Every time my phone rings, flashing a number from my hometown area code, I hold my breath. You know the feeling. If there’s a senior out there counting on you, calls from home often mean trouble.
When my 91-year-old dad moved into independent living in my hometown 170 miles away, the care community really wanted him to wear a medical alert pendant in case he fell. He didn’t. End of story.
So when the call came and I heard the words, “Your father has fallen,” I wasn’t totally surprised. Terrified but not shocked.
Because of his severe arthritis, Dad had made a habit of sleeping near the edge of the bed to allow an easier exit for nighttime bathroom trips. About 3 in the morning, he just rolled out of bed, with no phone within reach nor – did I mention – a medical alert pendant. In the process of this early morning roll out of bed, he gashed open his eyelid on the bedroom dresser.
I guess when you’ve spent 25 months as a Marine in the South Pacific fighting for your country in a world war, rolling out of bed is no big deal.
Dad said he hollered for a while, then thought, “Well, I’ll just sleep on the floor until morning.” So he pulled a pillow off the bed and prepared to hunker down for the rest of the night. Seems the floor wasn’t too comfy, and the hollering resumed. After about 90 minutes, the night nurse heard him.
They got him up, he dusted himself off and said, “Sorry to bother you. I’m fine. Go back to bed now.”
Fortunately, the care community wouldn’t hear of it and off he went to the hospital. They fixed his eye and confirmed nothing was broken. But doctors discovered he had a touch of pneumonia, so he spent a couple of days in the hospital, no worse for the wear.
After he was home, I had that unsettling feeling after my nightly phone calls with him that all was not well. I could tell he was still a little short of breath. Just a day before my husband and I were to take him to a regularly scheduled doctor appointment, another call came. This one potentially more ominous than the first. “Your dad can’t breathe.”
Our trip to Dad’s that time around was fast and furious, and full of dread. But medical staff at my hometown hospital got him turned around in less than 24 hours. The next day we took Dad to his scheduled doctor appointment 60 miles from his home where he had his medications adjusted. He’s almost as good as new, again.
I admire Dad so much – his self-determination, grit and never-give-up attitude. He’s still hanging tough, getting around on his own, managing his medications and bills, and even maintaining a social schedule, although most of it is now within the confines of his care community.
I am hanging tough, too, and I have the white knuckles to prove it. I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Will my work schedule survive if I have to make a sudden getaway? Will my husband starve if I need to rush off and the cupboard is bare? Will my friends understand why I’m AWOL again?
I’ll bet you’re on the edge of your seats as well, waiting for the next caregiving emergency. I’d love to hear your stories.
Dad’s wearing the medical alert pendant now, and sleeping in the middle of the bed. And I am keeping a close eye on my other shoe.
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