This is either a comedy of errors or a tragedy--the story of taking my Dad out for a day.
When I arrived at Britthaven, I went down to the locked unit where he is. I pushed the button that opens the door. I said hello to the floor nurse who was at the desk and went to Dad's room. Dad was asleep on his bed. He was dressed and clean, but it looked like his hair had not been washed for a couple of days. His radio was blaring some awful popular music, in spite of the sign I put on his radio saying, "Please leave the radio tuned to 91.5 FM." His television was also blaring at the same time. Those were things that I noticed. I didn't really pay attention to the fact that his fluorescent overhead light was on. It's always on, because he cannot turn it on nor off himself anymore, and the nursing home, like all nursing homes, is not staffed enough to turn on and off individual lights. The TV and radio were probably blaring because other residents come into the room sometimes and turn things on or off. They are disoriented, and do not know where they are. All bedrooms are open to this phenomenon. In fact, before this room became my father's room, he used to sleep in there a lot, and would even get in physical battles over it with the other man whose room it really was at that time.
I helped Dad change out of his sweat pants, and put on some shorts. Then I helped him put his sandals back on, had to go back to get his Panama hat, and then and we went off into the parking lot. Dad walks very slowly, and often goes off in the wrong direction. He does not like it if you try to hold his hand all the time, because that reminds him of being a baby, and he knows he's not a baby. So if you want him to walk somewhere, you have to walk in front of him, where he can see you, and follow you. Then you have to keep turning around to make sure he's all right.
Getting in the old Ford Escort was not too difficult today. I showed him where to stand, and held the door steady so that he could lower himself into the car while grasping it. He also remembered how to swing his feet around to get all the way into the car this time.
As I drove us to the Carrboro Park, we went through some familiar streets in Carrboro, where Dad used to walk. He noticed the wood frame mill houses, and remembering our old house on Randolph road; he said, "He still lives there," referring to the man who moved into the Randolph Road house when my mother and I moved out.
We arrived at the park, got out and started to walk around the pond. The geese came running up to see if we had any food for them. Unfortunately we did not because I thought the Carrboro Environmentalists would have forbidden feeding the wild animals. I was wrong, and I really kicked myself, since Dad would have loved feeding the ducks and geese. Dad cocked his mouth to the side and started to imitate their honking noises. He was smiling brightly at me as he did so. It was something to do with boy scouts.
We had a 50-foot stretch in the sun that slowed dad down terribly, but I kept reminding him that if we could just go a little further, we'd get to the shade. We made it around the path. Dad started to talk about the zoo, and how much he would like to go to the zoo. He asked me if I had come along on "that trip" and I soon realized we weren't talking about the zoo anymore, but the Red Clay Ramblers trip to North Africa. So I told him "no, I had not been on that trip,” and asked him if he could tell me anything about it. He could not, but I am always wondering about that trip. His ex-wife told me once that his symptoms really started to show after he returned. What happened on that trip?
The Dad looked down and spotted some ants running across the path. They were carrying their eggs. Dad remarked to me "Do you remember when you were real little.... and you used to ....get way down there...you wanted to see things..." What he was talking about is that we used to go for walks in the woods and I was very interested in ants. This was because Dad had read a Disney Nature Book to me that talked all about ants and ant colonies. So I had become fascinated with them. I liked to overturn anything on the ground, rocks, a piece of metal, logs, to see if there were ants underneath. If there were, they would immediately start carrying their eggs to a safer spot. Dad remembered that today.
He was getting tired by the time we got back to the car. I had to get him lunch because if I did not, he wouldn't eat until dinnertime. So I racked my brains trying to think of a place we could go to that had tall bar stools. One of Dad's most challenging actions is sitting down. He hates to sit down, and he needs something to hold onto when he does. He is still a gentleman and won’t hold my hands to help him sit. He is my father, and he does not want to be helped in that obvious way by his daughter. Bar stools would eliminate this awkward step.
I thought of Penguins at the Wellspring Grocery and determined that we were going there. Dad was very happy about that, and said "That's upper...." That meant that's upper class. He doesn't get to go to nice places to eat anymore, because he isn't able to coordinate it. But I thought I could handle Penguins.
When we got there though, I realized it was too much. Dad was overwhelmed by all the people. He stood in the door amazed while a lady behind him waited patiently as I guided Dad out of her way. The barstools were all taken, so I attempted to have Dad sit at a table, but realized that was not secure enough. At first I though of giving up on the Penguins idea, but it was too late. I could see that dad had his heart set on it then. So we moved our dog-and-pony show across the restaurant to an open booth. In order to get to the booth, Dad had to step up two steps. He's not secure with steps at all. I was trying to get him to grasp the counter in front of us to help him, but I wasn't fast enough, and he braced himself by leaning on another man's back. This man was patient and understanding too, thank goodness.
Once I got Dad seated, I felt safe for a few minutes, although getting him into the booth was a story unto itself. I went to the cafeteria section and got food I thought he'd like. I kept turning around to check on him. He was looking a little freaked out, sitting there waiting for me to get back.
Eating is another challenge. Dad remembers to grasp the silverware and scoop with it. The problem is that not all food responds well to being scooped. Much of his lunch would have ended up on the floor or the seat if I hadn't intervened a lot. Of course this is very stressful too, because Dad resists and doesn't much appreciate intervention. Still, Dad enjoyed the lunch.
But it had taken a lot out of him. He could not remember how to get into a car on the last leg of our journey, back to Britthaven, We were in the hot parking lot, the air conditioner didn't work and Dad had forgotten how to get in a car. Somehow we managed to get Dad safely back to Britthaven.
Dad was looking stressed. There was one more job I had to do before I left. I had to give him a shower. This is another challenge, involving stepping into the shower, holding onto a metal bar so he does not slip and fall, and numerous unmentionable details. Since Dad was tired, this was particularly difficult today.
Finally he was clean and I helped him put on fresh clothes. Whew! He was sweet, and thanked me for our trip. He told me "it makes me feel like..." What he meant was it makes him feel like he is a "real boy." That is a reference to Pinocchio he used to use when his verbal skills were better. He feels that his dementia has turned him into a wooden marionette, and he wants to be a "Real Boy.” He has started to get the idea that being at Britthaven is like being in jail. There are always new problems, things that I have to work through with the aides, the Floor Nurse, The Director of Nursing. As soon as one is solved, another one pops up. There is no way Dad can get the personalized care he had at home. Still, the worst prison he is in is the prison of this disease, whatever it is.
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Tommy's section of the site, the following pages
are also related to Jesse and Tommy:
Blurred Time "The Sleeper": the aftermath of Jesse and Bobbie's car accident
Mike Craver's "Visiting Tommy"
Roots of the Red Clay Ramblers:
Fuzzy Mountain String Band: Jesse's mom, Bobbie, recorded with Rambler Bill Hicks and others
Hollow Rock String Band: Tommy and Bobbie Thompson named this band for their community
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February 17, 2000