough – I can't afford to heat the neighborhood, too. I've half-assed fixed that latch a dozen times, I bet. I slam it tight and head back to bed.
This time, I sleep like a rock right through daybreak and wake without the alarm, feeling pretty good, for the first time I can remember. That's not saying a lot – I can't remember shit these days. I quietly step over my snoring poodle – guess poor Beckett didn't sleep well. I head downstairs, hushing the other two dogs all the way down the stairs ‘cause I don't want them to wake Dad. I made myself a pot of coffee, sit down at the window and watch the morning get it legs under itself. I can spend a LOT of time right there, just watching the birds in my PJs. After a bit, I go to the computer to check the Dadcam.
Technology rocks. A tiny camera in Dad's room sends video to my wireless laptop. It records on motion, and I can even program it to send a snapshot to my cellphone so I know whether to walk or run.*
There's no Dadlump in the bed. I run. He's not, as I feared, a Dadlump on the floor alongside his bed. Much worse. He's not there at all.
I rerun the events of the night before, and the correct interpretation comes to me instantly. Dad scared Beckett on his way to… wherever, and he didn't shut the door properly. That's nothing new – he hasn't shut a door properly for two years. What is surprising is him getting up. He hasn't gotten up during the night, hell, he hasn't gotten out of bed at all, without help, for months. There's a motion sensor just outside his door, but I'm sure the alarm never went off. It's an obnoxious noise, that no one would sleep through.
He's got to be outside. I envisioned him lying dead on the ground, outside the door he couldn't open because I'd closed it so tight.
With my heart in my throat, I open the door. He wasn't there. I looked towards his car hoping to see the windows fogged up. The windows were clear and dry. I could see him clearly slumped way down in the passenger seat. I yanked open the door, and there he was, wearing nothing but a t-shirt and pair of wet paper pants.
No socks. No shoes, no hat or gloves or coat or anything else you'd hope to see on someone sitting outside in December in Maine. He was breathing. I shook him and asked if he was OK. He didn't react. His eyes were mostly lifelike, but his skin was pale and waxy, except for his lips, hands and feet, which were blue. He was a wax statue. It was awful. I ran inside and grabbed the keys then ran back out and started the car so I could turn on the heated leather seats. He didn't move. I went back inside and put on my bathrobe, Jesus. It was cold out there. I grabbed his robe and slippers, a few blankets and some towels. I threw the towels in the microwave (an old trick I learned at the fist aid clinic at Sugarloaf a million years ago). I went out to the car, covered him up, and tried to put his feet into his slippers. In my work as a vet tech two million years ago, I'd handled plenty of dead animals, and, minus the fur, that's just what Dad felt like. I couldn't flex his limbs at all. Up until then, I actually thought I'd be able to get him inside by myself. On Monday, he weighed 173 pounds. Dead weight today. I called 911, confessed, and they promised they'd be on their way. I brought the warm towels from the microwave out to Dad, covered his chest, jammed one under each arm and wedged one between his legs. He didn't react. I got in the drivers seat, put on his favorite Mitch Miller sing-along tape, and was quietly, prayerfully singing please don't take my sunshine away when the ambulance arrived. Four knights, armor condensed to name tags, arrived. They checked him out, asked a bunch of questions, and once they understood the baseline, agreed to move him into the house instead of the meatwagon.
They carried him in, and set him in his recliner in the living room. Dad loves that chair. My neighbor Joy, who sometimes takes care of Dad when I'm working, saw the ambulance in the yard, and came running in. I told her what was going on and (God bless her) she hugged me and asked what she could do. I told her things were pretty much under control, but asked her to put another stack of towels in the microwave and cook 'em for 3 minutes, while I ran upstairs to pull the electric blanket off my bed. She's gone when I get back downstairs. I lay one of the hot towels on top of the blanket by his feet. The guys are just about done checking him out, and we talk about taking him to the hospital. I promise to monitor his vitals, and call them if he deteriorates, and they agree to leave him with me. They clear out, and I pick up the other two towels. Holy crap! They're stupid hot! I unfolded the top one and found a scorched spot as big as a dinner plate in the middle. I toss the smoky towels out onto the concrete floor of the garage, and, sippy cup of water in hand in case he’s revived enough to swallow, go back in to check Dad. He's smoking. I whip the towel off Dad's feet, and there's a quarter-sized black hole smoldering through the blanket. Reflexively, before I remember the electric aspect of an electric blanket, I toss the water on the hotspot. Mid-toss, I remember that there's a U in electrocution. Sometimes a Pop.
I winced and closed my eyes and waited. Nothing happened. Of course. God's not going to let me off that easy. What a morning! I open my eyes. Dad is looking at me. I say hi, unplug the blanket, and ask him how he's doing. He tried to answer, but got stuck on a pesky consonant, which he repeated for about a minute. I put my hand on his head, and asked him to relax. He nodded and closed his eyes. I was pretty sure that was a genuine reaction to my words – the first hopeful sign since I noticed he was still breathing. I tucked him in, then went into the kitchen and cried like a baby.
Six hours later, he's fine – as fine as he gets. Joy stopped back to see how we were doing. Robin and Duncan came over with moral and practical support for the rest of the morning. We were able to get him up and into the shower around noon. He was aware enough to know that Robin didn't belong there, so she just backed out and made his breakfast. By the time I had him dressed, you'd have been hard pressed to prove that anything had happened. He ate, did a few jigsaw puzzles, "worked" for a while on the computer, "helped me" sweep put the garage, sang along with Mitch, and peeled apples for apple pie. It's his favorite dessert. As he was wolfing it after dinner, I thanked him for peeling all those apples.
He stuttered for a while, but I finally got what he was saying "I peel 'em and you bake 'em.” Then, clear as a bell, he said, "Pretty Good Team".
* Technology sucks. It's important to replace batteries on your wireless sending units frequently. The back-up is old-fashioned: a home completely booby-trapped with jingle bells on every doorway. Oh, yeah, and I'm letting Beckett bark.
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