We left my Dad’s story in the Emergency Room at Queen Alexandria Hospital where he was diagnosed with a broken neck. (See ‘The Fall At Highlands Road’). I mentioned saying that one would think the story would end there; his neck would mend and life would move forwards as normal. Unfortunately, my Dad’s story did not go that way.
Before the fall, my Dad was in the initial stages of vascular dementia. He had had several bleeds in his brain which had affected his memory and more recently, some of his life skills such as cooking rice, curry, chili and chips; and making a cup of tea. He liked to cook these parts of the meal. When he was outside in the kitchen and couldn’t remember how to do these things, he would call on my Mum to come and help him.
The past year, before the accident, he had had his driver’s license revoked. This was of great consternation to my Dad. He love to drive. It was how he was able to be free, independent, and of great help to others. My father fretted about the lost of his license, losing sleep over it. He was very angry and felt powerless.
Now with the broken neck he was confined to the orthopedic ward. Being out of his familiar environment and routine, his dementia exponentially increased. The hospital staff had to lock down the orthopedic ward so that my Dad would not wander off; he kept taking off his neck collar, he would start playing with the hydraulics under his bed (probably thinking he was tinkering on his car), and he would start taking other people’s things and hoard them in his bedside locker. The latter behaviour is very typical of people who have dementia.
I think it is very interesting that the hospital kept my Dad on the orthopedic ward and didn’t move him to a geriatric ward. Nevertheless, being so far away, I was not able to talk to the staff and find out the finer details.
While all this was going on with my Dad, my Mum found out that she had breast cancer and was undergoing regular intense treatment in the same hospital. She would get herself there; see the doctor; and then go further into the hospital to visit my Dad. It is the most frustrating thing living so far away from my parents in their time of need!
I am, however, happy to report that even with all the stress my mum experienced on top of dealing with her disease that she is a survivor of breast cancer.
Mum knew that Dad would be in the hospital for twelve weeks whilst his neck healed. She was looking forward to having him home again. Towards the end of the stay, she was asked to go into a meeting to review my Dad’s needs. My sister went in with my mum so between the two of them, they would absorb everything that was discussed.
The doctors and the social workers told my Mum that my Dad needed to go into a facility where his needs would be met. His dementia was really severe and he would be in danger back in the home environment. The reality of this news was a shock to my mum. She knew that my Dad had deteriorated whilst in the hospital, but she hadn’t even considered that he might not be coming home.
Mum and I spent some time discussing this on our weekly Sunday call following her meeting at the hospital. Knowing that Dad was stubborn at the best of time (takes one to know one!), with his dementia exasperating this trait, it would be very hard for Mum to convince Dad to not to do certain things to keep him safe; it would be hard to monitor him twenty-four seven. I proposed to my mother to consider which decision would be best for her relationship with my father. Would the constant lack of sleep and the continued contention be good for both of them? How would she feel if Dad messed with the electric wires in the house? Would this cause a fire in the house? Would Dad electrocute himself? What about him wanting to use his power tools? Would she be able to stop him? What if he decided to drive anyway? Would it cause an accident that would not only hurt Dad but also members of the community? What if Dad left the house and couldn’t find his way home or deal with the traffic and got hurt?
With a lot to think about and ponder over, Mum and my sister again met with the doctors and the social workers. They found a nice facility within a mile and a half of my Mum’s home. She could walk or drive there. With Mum having in her mind the importance of maintaining a good relationship with my Dad as her highest priority, when she found out that really she had no choice in deciding whether my Dad went into the facility or not, I think this concept gave her some measure of comfort.
Mum and Dad had been together since they were young children, swapping comics with each other, and playing in the street. They lived down the same street in Southampton even though the street changed names half way down. They had grown up together and married. Despite my Dad’s days at sea for work, they had a lifetime of being together. This separation was and is hard on both of them.
Dad was transferred from Queen Alexandria to the nursing home in Fareham via non-emergency ambulance. Unfortunately communication between the two organizations and between the transportation was not stellar. Dad was transported without his neck brace. No medications were transferred nor was the medical regimen shared between the two facilities. My mum does not know what type of medicine my dad has but there is one that helps to keep him calm when he is agitated. Mum is not sure whether that is a sedative or not. He usually gets tired and extra sleepy when he has taken it. The staff at the nursing home were not aware that my dad needed this but his needs became apparent very quickly.
Going to a new environment for people in my dad’s condition can be very scary. For him it was another unfamiliar environment with unfamiliar faces. As the nursing home has clients with diagnoses varying from dementia, Alzheimer’s to schizophrenia, being with people with unusual and unpredictable behaviours is also extra scary for someone who is a vulnerable adult.
My mum and sister were there to welcome my dad into the nursing home and to get him situated. When they prepared to leave, my Dad became extremely agitated. He was held down by six male careers. He screamed at my sister to rescue him. It is very distressing for me to even relate this; it must have been more distressing to my mum and my sister to witness it.
My dad is now very content at this place and is attached to many of the staff. He is super polite and has good manners except when he gets agitated. A small dose of the medicine does help to relieve his anxiety and fears in these situations. Even though he can’t hold a conversation anymore and is extremely inarticulate, he still can manage to say ‘Yes please’ in response to a question. My mum and sister visit him very often. I visit him in my thoughts every day and when I go to England.
I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like to have dementia; how frightening it is not to be able to remember; to not know the people around you, even dear ones; and to lose the ability to speak and communicate.
My mum, my sister and I all know what it feels like to be on the other side of someone who has dementia; to see those we love change and drift away from us; to walk the long dark road of grief that seems to have no beginning and no end; to love unconditionally and completely with no expectation of reciprocity.
Fortunately, we know Dad and we know his heart. We know his consistency and the depth of his diligence and caring. This is but a small moment of time until we meet again, whole and complete, on the other side of the veil to enjoy endless eternities of loving association and joy with each other.