I often have to remind myself not to second guess Papa’s actions, not to try to figure out why he says certain things or most importantly not to take something Papa might say or do personally. Papa returned home from his five weeks of summer travels considerably aged. He has been cold, tired, not eating well and having a difficult time walking, he is completely unmotivated. His walking and balance have deteriorated to the point he cannot walk down the hallway without holding on, and walking outside on a sidewalk has become downright dangerous without holding on to something or someone. Papa is not in any pain but says his feet feel mushy or unstable. He worries what people will think when they see him shuffling down the street alongside me and repeats several times as we walk our loop around the block that the neighbors probably think I’m drunk. His daily ½ – 1 mile walks have resorted to me insisting he moves it before he loses it.
We noticed something was wrong shortly after we picked him up in Chicago and he stumbled down a couple of stairs. The next day he fell in the shower and ended up with a goose egg on his forehead and one day later looked like he had been in the ring for a couple of rounds with Rocky. In a week and a half we have taken him to see his primary care doctor, in for x-rays, an MRI and labs even though he had a complete physical just days before he left for vacation. We have taken him to the neurologist who will continue with another battery of nerve testing tomorrow and he will begin physical therapy later this week. Throw in an eye appointment, a trip to the dentist, several baseball games and a walk around the Iwo Jima Memorial and Papa has not had much time to sit and home and watch his westerns or nap.
Papa showers or says he bathes before church or his various doctor appointments, and he mumbles his dissatisfaction when we have several appointments scheduled in a given week, such as this week. We hear the water turn on and run for a few minutes but do not hear any movement in the bathroom during the “shower”. No sliding of the curtain, stepping into the tub, or dropping the bar of soap, and what easily gives his ploy away is there are no wet towels after his shower. Does Papa think he is fooling us? His balance is off; can he even step into the tub now? Is he worried about falling in the shower like he did a couple of weeks ago? Or is he just being lazy and it is easier to put on sweat pants and say I ain’t dirty, I don’t sweat. We need to remind him we have a walk in shower off of the master bath if that would make things easier for him, but will that be letting him know we are in on his ruse?
Yesterday I surprised Papa and was home by the early afternoon. I smiled when I pulled into the driveway and saw him sitting on the porch. YEA, he was outside on his own! There was no prodding to get him out of his brown recliner. No bribes. I sat in the wicker chair next to him and asked him about his day. What time did you get up? 7:30, I always get up at 7:30. This is funny to us, because on days I work from home or on the weekends he will easily stay in bed until 9 or 10 o’clock. To me it is backwards, why doesn’t he sleep on the days we are at work? Papa’s morning routine might be confusing but it is consistent. We know we have to wake him up for early morning appointments or church but I can guarantee when I get home this afternoon and ask him when he got up I will hear 7:30, I always get up at 7:30. Does he really get up then? Does he know his schedule doesn’t make any sense?
I moved on to ask Papa what he had eaten that day even though I knew this answer, or thought I did. We make sure he has options laid out before we leave every morning. A banana and some prunes are always on the counter next to his coffee, giving him something to eat before he takes his morning medications. We have cold cereal, oatmeal, or bagels ready for him to choose for his breakfast and his lunch is always prepared and in the refrigerator. Of course we remind him, if anything else looks good eat it, and some days we come home and he tells us he had peanut butter and jelly or we see PowerBar or ice cream wrappers tucked in the trash and know he filled up on something else. We know he isn’t going hungry, or shouldn’t be. I had a BIG bowl of cereal for breakfast. We chatted a bit more on the upcoming Nat’s game against the Cardinals, the beautiful summer weather and the neighborhood kids first day of school before I proceeded in to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher and start dinner. I didn’t see his bowl in the sink, or his lunch dish so I peeked out the door and asked him where they were. I put it in the dishwasher. I don’t see it, what color it is? Yellow. I still don’t see it, the dishes were clean come show me so I can put the rest away. Papa ambled inside slowly running his fingers along the wall and across the counter top before he reached down and pulled out a very small green bowl. I laughed. Papa you ate cereal in that, I don’t think that bowl will hold a half of a cup. Oh, I just had a couple of prunes. I shook my head, What about your lunch? I wasn’t hungry, I don’t eat like I used to…. Papa didn’t dig himself in any deeper, he was not happy but he looked at me and knew what I was about to say. He sat down to eat his chicken pita sandwich while I finished unloading the dishwasher and lecture him on the importance of eating several small meals throughout the day. I walked upstairs to answer the phone and he still had more than half of his sandwich left but by the time I was back in the kitchen, less than 2 minutes later, he was loading an empty plate in the dishwasher. WOW! Did you finish your sandwich? Yes, I ate it all. Jokingly I asked him if he threw it away, knowing I had only been gone a short time. No, I didn’t throw it away, I eat fast.
I gave Papa the choice of running errands with me and pushing a cart in the store or walking around the block. I can’t walk. Papa doesn’t know Uncle Leo from Seinfeld, but he sure sounds like him. I am an old man. I’ll walk tomorrow. I need a break. I can’t. It’ll take me thirty minutes to change clothes. Papa knew I was not going to give in and slid his hand along the wall as he staggered up to change clothes. I took pity on him and this once I gave him the day off.
Before I left to run errands I did the unthinkable. I looked in the trash and sure enough wrapped in a napkin was the second half of his sandwich. I knew I would find it just like an unused big yellow cereal bowl sitting in the cupboard , or a dry towel in the bathroom after his shower. I knew he wasn’t telling me the truth. Why can’t he tell me he can’t eat all of his meal right now, or just say I don’t like chicken, or I took a nap and forgot to eat? Why can’t he say he doesn’t want to shower or it is too hard to step over the tub? Has he lost some of his confidence to take a shower? Does he not care about his hygiene and is holding on to his last sense of control? Is he choosing not to eat or is he truly not hungry? If he is hungry is it just too much work to walk up from the family room to warm up his breakfast or lunch? I know that Papa doesn’t want to let us down. He doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone. Every night as we say goodnight he says, I don’t know what I would do without you kids.
I can rationally say I shouldn’t take his words or actions personally, but sometimes I do. I want him to be happy and healthy and active without us constantly pushing him. I want him to spend time with each of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I want him to call people to say HI or have the confidence he used to have and not be so quick to tell us he can’t or he is old and tired. He is not letting us down, but today I think I let myself down, I should have kept playing the game, I shouldn’t have looked in the trash.