Dad sits quietly, drinking his decaf, on a visit to Robin's new digs.
I must have put too much sugar in my coffee.
But it was raining and I knew my Dad would be stuck indoors most of the day. So, I had this idea for a rainy day activity. I've just moved to California and Dad hasn't seen my place. I thought it might help him understand that I was going to stay here if he could see where I lived and see that I had the Chapman family clock he gave me, right up on my mantel.
However, I live on the second floor and there isn't an elevator. How to get Dad up the stairs? How about asking a fireman?
During my years in news I learned two things about firemen: most of them are really nice (much nicer than policemen for some reason); and, they spend a lot of time sitting around in between responding to emergencies. This is especially true in a small town like Los Altos, California.
So, on this rainy Sunday, I stopped by the local fire station and talked with Mike the fireman and explained my dilemma. He excused himself and spoke with his captain, Matt, and they asked me when I wanted to get my father up my stairs.
"Would this morning be okay," I asked?
"How about fifteen minutes?" said Captain Matt. I suggested thirty, as nothing can be done with older people on fifteen minutes' notice. I gave them my address and off I went to the folks' house on Echo Drive.
Dad was taking his morning walk during a break in the rain. I wrote down my plan and let Dad read it while I ran in and explained it all to Mom. "Can I go too?" she asked, much to my surprise. She hadn't even expressed an interest in seeing it thus far. "And what is this about the firemen?" When I explained she had her lipstick and her coat on in record time.
Explanations made, coats buttoned, windshield wipers abuzz, we traversed the nine-tenths of a mile to my new place. The only concern was the expression on Dad's face. He looked worried.
"Are the firemen meeting us here?" he asked several times.
Los Altos Fire Department Engine Fifteen pulled up right on schedule.
"What? No lights and siren?" asked Dad. He was smiling now.
Dad meets Mike the fireman as Dad's caregiver Lynn looks on. The fire truck is in the background.
The firemen looked at the stairway and conferred for a minute and decided on a two-man carry. One held Dad's lower half and one held his upper half and, whoosh! Off they went.
Mike and his fellow LAFD fireman reach down to pick up my father to take him upstairs to my apartment.
I ran behind them and got this shot directly from the back. All you can see of Dad is his hat.
After that they were just moving too fast. For Dad and for my camera it was all a blur.
Ah, safe at last. Dad with fireman Mike.
One thing I hadn't taken enough time to consider, in my enthusiasm: how hard it is for Alzheimer's patients to grasp a new concept, a new place, even (as I'll talk about in a later blog) a new pair of shoes. New is hard for them.
He sat down and was very quiet. I served him a cup of coffee and a cookie, and when the Chapman clock struck the hour, I pointed it out to him, since he can't hear it anymore. He smiled but didn't say much and was looking worried again. He indicated a building outside and across the street.
"Is that the hospital?" he asked more than once. I couldn't figure out what was bothering him.
Mom, on the other hand was having a ball. Stunned that her daughter had such pretty things, thrilled to be able to peek into closets and bathrooms and cupboards and boxes from India on the coffee table, she got out a magnifying glass and looked at every last thing in the place.
"Is that the hospital?" my father asked again, pointing to the two-story house out my window. I shook my head, again.
Finally, after we'd all had enough I asked Dad's caregiver to help me get him down the stairs. I had sent the firemen on their way, knowing Dad could now hold the railing and get down the stairs, though coming up might have taken him hours, if he could have made it on his own at all.
So Lynn and I helped Dad descend and Mom held the umbrella when needed and we got Dad back out to the car. But now, oddly enough, he was really mad.
And the strangest thing of all was that he was mad at the firemen.
"Why did those sons of guns leave us like that," he said. "Who do they think they are snubbing us like that." "If they said they'd do a job, they should have done it." "I'm not going to accept their apology." "I'm going to call the city manager about those fellas. I guess they think I'm not good enough for them." "They should have helped me. I'm a war hero!" It went on and on like that all through lunch and finally I excused myself and went to drive around in the rain and run some errands, hoping if I got out of the house he would take a nap and forget about it.
It took me a while, but I finally figured out why he was mad. To my father, firemen mean going to the hospital. He thought the firemen were supposed to take him to the hospital and thus, when they just brought him up to my apartment and left him there and didn't come back he felt they had abandoned him and forgotten to finish the job.
Well, he's gone to the hospital twice in the past year and each time those big EMT/firemen guys show up at the house and pick him up like a piece of firewood and put him gently onto a gurney and what to they do? They take him to the hospital! So what else was he to think?
St. Robin learned a lesson. When dealing with an Alzheimer's patient, you should never do anything as precipitously as I did. I should have talked about it to him for several days. Driven to the apartment with him several times. Explained it again and again.
And then called the firemen.
As it was, my Dad got over it and was happy by suppertime. But he still hadn't forgiven the firemen. "You have a much better temper than your father young lady," he said to me over dessert. "I'm going to punch those guys out if I see them again," but he was smiling now and happy. My mother rolled her eyes. She had had a wonderful time seeing her daughter's little nest.
"Let me explain it to him later," she said. And she will try. My Dad trusts her and her explanation will help. But I'm not quite sure he'll ever feel quite the same about firemen.
Anyway, it was a good idea.