One week ago today, my phone rang at 7:37am. Three out of the four other times that week that my phone rang was in the hour of 2am, so I’m pretty sure my body thought it was home-free, for the night, from the trauma of what those calls announced.
When the caller ID says it is ‘Mom’s Cell’ calling, I know that Alexa is calling me from my father’s bathroom. It informs me that my larger than life, 83-year old father is lying on the floor and that he needs my assistance.
This fifth call in a week wasn’t really a surprise. His Leo’s pride kept him from calling me BEFORE he pushed the button of his lift chair to bring him to his feet (he didn’t want to wake me), and then pull his red Rollator Nitro walker before him so he could struggle to rise and make his way to the bathroom to empty his bladder. Had he called, I could have been unlocking the front door of my parents’ home before he released the brakes to step gingerly away from the safety of his recliner.
Instead, I got the familiar call that puts my body into a trauma response. Wondering where on the floor I will find him, and if this will be the time that I am unable to help.
The fourth call was one of those times, actually. I pulled out the Indeelift device that helps us lift his body to where his knees are at a 90 degree angle, so he can then push himself to a standing position, but he didn’t have the strength to pull himself onto the platform. I had to call for a ‘lift assist’, and the fire department sent over four strong men to set him back into his chair.
But the fifth call… this was the one we were all dreading. This was the one where he didn’t get to decline a trip to the emergency room. This was the one where the pain was too great. This was the one that led to x-rays. This was the one that came with a diagnosis that comes with horror stories. My father, the man with bones and toenails of steel, had broken his hip.
I think he and I both went to that dark place with this news. I asked him what he was thinking, and he said that he was considering everything this would mean. He didn’t elaborate, possibly because I was in tears considering the same thing, feeling as if I had failed to keep him safe. I was thinking that for years I’d heard it said, when an elderly person breaks a hip, they are not long for this world. He was probably thinking he should have called me before the trip rather than after the fall.
It would be 24-hours before they could do the surgery to put a rod in his leg and repair the break in his upper femur. I was grateful that Covid-19 restrictions allowed one visitor to stay with him in the ER and during visiting hours, once admitted. They gave him a pain blocker and some pain meds to get him through the night. As he was drifting off to sleep, and I wished him sweet dreams, he said to me, “We’re going to have to get you one of those handheld crossbows.” I’m not sure where those pain meds were taking him, but I wish I could have seen the view from his perspective.
On Sunday, he was accepted and transferred to a Rehabilitation Hospital that has a pretty strict regimen for recovery. They provide each patient with three hours per day of physical and occupational therapy. The intention is to have each patient out within two weeks. To be honest, I don’t know that any amount of therapy will help. He has a host of complications that may impair the possibility of getting stronger. He fell four times in a week, and that was before he broke his hip. That said, before surgery I asked him if he wanted a Do Not Resuscitate order should anything go wrong, and his response was a resounding, NO! So, here’s to the strength of spirit for something more.
As for me, I have not had a day off of caregiving duty since this time last year. In addition to wanting to stay close for the possibility of a 2am phone call, Covid-19 has never gone into remission in the state in which we live. It hasn’t felt wise to travel and risk exposure or worse, unknowingly delivering the risk to others. 2020 has been a difficult year for all of us, and I have the added joy of constant highway construction just a few yards from my house. It’s like living in a war zone with the sound of dump trucks banging like cannon-fire, constant motion of cranes and power shovels, and then there’s the rattle and hum that shakes the whole house and bounces the art off the walls as dirt is shimmied and compressed into a highway foundation. Oh! And the pounding of pylons! That felt like an all out assault on my entire body. Needless to say… I’m exhausted.
One of the things I have to acknowledge is that I have two significant strengths at play, when it comes to my choice to not go back to work and care for my parents full-time. One is EMPATHY and the other is RESPONSIBILITY. When I am more distressed about our current situation than either of my parents seem to be, it is quite possible that my strengths are out of balance.
I feel obligated to stand at attention and be of service. It’s what I’ve always done. I used to get paid for it. Somehow, in my need to feel needed and worthy of love, I trained myself to give away so much of myself there was nothing left for me. The year my boss was dealing with a hostile takeover, I told myself I couldn’t take time off unless she did, because it would cause HER more stress. My own stress level and five weeks of unused vacation were secondary. Not because she required it of me, but because I demanded it of myself.
I’ve noticed how my body and mind have been telling me that it is time for a break, the way it did during that difficult year at work, but I hate that it may be made possible by my father’s extended stay elsewhere to recover from a broken and mending body.
I’m working on figuring out how to get away during a pandemic, and plans are starting to develop. Meanwhile, I am mindful of how beautiful it can be to find one’s self in need. During these months of lockdown, I have gotten to know my neighbors. Many of us have been here for decades, but the coming and going of our lives kept us passing with a wave or completely out of sight. Now, we have exchanged phone numbers, and text each other to see if anyone needs something from the store. And when a neighbor was outside the morning the ambulance came… I received messages of concern and outreach from several neighbors, wanting to know that we are safe and well, and how they might be of service to me.
Dear friends and beloved community are letting us know that they are holding us close, and they are standing-by, intending to assist in any way. One friend thanked me for allowing her to cook a pot of soup for us this week. I thanked her back, for reminding me how important it is to allow those who love us to be of service, when they are so desperately wishing there was something they could do.
So, thank you, dear ones… for taking the time to read about the heavy burdens I am carrying, for sending your healing energy and caring thoughts for my father’s recovery and wellness, and for holding space for a woman who is still learning how to treat herself with the same kindness and compassion she so abundantly offers to others. Much like the highway that runs through my side yard, I am a never ending work in progress. It seems tedious, but worth the effort.
Thank you for walking this path with me. None of us should have to do the hard things alone. I suspect that when we feel that we are isolated or abandoned, it is because we are too overwhelmed to notice that we are surrounded by a Tribe that has been paving the way all along. Goodness, we are so blessed, and ever so grateful. We hope that you and yours are safe and well.