I took the train up to Philadelphia from Washington, DC to visit my parents. My father is recovering from robotic cardiac surgery five weeks ago. After having a tube down his throat for the four hour surgery, dad developed difficulty swallowing and a feeding tube was put in. Now on the mend, he is both eating three meals a day as well as receiving additional nutrition through the feeding tube at night. He also still receives his medication through the feeding tube during the day. During the months leading up to surgery where he mostly slept and ate, and then the week following surgery where he was in a bed for seven days recovering, he has lost a lot of muscle mass and in now walking with a walker.
Yesterday was a nice day spent with my parents. We sat on the back porch in the early afternoon talking and relaxing. I cooked dinner, as my mother was not feeling well, and made sure I made plenty of left overs so she would not have to cook today.
Increasingly my dad reminds me of his father, who was gruff, demanding and angry at the end of his life. Last night as my dad prepared to go to sleep at 9 PM, my mother and I wanted to turn on the air conditioning. The house was stuffy and warm. My dad, who lay in bed wearing silk thermal underwear, covered by two blankets, snapped at me with an angry, guttural, demanding tone that he was “freezing” and the air was to be left off. I chuckled to myself remembering the same kind of tone from my grandfather forty five years earlier as he lay, mostly bed-ridden, towards the end of his life. I also felt good that this kind of snapping by my father, something that used to frighten me as a child and teenager, no longer had any effect on me.
My father has always been impatient. Never one to wait, he would complain bitterly in a restaurant if the food did not come quickly. He hated waiting in line. These traits do not disappear when you age. The family has hired an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) from 8 AM to 8 PM every day to manage the medications which my father still takes by feeding tube, and an aide from 8 PM to 8 AM to help him overnight. At 87 he wakes up multiple times a night to urinate and each time he catheterizes himself, since his prostate is mostly blocked. I woke up this morning to learn that after he urinated into a commode next to his bed, and his aide had gone to the bathroom to empty out the urine, he tried to get back into bed himself and fell. He was banged up on both sides of his face, over his left eyebrow, and on his hand. He looked like he had been in a fight and lost. I teased him this morning for his lack of patience, but felt bad that this was increasingly the new normal.
As I see my parents age, I know that it will only get more difficult as time goes forward. At 87 my father may recover from the surgery, but he will not be young again. He is on the edge of needing constant support for the daily activities of living. My mother, who is 86 and still drives is also aging rapidly.
Next month I will turn 58. The number seems so big. I do not feel old and I do not think I look anything close to my age. As I watch my parents age, my own growing older repeatedly enters my mind. If my mother was not able to care for my father and manage the round the clock nursing care, the visiting nurse, the physical therapist and occupation therapist all coming and going daily from their home, my father would likely be in a rehab facility or nursing home. His recovery this far is due in part to the constant efforts of my mother, fighting for him, cooking his meals, and ensuring he is well taken care of.
I want to support my parents as much as possible but also want to maintain my own life and not have their challenges become my primary job. It is a delicate balance, because it is only gets harder and harder as time moves forward.
I am grateful for the life I have today and the opportunities my parents afforded me. I want to do my best to support them as they face the ongoing challenges of aging.