My father recently had major surgery on his back that required him, at age 75, to spend ten days recovering in a rehab facility. Rehab facility is, of course, the modern code name for a nursing home.
His first night there, still feeling the effects of the anesthesia two days post op, and doped up on way too many meds (They gave him some sleeping pills along with a bendryl (because the morphine was making him itch), he, against orders, got out of bed in the middle of the night looking for sheet music, he says.
My father has always been an independent man and had never previously even spent a night in the hospital. He has also never had any interest at all in sheet music. So he was having some sort of drug and foreign place induced hallucination.
An aide found him on the bathroom floor at four in the morning, sound asleep. She helped him back into bed, but they eventually ended up calling an ambulance to take him back to the hospital to make certain he had done no damage to his back or the steel rods they had put in it. Fortunately, the x-rays were negative and he was back at the home that evening.
It can be disorienting and frightening being old and in a nursing home when you have spend your life being independent. My father was a champion boxer in college. In summers he used to hitchhike across the country and work in oil fields and pea canneries. He was a pilot in the Navy, who gave up that career during the Eisenhower peacetime reductions. He went to work in the financial field and raised three children, and coached little league teams, while caring for my mother who got multiple sclerosis in her thirties, and lived a slowly diminishing life until she died in her early fifties. In his old age he has traveled the world, hiking on several continents and has become an accomplished bird photographer.
When the aide helped him back to bed, they talked and my father showed her pictures of his grandchildren. My younger brother is married to a woman of Trinidadian descent and they have two young daughters. My own daughter, who is a year old today, is half Jamaican. The nurse’s aide, who was also from the islands, as were many of the aides in the nursing home, loved the pictures and told my father he must have done something right to have his sons have such beautiful children of Caribbean descent. Within a day nearly every aide in the home had stopped by to say hello and look at the pictures. The aides made him feel like family and took good care of him during his stay, and protected him.
In the Godfather, Don Vito Coreleone sends his son Michael to Italy where he is kept safe by ancient relatives. Here my father’s granddaughters were my father’s seal of protection. Their smiling faces said, “Look out for him, our grandfather is a good man who makes us laugh, and we love him. We are ever grateful for the care you give him.”
I have always tried to treat people right, but having a father in a nursing home, even for a brief period, opens my eyes when I go into a nursing home as I do so often. I see the residents as mothers and fathers, I see the families as daughters and sons like myself, and I see the aides as I have never seen them before. Thank you, I say to them. Thank you.
Happy Birthday, Zoey!