The A Word

“No.” That was my dad’s response to the impatient anesthesiologist’s pre-op question, “Do you know why you’re here?”

It wasn’t exactly a year ago but I’m within a day or so. The old World War II pilot also known as my father took his last airplane ride. It was in an air ambulance, which delivered him to Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital Hoosegow. He and The Commander arrived at the emergency room in the middle of the night and, if I remember right, that was the first of many times they encountered the A word. Alzheimer’s, that is.

I dunno. The old man did have his moments of confusion in the last few years. Jackets and shoes and boat books migrated to interesting places. Sometimes a second garbage night would try to weasel its way into his weekly routine. But he was almost 87 years old. And there in that urban E.R., he was facing down the excruciatingly horrific fact that his life, in one instant, had changed forever. One minute he was taking his daily hike down to the post office in the beautiful little northern city where he had lived almost his entire life. The next, he was on the ground, unable to get up. A man who had almost no experience with illness or infirmity or hospitals was incarcerated in a large, busy, noisy, urban hoosegow a five hour drive away from home. A man whose every instinct in life was to keep moving — walk, run, swim, paddle, drive, sail, ski, fly — was confined to a hospital bed, unable to move. And I think I’ve already alluded to the approximate number of light years he was from his home. In multiple dimensions.

Over and over throughout the ensuing three weeks, two surgeries, eleven days in the ICU, ad nauseam, various medical professionals asked about his state of mind. Did he understand why he was there and what they were asking him? Most of those folk were way too busy to listen to my opinion, which was that my personal old coot would answer questions in any one of four ways, depending on his current state of mind:

  1. Absolute clarity, especially when remembering things that happened years ago when all of his friends were alive and they were out being wild and having fun.
  2. Confusion. And yes, he did get confused sometimes, see above.
  3. “I don’t know,” to questions that hurt too much to answer. The best example being “How many children do you have?”
  4. Assessing a question as being absolute, total bullcrap and giving an appropriately bullcrap answer.

Once in a while it could be hard to tell the difference between #2 or #4.

The impatient anesthesiologist in the pre-op seemed a bit put off by Grandroobly’s answer at first and began directing questions to The Commander and I. But his attitude began changing just a bit as he read through the chart. “Oh, he was a banker?!!” And then, “Sault Ste. Marie! I had a friend from there. Do you know the Coates family?” The Commander and I had never heard of the Coates family. Suddenly, the old man piped up hoarsely with, “Yeah, old Claude Coates was a friend of my dad’s. He owned the [such and such] store.” The doc’s attitude made a major shift at that point. It was obvious that there was still something going on inside that tired, frail old man’s brain. He just didn’t want to think about his smashed pelvis and surgery and not being able to get up and walk.

Alzheimer’s? I don’t know. He was never diagnosed with it. Isn’t a little confusion a relatively normal part of the aging process? I can think of some reasons for all those people to need to know a little bit about his mental state but that wasn’t the reason that he was there. He was there so they could try to fix his smashed pelvis and hope that he might live to walk again.

The docs down there are pretty darn good. They did fix his pelvis. Somehow, that tough old coot survived two major surgeries, an ambulance ride all the way back to his beloved Sault Ste. Marie, and a few weeks in a rehab facility. As y’all know, the last week things went downhill fast.

I didn’t write this to relive all that or to be bummed out or whatever. It was just some thoughts about Alzheimer’s and other stuff that I’ve wanted to get on “paper” for quite a while and now was the appropriate time. I had no time to sit down and grieve for either my dad or my brother. Or I didn’t take time or whatever. Some days are better than others. Or, in my case, some moments are better than others. But, like my old coot dad, I just have to keep moving. And I do. Today, I got up and walked and then we drove to Houghton Lake and this afternoon we skied for the first time this winter. Ol’ Codger, I used to ski with you. And you could beat me easily in the early days before you got particular about your knees. Anyway, now I am just carrying on with your tradition. You are not in the hoosegow anymore. You and Jim have a little snort of Jack Daniels on me. Share a little bit of it with Sam and Laker. Love.

3 Responses to “The A Word”

  1. Webmomster Says:

    Yeah, I agree with the assessment of “hurt too much to answer”…plus add to that the shock/trauma of a major fracture – that would be enough to throw anyone’s brain functions a major curve-ball.

    Cripes. There are still visuals that keep popping into my head that I’d rather not recall – from both Jim’s and Jack’s last days/weeks – *shudder*. I’m glad, though, that you Continue Moving Ahead, just as The Ol’ Coot and your Little Bro’ would insist!!

    Love you with all my heart!!

  2. kayak woman Says:

    You too, sis.

  3. kate Says:

    Your writing really touched me. It reminds me so much of what I’m going through with my Dad. He will be lucid for days and then have these moments and they are due to the disease he has (not Alzheimer’s). It is so hard to see him without his independence and sometimes the loss of dignity. He struggles to “recover” from the times when he doesn’t get things quite right.
    Much love to you. You’ve had a lot of loss recently.