Monday, March 23, 2009

Dad's surgery revisited

Posted by Terry McNichols

My father had his surgery last Tuesday and it was successful. Our family response was less successful. Here's how it played out. My mom is very independent and said from the start that she didn't want anyone to come and help her during my dad's hospital stay. She worried about what the person coming would do all day, where they would stay, and thought it would be more trouble to have someone than to do it herself. She didn't want to have to worry about us! We let her stay in her role as the "mother" and did what we were told.

The plan was for my mom and dad to stay overnight in a nearby hotel to cut down on early morning travel to the hospital. Then my mom was to stay in the the room with my dad throughout his hospital stay, in order to take care of him and be nearby. The hospital stay was to be one to three days and my sister had airline tickets to arrive Friday. I am leaving today for Phoenix. This trip was planned before the surgery and it would have been expensive to change the tickets at such a late date. So we left things as they were.

This plan would have worked out perfectly except for one major snag. The hospital was full the day of dad's surgery and there wasn't a room for him. He was kept in the recovery area of the hospital for the first night. My mother had nowhere to go. She refused to leave the hospital as she wanted to be near my dad. The hospital finally put a cot in a counseling room and she slept there. The bathroom was far down the hall and she had a very difficult night, sleeping poorly and having to get dressed every time she woke to go down the hall to the bathroom. So by day two she was very tired and hadn't showered.

Throughout day two I worked with my mom by remote control to try to find her a place to stay for the night. There still wasn't a room for my dad. The nearby hotel filled up their rooms before mom was ready to give in and leave the hospital. The nice room from the night before was not available. She wasn't willing for us to spend money on an expensive room. She was nervous about driving somewhere, afraid of getting lost, afraid of going to a hotel by herself in this part of town. She didn't want to lose her good parking space at the hospital. She had problems working the cell phone. She didn't have money to take a taxi and my dad couldn't remember the pin for their cash card. My mom is suspicious of taxi drivers. She wouldn't call any of the friends who had offered help. A local niece tried to be helpful, but mom was worried about the cold virus her family had. After the fact I found out that the hospital had several hotels with reduced rates, shuttles were available, and that taxis take credit cards. But we weren't planning on needing all of this information.

This story actually worked itself out. The hospital room opened up and my mom was able to stay in the room with my dad and then drove him home the next day. The story of how she slept through him pulling the tube out of his neck and trying to disassemble his razor to get something to cut the dangling cords is a story for another time. Somehow, he made it through the night and is at home, sore, exhausted, but still among the living. And the story of how my mom persevered to actually make this surgery happen is an example of her normal resourcefulness!

But the questions that arise from this experience will be fodder for our blog for some time to come. We are writing about the challenges of aging, as they affect us personally, and one of the most significant challenges we now face is how to deal with the issue of our aging parents. How do we allow them to maintain their independence in the face of increasing evidence that they need help? When do we ignore their express desires and do what we think is best in a given situation? At what point does the parent become the child? And how do we deal with the resentment that comes when these issues arise?

Between my siblings and our spouses, we have a pastor, a geriatric specialist, a doctor, a nurse practitioner, a counselor, a Medicare specialist and several other highly competent individuals. We should be able to figure out the answers to these questions!


kenm said...

Well put!

Your "older" sister said...

I am one of those siblings and my sister and I are now with the subjects of this blog. Things are coming along and by the "Grace of God," we will make it through this stage of our parents becoming senior citzens.