Early Monday morning fog
It’s five o’clock on a foggy Monday morning. My 84-year old father woke up for a bathroom break somewhere around four, and removed the outer bandages covering the skin graft that protects the area where his ear used to be before cancer took it. I could say he was incredibly quiet, sneaky, and possessed great stealth, but the plain truth is we are tired, and we didn’t hear a thing. My father has advanced Alzheimer’s.
Our plan seemed solid at ten o’clock last night-my sister and I would try to sleep together in the bedroom closest to our father’s room, in a real bed instead of the couch, and check on him every few hours or so. That has backfired. Tonight, we’ll take turns sleeping again-we can’t risk infection, and my father is 1000% committed in his quest to remove the bandages off his head and especially, over his missing ear. As many times as we replace the bandages, he has attempted to remove them.
Are we afraid of what his reaction will be when he sees the wound? Will he remember the wound ten minutes later or will the shock of seeing his missing ear cause him to remember the surgery, and his hospital stay? I don’t know. We finally saw the wound yesterday when the nurse came to the house to change the dressing. Sobering and tragic are the only words that come to mind. Poor man; he’s gone through enough already, I think to myself as we lead him back to his bedroom. Stay in the mystery, Dad. Don’t look.
Early this morning, my sister woke up and found him in front of the bathroom mirror, poised and ready to remove the Curad medicated pad-the last bit of fortress between mystery and reality-he has not seen what is left of his ear yet. She called for me, and I jumped out of bed. He’d removed the outer bandages and the gauze covering the wound where the skin graft was taken from his thigh. The questions began. There is no reasoning with him; no amount of pleading or gentle scolding will stop him-he is bound and determined to take it all off because it doesn’t belong there, and he doesn’t like how it looks. I can’t blame him, but we have our orders-the skin graft must take or we’re looking at another operation. God forbid.
It’s the same all day, every day-he reaches for his ear, we gently lower his hand, ask him not to touch the bandages, the hand goes up, we lower his hand, ask him not to touch, and then he asks, “Why not?” while touching his ear. We are in danger of losing the battle of keeping his wound clean and covered, but we’re as stubborn as he is; he has forgotten how much so. “Stop, Dad. Leave it alone.” He answers us curtly, “I’m not touching it. Leave me alone.” The hand goes back up.
When we finally got him back to his bedroom, I try to remember how to make the mask like the nurse made from the stretchy gauze. My first attempt doesn’t work. The mask reminds me of my kid’s ski masks they wore in winter. More rapid fire questions from my father, “What’s wrong with my head, why is my head bandaged, how did I get skin cancer, when was the surgery?” At four thirty in the morning, my father is stuck on how he got cancer as I cut the tube gauze again. It fits, thank God. I need caffeine for this operation. ‘We don’t know why you got cancer, Dad’, we answer. We lie to him, telling him it’s three in the morning, and we must all get some sleep. We tuck him in bed, but he throws back the covers telling us he must brush his teeth and change his pajamas again. He thinks its night time again, and doesn’t seem to miss the imaginary day he lived. We lie, “Your pajamas are clean, and you’ve already brushed your teeth.” I notice my sister and I share the same firm resolve to lull him back to sleep.
Suddenly father calls me Carol, and doesn’t know who my sister is. “Give me more clues,” says my father when I realize he’s not kidding. “That’s okay, Dad. Go to sleep now. We love you.” He is confused, and if it weren’t nearly five in the morning, I’d go into it. I need sleep. I truly thought it would be a traumatic experience the day he forgot who we are, but it’s not. It is what it is; we’ve been expecting it. I’m reminded me of the night my mother died. I prayed God would release my mother from pain; I did not pray to keep her with us while in pain. That’s the night I knew I’d grown a bit. This morning was another of those growth moments. He doesn’t remember us, but we remember and love him.
Finally, all lights are turned off, and it’s still pitch black outside. I hear traffic in the distance. Within minutes, my father is snoring, mouth agape. Did that all just happen? I’m wide awake now. I tell my sister to sleep until eight, and I will keep watch. The coffee is brewing, and at eight, I will drive to the clubhouse to read and answer emails. I will write to my precious children who I miss very much, and tell them that if I get Alzheimer’s, and it is in the latter stages, they have my permission to put me in a nice nursing home.
On my first day in Florida after my father’s surgery, I remember wondering who would care of me when I turn 84 as I’m a single woman. I didn’t mean to imply my children won’t care for me because I know my children will, they are beautiful, caring and compassionate young adults, but they need to live their lives. I pray I’m never a huge burden to them emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But, I don’t pray to take away the caring for me part- it is through these moments, we grow and learn.