It’s funny how life throws you a curveball on occasion. Times change, people change. Even our favorite professional sports teams change. We’ve all been witness to the changes, the struggles, the sad state of our Miami Dolphins. It’s just difficult to sit and watch while the team loses no matter how many signs of progress or improvement we see. But this season, for me, has also proven to be even more challenging for reasons far beyond what I see while I watch NFL games on Sunday afternoon. And it has all combined to make this a season to forget.
Originally, I thought it all started on October 1, but that idea has been dispelled. Ya’ see, it was that day that I received a call from my sister who lives about 20 minutes away. The tone in her voice was serious, troubling, and it caused in me a feeling that many of us have felt – my heart sank. A day that had begun like so many others with promise and hope, with my daily routine suddenly turned on a dime. She had bad news. My Dad was having a problem.
Sure, I realized immediately that Dad is 80 years old. There are certain things that are normal, in fact expected, of someone of that age. But, hey, this is my DAD. Dad’s are the strength of the family by both tradition and by birth here in the old-fashioned South. And my Dad had always carried out his duties for our family. He has always been a rock, a confidante and a mentor to me. I knew I could always count on him to be there for me, for all of us, as the example of strength. But time has a way of changing everything and changing everyone while we are all forced to sit helplessly and watch it happen no matter how negatively these changes impact us.
On this morning, my sister had been trying to reach me for some time. But, just as my daily routine dictated, I had been outside with my dog, my very slow and deliberate dog, while she attempted to spend the day sniffing each and every blade of grass while determining the best place to do what dogs do best. After spending what seemed to be a small eternity standing and waiting for my canine, I finally arrived back inside to find 19 missed calls – all from my sister.
Wasting no time, I reached for the phone to call her back but the phone rang before I could even begin dialing. I’ll never forget her words, “You need to come home right now. There’s something wrong with Dad.”
That morning, Dad had gotten up at his usual time, began his day but, unfortunately, he also did something he had never done – he began to complain to my sister, who was there at the time, that he had been hearing things. He went on to tell her that he had been visited during his night’s sleep by a number of people including his deceased brother. That’s when she picked up the phone.
This is where my odyssey begins. It became apparent to us all that our only recourse was to contact the doctor. His advice? Take him to the hospital immediately. This became my Dad’s first of an eight-day stay.
Doctor’s are funny creatures. I simply don’t know any other way to explain it. Test, test and test again. Poke, prod and stab with needles. Look, talk but don’t touch. Speak, discuss options yet actually say little. I’ve come to the conclusion that doctors simply don’t want to commit. I can see you. I can test you. I can draw blood, urine and spinal fluids but a diagnosis may still be a pipe dream. Modern medicine is both a miracle of science and a crap shoot. We can wear you out with MRI’s, CT scans, restrictive diets, medications and sleep deprivation while administering all of this torture. But the odds that we can provide conclusive evidence of anything? Not so good.
This week in our local “health care torture facility” was punctuated by sights and events that I truly never dreamed I would ever live to see. My father became combative, irritated and insistant that he be allowed to go home. He just didn’t belong here. Yet he gave us no evidence that he even knew where “here” was. The next two days would prove the old addage “Once a man, twice a child.”
There I was, a man half my father’s age, becoming the caretaker. Even worse, I found myself arguing with this octagenarian about what he needed, what had to be done, where we were going to stay and who was going to be there to help him. It all reached a head quickly and I was forced to begin wrestling my Dad to get him back in the bed for his own safety. Hours passed. And, like any good heavy-weight bout, we went the distance, round after round, blow for blow, I would sustain a forearm shiver from him and answer with a bear hug performed with a textbook football technique – “lowest man wins when gaining leverage.”
The fight ended for the moment and the unthinkable became a reality as we were forced to restrain this man who had helped to give me life, who had raised me in his own way, taught me right from wrong, corrected me with the occasional heavy hand when I got out of line and who loved me unconditionally. My Dad was safe from himself but my heart was broken.
Days went by. The medications flew. Nurses came and went. And my two sisters and I had spent a week sitting in this alcohol-scented wonderland of illness and the eternal search for better living through chemistry. Luckily, Dad showed signs of improvement and the restraints were removed yet his thinking remained cloudy. Calmed by a chemically-induced stupor, Dad underwent a long battery of tests. But tests and pints of bodily fluids, one family practitioner, one neurologist and a psychiatrist could provide no answers. We had done all we could do so it was time to move Dad back home.
Now the caretaking would be a 24-hour proposition. This leads me to today where I’m still trying to keep an eye on this aging man who has had some good days and some bad. There have been no rematches of the Dad versus Son bout that occurred in the hospital, but there certainly have been mental battles as I attempt daily to convice Dad that he actually IS home. And slowly but surely, signs of a childhood relived begin to appear. And only this morning, the doctor (the one with no answers) is beginning to agree with me that what we’re dealing with here may be the very thing that has already claimed my paternal grandfather’s life – Alzheimers.
Like I said before, life is a funny thing. You have your ups and your downs, your good and your bad. But it’s never what you think and it’s certainly never what you’re prepared for. Just when you think you have things figured out you’re quickly reminded that you have no control. And the thing that I’m having to learn on the fly – that a boy can become a man in large part through the leadership and influence of his father only to become, in essence, the parent or the guardian as his father regresses to childhood.
It’s been a season to forget, indeed. My life has been turned upside down and my Dolphins can’t seem to provide the escape from my troubles that they once did mostly because they can’t win like they used to. We could probably all plead guilty to having a desire to forget this NFL season. But it may be the entire autumn and one equinox after another that I may soon be desirous of erasing from my memory. But I am also keenly aware that I owe everything to my Dad and I’ll press on and do anything and everything in my power to provide for him and attempt to repay a debt to him, or at least a portion of a debt, that I know I can never repay. Life can sure turn on dime.