(Ed. note. This is a reprint of an article that appeared in a local neighborhood monthly magazine. It tells a story of what many people are experiencing as their parents age. With it, we hope to introduce what we believe is a series of first hand accounts of events that occur in the care of parents. We encourage others to send in their experiences.)
Care of an Elderly Father can be Quite an Endeavor
by Yori Yanover
About one year after my mother passed away, my father was reunited with an old girlfriend, D., three years his junior, who, like him, had gone through the Holocaust and emerged into a new life, with husband and family.
They spent close to eight happy years together, in Philadelphia. Then, a little over two years ago, my sister and I began to receive phone calls from D., asking that we "take back" our father. She said his health was failing and that, having nursed one husband through ten years of suffering until he passed away, she was in no shape for yet another similar experience.
It turned out my father had episodes in which he suddenly lost his balance and mobility, collapsed and was unable to get up without assistance. I tried to suggest alternatives to a full "expulsion": we could pay for in-home help, or for any other accommodation which would take the burden of care off her shoulders and permit the relationship to go on, but D. was determined to sever it.
On a windy August in 2002, my sister and I rented a minivan and drove to suburban Philly, to pick up Dad and his belongings. Although we had discussed this with him a few times before, the impending reality of having to leave permanently hit him like a ton of bricks. My sister and I stood and watched in horror as our dad was begging, cajoling, promising, pleading not to be thrown out, to no avail. In the end he acquiesced and came along, hunched over, silent, defeated.
A month later Dad had a massive heart attack. We all saw it as the medical manifestation of his broken heart and blamed D. for all of it. But in truth the tragic day of Dads exile was only a very dramatic realization of the change he was undergoing, from a proud man in full control of his destiny to a dependant elderly person.
It was not an easy transition, of course. Without the privileges of citizenship Dad had little to look for in America as far as long-term care went. A few weeks after being released from St. Vincents he and I flew to Tel-Aviv together, to explore his options there. My father was not very good at saving for rainy days, nor at preserving what wealth he had managed to accumulate. While I was exploring hiring a live-in caretaker, Dad was becoming sicker by the day. My time was stretched to the point of tearing between blood tests, doctor visits and hospitalizations (Dad was developing a dangerous Thrombosis, his medication was playing havoc with his blood iron, his vitamin deficiencies were sprouting like evil thorns, his sphincter control was weak, at night I would find him rolling, soiled, on the floor, helpless and so out of it, he didnt even remember to holler for help), and on to meetings with old age home managers, bankers, Ministry of Health officials, and real estate brokers. It was the most stressful and most frightening time of my whole life, and it lasted more than a month.
There were times Dads situation was so bad, I was terrified to the point of paralysis. His personal doctor suggested I take Dad home with me for his few remaining days. But, somehow, things came together. Out of the chaos of an unfamiliar system a pattern emerged. God sent me some good advisers, opportunities became available, and I took a few chances I havent since regretted.
My sister and I found Dad a modest facility in Ramat Gan, with round the clock medical supervision. The place is clean, the staff is polite and professional. When his medication had been adjusted to the point where he no longer experienced those episodes of losing control, we moved him to a private room. He has his own bed, his own bookshelves, his own TV and his own private bathroom. My sister and I take turns visiting him, my teenage daughter comes along too. I just returned from one such visit. Dad looked robust. His sense of humor is back. He complains about boredom, but has a few men his age he chats with regularly. Dad moves a little slowly, with a cane, but he is definitely recuperated from his time of illness.
When I visit I take care of Dads bank account, pay all the outstanding bills, go shopping with him, and I check in on the tenant renting the family home. Dad and I go to lunch together every day. We visit our favorite spot by the man-made lake in the Ramat Gan park. Eons ago Dad used to come home early from work on summer Tuesday afternoons and take me boating in that lake. Nowadays he gets tired from the walk and prefers to sit on a bench with me, in the shade. We tell jokes, I interrogate him about his family which he left behind in burning Europe (hes my only real connection to an otherwise lost past).
I have my dad back.
(Yori Yanover, founder of the Grant Street News (http://grandstreetnews.com), has been writing since he was 17, studied Film and TV production at NYU, produced shows for WBAI (NYC) as welll as radio statios in Israel. He has written columns for national newspapers as well as establishing web sites and co-authoring a book called Dancing and Crying.)
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