Monday, August 06, 2007

Mixed Messages

Today, when I got to the hospital, Dad was mumbling a few words, including a recognizeable "Hello Dere!" that he and Mom frequently said in a cartoony way as a greeting (I think they borrowed it from a Marty Allen routine, if I remember correctly). At first, I took this as a sign of improvement, but I soon realized that Dad was vocalizing this mumbled phrase in response to almost anything, and sometimes in response to nothing at all. It's as if there are a few words in his mind that occasionally bubble to the surface, and he speaks them at random. "Hello dere." "Okey dokey." "Yeah." "Mmm-hmmm." "Kitty Kitty Kitty." These are the phrases most frequently repeated, generally with no relation to what's being said to him. Because Dad is agreeable, he will say "yeah" or "mmm-hmmm" in agreement to virtually anything he is asked, which gives the impression of positive response until you realize that he's (a) not answering accurately, and (b) saying these phrases at times when there is no question to respond to.

He also will latch onto a word and repeat it ten or fifteen times in a row before drifting off. However, he does not respond to any verbal commands or requests: he will not squeeze your hand when asked, he will not move his arm or feet or fingers when asked... although he will do these things at random times, so we know he's capable of any of them.

Dad's eyes move when we speak, but his pupils are extremely contracted and small, even though his eyes have been closed for most of the time. They don't change size in response to light, nor does he blink at all in response to sudden motion, bright light, etc. I still do not believe that he's seeing anything at all.

We have not seen him swallow in days; even when he coughs, he doesn't follow it up with the normal post-cough swallow. I placed a tiny piece of ice on his tongue to see if he would swallow the water as it melted; he never did.

Tonight, it has been seven days since Dad was taken to the hospital with a stroke; it has been six and a half days since he was able to respond in any coherent, communicative way. He still sleeps a great deal of the time, and he dozes in and out of sleep even when we're speaking to him. I think that, for the most part, he is interacting with a garbled dream world, not with us; I see no increasing sign of awareness or cognizance after all this time.

His cough has responded to intravenous antibiotics, although there is still fluid in his lungs. The issues of blood in the stool and plaque in his carotid artery have not been addressed at all, so I'd like to get more information on both.

For the most part, though, I feel with each passing day that Dad has left us, and I am watching a physical shell that this wonderful man once occupied. I leave the hospital so lonely, even though I'm surrounded by friends and family who want to help. There is no real way to help at a time like this; what we yearn for is that which we cannot have--the return of our father healthy and happy. I miss his voice, I miss our multiple daily phone calls, I miss lunch with him, I miss the chuckled wistfulness he felt when we discussed old times, I miss his telling me about favorite movies...

I am still thankful that I have, in the past year, become closer than ever to Dad. As his body and mind began to trouble him, I am grateful that I was able to step up and help to assuage his worries, to lessen his burden... just as he did for me so many times in my childhood and into my adult years.

I'm still not sure how I was blessed with such a man for a father... nor how I can ever hope to live up to the standard he has set for me...

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