Monday, May 16, 2016
Chapter Seven, Part 4: Falling
Falls separate people in a very literal way: the careless from the careful, the clumsy from the coordinated, the weak from the strong, the unlucky from the lucky, and - as in our case - the unhealthy from the healthy. After a fall, one's first instinct is to reassure everyone, including himself, that it was "no big deal," that he is "just fine." It is natural for the one who has fallen to want to “shake it off” and forge ahead as if it didn’t happen at all.
This is an exceptionally hard part of my family’s story to recount because it involves two falls for my dad that marked a turning point for him and for us, watershed moments when Dad stopped being embarrassed about needing help. After the past couple of months of having given it his all to pretend that he didn't need assistance, he was completely drained, and it was the beginning of a struggle from which we just couldn’t disengage. It was heart wrenching and very sobering to see Dad’s acceptance of help after these falls and to see that he was starting to understand just how sick he was.
No one involved in what happened with Dad over the next couple of weeks could give any reassurance that things were ok or any explanation as to why he had gotten so much worse or why he couldn’t recover. We were on our way to the front lines of the battlefield, and we were soon to learn that we had only thought we knew what difficulty and devastation were.
On the Monday before Dad was scheduled for an MRI on Tuesday and Round 3 of chemo and Avastin on Wednesday, Jennifer stayed at our parents’ house with Dad, and Mom went out for a break with her two sisters. In a few hours’ time, Dad got up and sat for awhile in his recliner in the den and ate a few bites of food at my sister’s insistence, and then he said that he needed to get up to go back to the bathroom. As we had been doing over the past several weeks to help Dad with his balance whenever he walked, my sister held onto the waistband of his pants from behind him to try to steady him. As she recounted later, he seemed more unstable and weaker physically than ever before.
A few steps into the hallway, Dad lost his footing and fell to the ground just behind the couch. My sister cushioned his fall with her body, turning the fall more into more of a controlled collapse, but once Dad was down, he couldn’t get up. He tried, she tried, and they tried together to figure something out, but nothing worked. In the midst of their efforts, the doorbell rang, and my sister could see through the windows by the front door that it was Dad’s swim coach Ashley. She motioned her to come in, and together the two of them were eventually able to get Dad up using the back of the couch for leverage. After they helped him back into his recliner, he strangely acted like nothing had happened, even though he and my sister both had been in tears and had spent at least half an hour feeling utterly helpless on the floor before Ashley had arrived. Dad had great admiration for his swim coach, and my sister said later that she thinks the fact that Ashley was there was the only reason Dad was able to muster enough strength, courage, and perseverance to get up and act like he was ok.
After Ashley left, the Occupational Therapist came for a therapy session that had been scheduled the day before. My sister told the OT what had happened, but he really didn't seem to understand and/or care. He had Dad do some hand exercises from the recliner in an extremely short therapy session in which Dad was very obviously totally disinterested and disengaged. My sister asked the OT to help her get Dad to the bathroom before the guy left; he acted annoyed, but he agreed. The two of them assisted Dad in getting up and behind the walker but quickly realized there was no way he could walk at all; he was just too weak. They ended up pulling a dining room chair over to Dad and lower him onto it, and then they pushed him in the chair along the hardwood floor into the bathroom and then into the bedroom. Once they got him back into the bed, Dad immediately fell into a very deep sleep. It was so undisturbed and so very uncharacteristic for Dad at the time that while he slept over the next few hours my sister sat in the bedroom on the floor and watched his chest rise and fall the whole time. At one point, she took a video of Dad’s breathing pattern on her cell phone and then called me to tell me that something just seemed really, really wrong. (By the way, the therapist hauled ass out of there right after Dad was back in bed, leaving my sister alone at the house with Dad with no way to get him out of the bed if he needed the bathroom again or anything else for that matter.)
I had planned to arrive at my parents’ house the next morning, and, since Dad wasn’t hurt physically, we decided to just let him rest until then so that the three of us could get him to the appointments as scheduled over the next couple of days. In full Bargaining/Denial mode, I told my sister and myself that Dad had just worn himself out with all of the activity over the past couple of days and that he just needed some extra rest.
That night, as was the routine during that time, Mom took the first shift with Dad, talking to him about the plan for the next day which included the MRI, the visit with the neuropsychologist, and the candlelight church service. Dad was still very anxious about the MRI but seemed to accept that we would be right there with him when the results were read the following day and that we just needed to get through it and then go from there.
Around 3:00 a.m., Dad informed Mom that he needed to get up to go to the bathroom. She turned on the light and then helped him get up with the walker and into the bathroom adjoining their bedroom. Dad had been soloing in the little “toilet stall” room and did the same that night, but after going to the bathroom he lost his balance. He fell against the wall and slid to the ground. Mom yelled for my sister, who rushed in to help. It was a repeat of the afternoon fall, except that this time even two people wasn’t enough to support Dad. They tried different maneuvers and various strategies but nothing worked. Finally, in desperation, they called 9-1-1.
Thinking that Dad would resist having other people come in to help, neither my sister nor Mom wanted to tell Dad that they had made the call. The ambulance arrived in a matter of minutes, and, when Dad saw the paramedics, a look of sheer relief washed over his face. Two strong men carefully picked Dad up and put him back onto his bed. They checked him over and declared that he somehow didn’t have any breaks or bruises, but after some discussion it was decided that they should transport him to the hospital due to concerns about the decline in his physical status that seemed to indicate a worsening in his medical condition.
Mom rode with Dad in the ambulance; Dad’s anxiety actually seemed to be mitigated by the decision to go to the Emergency Room. Jennifer called me and told me to meet them at the hospital instead of at my parents’ house as planned, I called our other sister, and we each began to make our way back to the hospital.
at 9:12 PM