Saturday, October 24, 2009

Standing By for Takeoff

Dad in the Hospital

A picture of Dad my sister took a few years ago. She caught him in motion as he tossed a toy glider at a local park. He was beginning to show his illness then, but he was still vertical and still, as he always had, loved airplanes of all kinds.

I know, now, why they make ghosts transparent in pictures. When you see someone who is leaving this life, he seems to be dissolving into the ether. Dwindling, a friend of mine calls it.

My Dad left the Big Fancy Nursing Home on the Hill late yesterday and is now in the hospital. Whatever it is we've been fighting--an infection?--within him for almost a month has laid him low again. A month ago, he was home, walking with a walker, sitting outside in the sun, and singing "Hail, Hail, The Gang's All Here" every day when I walked in the door.

Now he is ethereal. At the local hospital he is in a private room, looking fragile and sleeping quietly. He was unresponsive almost all day yesterday, sick to his stomach, and sleeping all the time. That's why the nursing home sent him to the hospital.

Now he's getting hydrated and looks a little better. He awoke when my Mom and I walked in this morning, and when I wrote "We Love You" on a notepad, he read it and tried to clap his hands. I wrote to him that he was in El Camino Hospital and he said "I'm in a private room. That's nice." And, to see if I could get him to smile, I wrote: "No one else could stand you, so they put you in by yourself." He read this very slowly then he looked around to see my face and he cracked a smile. It's the first one I've seen from him in a couple of weeks.

He said before we had our reunion party--well, my Mom and I were there, and I guess he figured we must be having a party--he wanted to put on his shoes and use the bathroom. "I have to perform my natural functions, you know," he said, slurring his words but using the careful vocabulary he always uses in spite of his dementia. "I want to ascertain my condition," he said later. "The food here is superior. I plan to eat all day and night," and then he dozed off again, having eaten a crumb or two of a muffin and drinking a little juice.

The doctor had a long talk with me about resuscitation and extraordinary measures and I said I couldn't imagine it would come to that, yet. And he just looked at me and said Dad was very sick.

I'm trying to remember the days Dad loved when my sister and I were kids and he'd built a model plane and we took it up into the Stanford Hills and flew it all around us in the California sky, above the brown fields and oak trees. No one gave us permission. We just went up there and made sure we didn't annoy the cows. It was freedom of a kind you don't see much anymore and it involved engineering and planes and children and these were all things he loved.

Dad and me and a neighbor boy with the "Sparky K" in the Stanford Hills beyond Los Altos. The "Sparky K" was named for my sister and me, Sparky, because my grandad called me "Spark Plug" and "K" for my sister Kimberly. The "Sparky K" had a gasoline engine and we crashed it quite a lot. I guess we were lucky we didn't start any fires.

He was so happy then. Years later, when he had retired, he flew real planes for fun. He joined a flying club and he and his friends took up the Cessnas and flew from one local airport to another, had lunch, and flew home. He felt so free up there, and there were rules to it that he understood. Unlike life and people, which he almost always found annoying or frustrating.

I don't want him dissolving on me or becoming invisible, but that's what happens in life as we come to the end. In the midst of life we are in death. I just haven't wanted it. He's like a Star Trek crew member, being beamed somewhere that I can't follow. I know he'll be free then and somewhere much nicer than here.

And wherever it is, I know it will be filled with airplanes, for soaring.

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Florida Beach Basics said...

hang in there. marge

Robin Chapman said...

Thanks Marge, that's about all a person can do, isn't it? I know at the hospital he is getting great and thoughtful care and he is comfortable, so that is helping me to sleep better.