Papa came home on Christmas. Between the hospital and the rehab facility he has been away from home for over a month. He was excited to come home to see two of his granddaughters, enjoy a home cooked turkey dinner with all the fixings and watch some of his favorite TV. He apologized profusely for not going shopping for us, as if he couldn’t fit it into his schedule, but of course we were just thrilled to have him spend the day at home with us. We already miss the routines we have built over the past couple of years.
I am not sure who was more naïve on the transport. Papa thought he was coming home to stay for a while, sadly he was not. We thought it would be easy bringing him home but unfortunately it wasn’t. It was not just the logistics of picking him up and transporting him, knowing it would take at least two people, it was the reality of knowing this will not get any easier. Papa’s neuropathy and lack of physical activity has left him unable to walk… too weak to pull himself up, too unstable to stand or move at all unassisted. But the hardest part for all of us was realizing Papa honestly forgets he cannot move on his own. He has fallen in the rehab facility many times over the past three weeks however we thought that was the proud Italian in him not wanting to ask for help. The moment Doug and Christina pulled into the driveway Papa unbuckled his seatbelt and started opening the door ready to walk in the house like he has almost every day for the past two years. He just forgot.
With a little ingenuity using three people and a desk chair we were able to get Papa into the family room where he made it to the closest possible seat on the couch and sat. There he sat. All day. He smiled, he laughed, he told stories about different homes he has lived in and he opened his Christmas gifts. He chatted with his family on the phone, who hopefully didn’t believe him when he said I’m getting around pretty good. He wanted to try going up to the dining room but we decided on a cozy dinner in front of the Christmas tree and a football game was probably our safest bet for his first outing. It was a great day.
Sadly, just a couple of days after Christmas I received a call that Papa was being brought to our local hospital for pain and swelling in his leg. I assumed he had fallen and rushed to meet him in the Emergency Room. We were not there long before they transferred us via ambulance, during DC rush hour traffic, to INOVA Fairfax Heart and Vascular Institute. Papa was diagnosed with severe, multiple deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms and unfortunately his head injury last month complicated matters by not allowing the most aggressive anticoagulants. We spent the next several hours in the ER quietly watching as a team of 8 doctors debated on the best course of treatment for Papa before they finally brought him up to the CVICU.
In the past month Papa has been in the hospital twice now totaling over two weeks, and at a rehab facility for several more weeks, however seeing him today was the hardest on me. We know Papa forgets, we can remind him. We know Papa likes to be comfortable and is not afraid of telling people if he is not so we do our best to make him feel relaxed. We know Papa is a bit confused about the many different rooms and hospitals he has been in, and doesn’t quite understand when he will be able to move to a permanent location so we assure him we will be there for him no matter where he is. And we know Papa likes to look good and even when he is in pain. In fact, once he was settled in his latest room and I asked him if he wanted me to bring him anything and all he wanted a comb and his Vo5 (he does have great hair). But today was different. I have never seen Papa as incoherent as he was today. He has been poked and prodded hourly for several days and the ICU psychosis has set in. Papa is sleep deprived, uncomfortable and in a strange environment. It broke my heart when he could not answer the most basic of questions, even though he tried his best to cover. What is your name? Wayne. Where are you? In a bed. Where is the bed? In a room. Where is the room? In a church. Maybe thinking you are in a church isn’t such a bad place to be.
Yes, Papa came home for Christmas and in trying to engage him to talk to me today I showed him some of the photos we took while he was home. He looked at them and asked, where’s Ma? This is the first time he has asked that question and it occurred to me that maybe he really didn’t come home for Christmas after all.