I’m glad I waited until today to actually write this, because yesterday was a mix of very volatile emotions, as was the night before. I needed a bit of frantic energy, time, and self-destruction in the form of cheese and greasy meat before I felt ready.
My dad’s been in the hospital since the other night.
I’d been working and came home to go straight to bed the other day. He didn’t look so well, but he’d brushed it off with just being tired and getting old and whatnot.
I got about 4 or 5 hours in and heard the living room phone ringing. It rang and rang, and my dad will let it go if he doesn’t know who it is. We don’t have an answering machine, so that caller will just keep on going. With the persistence, I thought it was a telemarketer and I started to get pissed. When it stopped, then resumed, I picked up, ready to let it all out at the person on the other end.
Turns out, it was my aunt who’d been trying to get in touch with dad for quite a long time. Her name didn’t come up on the caller ID, and we didn’t recognize the number. My dad never picks up the phone if he doesn’t know who it is. So, my annoyance helped save the day, it seemed.
They were talking a bit, and dad sounded weak. I was trying to get some things done and just moving around the house, doing dishes and all. Well, at the end of the conversation, dad got up and got dressed. He’d been in his pajamas all day.
When he came back out, he said that my aunt and uncle were gonna take him to the hospital.
I heard a little of his “already been to the doctor” bit, and his “well, it just got worse” and wondered what the hell he was going on about.
All he said was “it’s that breathing thing.” No indication of HOW he was getting worse or what it felt like, how it was impacting him, anything. At first, I thought the cancer might be back and that’s why he was kinda diminished, as if he was waiting for the news and didn’t wanna say anything yet.
That was a few weeks ago that we had THAT conversation. I asked him what was up flat out, he mentioned his breathing was off, but ever since his 2nd cancer bit, it’s been like that because the chemo and radiation fried his esophagus and he can’t stretch it to swallow regular food, and the scar tissue didn’t let his windpipe expand well, either. He’s down to 35% intake capacity.
But he said he’d been clear of cancer a while and just needs oxygen, but the doctor said it wasn’t gonna do any good.
Now that I think about it, I think he was trying not to freak himself out more than me.
When my uncle showed up, I heard them talking a bit while I packed him an overnight bag. Dad didn’t want to go because he didn’t think they could do anything for him that night. But because of his fear of choking, he hadn’t been drinking his Boost much the past few days (which I noticed and was about to call him out on, since he always saved the bottles to count his intake). My uncle told him they’d at least get him in before the weekend and get him on IVs and stuff, create a baseline to work with and help him get his strength up before the tests.
Dad then said something like “probably should’ve done this a month ago.”
I hoped I heard that wrong, because I was getting mad. A month of getting worse, and other than a throwaway line or two, nothing to indicate he actually was because he was just taking the cancer doc’s answer that “oxygen won’t help.” It’s like he resigned himself.
Now, I resigned myself to losing him to cancer a 3rd time should that awful day come (and hopefully it never ever will). Dad said he’d never do chemo again, and the way I look at it, that man worked his ass off his entire life and deserves to go out on his own terms. He knows his limitations regarding those treatments, and I wouldn’t want to take that choice away.
But this? Breathing is the #1 thing in life. It wasn’t until they were leaving (and dad was going to the bathroom one more time) that my uncle told me that dad finally told him that putting on his clothes in the morning made him have to stop and take a breather, and that he was using the shower with the detachable head to wash his hair because he was afraid he’d drown otherwise because of his shallow breaths.
Then dad got me up to give him a hug and they walked out. That clued me in how scared he might finally be, because he hasn’t hugged me in years. I guess we’re just not used to it anymore.
But I was stuck between so many different emotions I ended up taking my aggression out on dad’s shower stall last night (seriously, hasn’t been cleaned in so long the soap-scum looked like a tie-dye bath). I waffled between confused, angry, panicked, defeated, and several subtle levels in between them all.
Yesterday I wanted to vent, and it only made me angrier when I got the chance to vent. It’s like most of dad’s good friends had a feeling something was up and they ALL called me yesterday. They wanted to know how he was doing, and I let them know he was in the hospital.
So then the stories came.
Apparently, dad didn’t want to go to the hospital because he wasn’t sure he could drive himself safely, and because I working a lot he didn’t want to bother me (at least, that’s what I took from it).
He also used to walk around his buddy’s big yard and chat and shoot guns, lately he just stood there.
He hadn’t been to the gun range all month, which I found weird.
He hadn’t been visiting his friend after the last time, when he had a hard time making it to his truck from the back porch and had to rest a moment.
This was all stuff from a month ago or so. Not a word to me in all that time.
And I was in and out of the house trying to do my own thing, totally unaware. Or at least not aware enough to put the pieces together…and when I started to in that cancer talk, not aware enough to press the point and get a more thorough answer.
In the cold light of day, I have to admit that much of my anger is somewhere between angry at him for never telling me that something’s wrong until it’s almost too late, and angry at myself for not noticing what was going on.
Let’s call it 50/50.
To me, the lousiest way to find out that someone you care about’s been on the downward slide (faster than usual, since he’s technically been for years thanks to the 2nd round of cancer) is through other people. Not just that, other people who’ve known weeks before you ever suspected anything.
