Archive for March 2018

Memory Loss & Mourning

March 21, 2018

It’s 6 AM and I have a view from my fifth floor hospital room of the San Diego River Gorge. The bluff on the other side of the river is a black wall because the sun still isn’t up. On the floor of the valley the neon lights of car dealers and a Wendy’s restaurant gleam in the dark and the Lego blocks of a dozen small shops form a line in a strip mall.

With the morning dawn the bluff slowly take shape with its creases and colors. Cars and trucks move on Mission Gorge Road as people make their way to work and appointments. I ended up here yesterday after getting a big knot on my head.

My wife says I called her from my workplace, not knowing how I got there. That’s when she came and got me and took me to the hospital. I didn’t want to spend the night in the hospital but the wife insisted. So here I am in a fucking hospital where nurses put an IV fastener on my chest in case I needed an emergency blood supply.

Mission Gorge, San Diego, in the early morning from a hospital room.

Sunlight fills Mission Gorge and I get tired of sitting in my room and looking out the window. I wander down the hall to the nurses’ station wearing the robe they give to patients. There’s a bustle here as the shift changes and patients come and go and they’re wheeled away on gurneys and nurses and docs gaze at computers and clipboards.

The nurses wear blue scrubs, the doctors wear green ones. I speak with three different doctors who visit my room. One’s a resident named Dr. Win. She’s Chinese, so she’s a doctor. If she were Filipino, she’d be a nurse.

I got the knot on my head after I left home on my bike on my way to Trader Joe’s to get some groceries. Work is a block from the grocery store and somehow that’s where I ended up.

I remember a dog appearing out of nowhere as I rode fast on my bike, but I don’t know if I hit the dog or swerved to avoid it. All I know is I have a knot on my head and I had what they call “transient amnesia.  I probably lost control of the bike and crashed, but there were a couple of  hours there that I just can’t remember.

I also can’t remember what happened to my bike. It’s gone and I couldn’t find it at work. One of the nurses said I should look for  it on Craigslist, go to where they’re selling it and take it back with a baseball bat. But I couldn’t find it on Craigslist. Turned out in my fog of memory, I actually locked it in front of a Starbucks. That’s where I found it four days later.

Meanwhile my dad is gone. I got the call from a hospice nurse at 10:30 pm on Thursday, a couple days before I ended up in the hospital. It was time. He was comfortable. At least that’s what they told me.

 

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Watching my Father Die

March 16, 2018

His room at the nursing home is maybe ten by 12 feet. An oxygen machine near his bed hisses and exhales as it makes a constant din and my dad lies in his bed with with his mouth open and his eyes shut.  The hospice nurse told me he can probably still hear and understand me, even if he doesn’t respond. The problem is I don’t know what to say.

You imagine what it’s like to be with a parent near their time of their death but the story you come up with is something they’d put in a movie. You have some emotional arguments. There’s some reflection on the life past. Some pondering life after death. But real death is not that kind of a drama.

My dad is 93 and he started to go downhill mentally about two years ago.  He got late-onset Alzheimer’s. He no longer recognized his wife. We moved him into a “memory care” nursing home where he would occasionally show signs of his old self but slowly lost the ability to stand. Then he couldn’t finish a sentence. I would come by to visit and — often as not — find him dead asleep in his chair, looking a lot like he does now.

When there’s no heart disease or cancer to kill you, you just slide down a gentle slope until you lose your faculties and are no longer able to swallow. That’s where dad is. He can’t swallow either food or water. I told the nurse that should mean he has just a few days to go. But she tells me she has seen people go on for weeks like this. Weeks? With no water? It doesn’t make sense but that’s life. Or death I  guess.

The nurse asks me how I am. I tell her my father’s death doesn’t bother me. What has bothered me is seeing him in such a helpless pathetic state that I no longer recognize the man I knew.  I hope to God something kills me before I get that far.

I visited him this morning and tried to talk to him. I tried to think of things to say, focusing on telling him he’s had a great life and it’s fine if he’s ready to go. In his eyes I saw no recognition that I was there. When I held his hand he didn’t squeeze mine.

Sometime soon he’ll die and I’ll try to remember the man he was, who held me when I was small. Maybe I’ll cry. Maybe from grief. Maybe from relief.