And worse yet, ALL OF THEM told him he needed to go to the hospital. I wish they’d found a way to get a hold of me and tell me what was going on. They know my dad–he won’t say anything.
My earliest discovery of this fact was when I turned 14. I had my birthday that weekend, my stepmom and step-siblings were kinda in their own world, dad was next door getting a bit plastered (which never happened in my memory), I got a nice clarinet for my birthday that Saturday (which–being the price it was–probably led to resentment from my step-family). But Sunday was the clincher–I woke up and the house was in an uproar. 4 people moving all around with boxes from who-knows-where.
Well, dad sat me down and told me they were getting a divorce and my stepmom and her 3 kids were moving out.
Within the hour, the moving truck was there to get their stuff.
I always remember that because I’d never heard of that happening to anyone before. And the same emotions from that day came back, with confusion leading the pack.
This time, though, guilt was a huge factor.
I mean, my dad and I haven’t gotten along very well recently because of the political madness. I have avoided some conversation and just gone into my own world to avoid accidentally bringing it up. When FUX news comes on, I walk out of the room. I won’t discuss politics because we don’t see eye-to-eye anymore.
Though we do love old movies, and when I let myself come out of my office and stay out, it’s usually to see a good movie that’s on cable that I hadn’t seen before. We might talk about that a bit, but that’s it.
At least it’s something. Three days ago we watched most of a movie together for the first time in a while. But dad was just quiet and passively watching. And admittedly, he’s going part deaf in one ear and I didn’t wanna interrupt his calm viewing experience when he was so comfortable.
By the way, it took a year for him to tell me that he was going deaf in his left ear, which explains why I thought he wasn’t listening or didn’t care when I’d ask him something.
We’re like roommates more than family most days. I will be working on cleaning the hell out of the house and getting the most dust and crap out, especially in his bedroom, which apparently he hasn’t had the energy to clean (or ask for help with it) the past several months. The carpet alone filled up most of my vacuum cleaner in the first go–I can only wonder what it’ll pick up when I get rid of those nasty-dust-clogged curtains.
But we have this weird thing about not wanting to burden each other, to not be in each other’s business. I think it’s worse for him, though, because when he had that chemo and all those appointments, I had to help him with everything. This man had been the fittest, strongest person his whole life and was suddenly lain low by cancer–but mostly the treatment. I think it embarrassed him to have me drop everything and take care of him. Part of me wonders if he’s still embarrassed and was trying to make it easier.
I went to visit him today and check up on him. I’m glad he’s in the hospital because he already looks better, though they’re not sure exactly why his breathing went so wrong lately. There’s a walking pneumonia theory right now. But last night he could barely talk to anyone that came to him, and I brought a notepad and paper so he could write and focus on breathing instead of talking. Guess he doesn’t need it now, but just in case.
It wasn’t a bad visit, and I just sat back for half an hour or so. I thought my aunt and uncle would already be there. But at least I’ve got some info to give to his very concerned friends. I don’t think he wants to talk on the phone, and I think he really wants to catch up on his sleep, so I wanted to let him get to it.
But I did tell him about all the concern. We kept it lighthearted, and I’m glad I didn’t go yesterday or I would’ve still been pissed off. My dad’s not a worrier and doesn’t do well with stress and my tendency to over-analyze and over-theorize (and besides, the man’s sick, so what good would yelling do anybody?) However, I made sure to tell him that if he felt like I needed to take him to the doctor to let me know, because hell, I’ve covered for people at work several times for last-minute emergencies. My boss won’t care and would probably insist on me taking care of him, anyway, so there.
I mentioned that we really suck at our communication, but I didn’t want to get into a lecture. I just said I’d like a heads up and that we can’t take it lightly, because I really don’t wanna come home and find him dead on the floor without a clue as to what could’ve happened because he wouldn’t say anything.
That’s my big worry. He doesn’t wanna worry me, I don’t wanna worry him, but dammit–we’re in this together. This is his health we’re talking about here, and if I need to be home more, then I’ll work on that (and it’ll save me money in the long run because I won’t be eating out). I’ll make plans around the gym, work, and home and have them sync-up better so I can keep an eye on him.
That’s what I’m afraid of most–nobody being there to help him because he’s too stubborn to say anything. I have a feeling I’ll be back to my mentality when the chemo treatments were going on, ready to wake up at the drop of a hat and keeping my door open to hear things. I learned to sleep and wake up on a dime. Not very private, but for peace of mind regarding dad…it was worth it.
Regarding our general well being, probably the most important thing is to let somebody know what’s going on. I know, I hate hospitals like most people, too–but letting it go when you know it’s not going away and is getting worse helps no-one.
And if you’ve got a kick-ass insurance like my dad’s got, change the damn doctor and get a General Practitioner who’ll help you instead of the company cancer doc.
3 thoughts on “How NOT to tell someone about your worsening health.”
UPDATE: Dad’s out of the hospital since afternoon. Got meds and I’ve been keeping an eye on him, helping him out while he gets adjusted to his new routine. Turns out he needs an inhaler for a while, and maybe forever, but at least he can walk around the house a little and not want to pass out. Kudos to my aunt and uncle for taking him to a good hospital and a good doctor, because I think he’ll be okay. As long as we keep talking, we’ll both be okay.