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So you had a fall and there was unusual behavior. We have to categorize you as a high risk patient or we could be sued. There will be alarms on your bed and on the chairs…..

He’s sleeping now. His flushed cheeks cooled my frustration from the situation we had suddenly found ourselves in. He seemed smaller in the bed— the gown tied loosely around his neck made his lean stature appear even leaner.

We’re wall to wall in beds with just enough room to squeeze between. I’ve decided that the aggravating hum from the machine at the foot of his bed is a snoring dog—a Newfoundland named Zak, guarding us from enemy attacks. We need Zak here because we are surrounded by danger. Caged in.

Red and green lights blink across a sea of green blankets like the running lights on the front of a boat.

We are searching for direction.

The night nurse arrives suddenly, unannounced. He brings relief for a bit with his rugby-like presence, from our overwhelming sense of vulnerability.

“I’d like to keep my hope. I’m gonna keep trying and I’m praying,” Dad says to the nurse. He’s trying not to be discouraged.

Run to the water Dad, where there is life. Renewal.

Thoughts of boats and a Newfoundland named Zak brought me comfort that first night at the hospital.

Ninety-six hours later the slightest tick of a machine made me nuts. The dog I had imagined named Zak must have been off chasing rabbits because I didn’t hear snoring, only the sound of incessant machine motors. I hadn’t been outside for days. My body ached from inactivity and trying to sleep on a cot with an ex-dancer back.

The start of the week had been rolling along just fine—a Monday like any other Monday. Then a text message popped up on my phone—short and direct. Debbie call me. Dad

That was it. No ‘when you can’ or the usual ‘Love you’.  Now and then he gets a little bossy with me. I wrapped up my meeting before dialing his number five or ten minutes later.

“It’s been a little interesting over here this morning,” Dad says, his voice sounding not quite right to me.

He clears his throat. “I was in front of the sink and my feet got caught in the rug. I fell down.”

“Oh Dad….”

“I, um…fell on my back and my head kind of bounced. I couldn’t get up off the floor. I was just too weak. I got my cell phone out of my shirt pocket and called Terry down the hall, he got Eric and they came over to get me up.  I’m sitting here at the table now and they said I should give you a call.”

“I’ll be right there Dad.”  Great, I walked to work. No car. I can run over! No, call Todd.

“I’ll drive you Deb,” my marketing manager says when I inform the ladies at work what’s up.

But I hate feeling dependent—not having control—so I say, “Oh, that’s okay. I can run over.” I clutch my last bit of control over the situation then concede. “Okay……yeah, that would be great. Thanks.”

His doctor could fit him in at 4:00 p.m. “I’m not going to ER,” said the man I learned how to be controlling from.

“I’m not going to the ER!” he said again to his doctor after he explained to her what had happened.

“Dad, you can’t get up out of the chair you’re sitting in. What are we going to do?”

Chills were coming over him. I handed him his water—he reached for it but missed then tried again. He aimed the bottle to his mouth and hit the corner of it. He started to slur his words a little. I looked at the doctor. She called paramedics.

“Dad, I forgot to tell you,” I said as we waited. “I couldn’t believe how you sang the harmony of Holy Holy Holy at church yesterday—and all three verses!” Dad doesn’t normally have enough air in his lungs to sing at all anymore. “That was amazing!”

He immediately bursts into the tenor part—full voice. I think for a moment about shutting the door but change my mind and let it fill the hallway. Four big men in yellow suits enter the room. Their expressions say a thousand words.

“I won’t mess with these guys,” Dad says to me but is looking at them.

The ambulance arrived at the hospital before me and I had to wait in the overcrowded ER lobby while the aides got Dad settled into his room. So many people in need of immediate help and having to wait. So much frustration trapped inside the thick, smelly air of the four contained walls with the steamy glassed windows.

“Hi sweetheart,” Dad said when I slid in past the sliding glass door of his room.

“He needs fluids, he’s dehydrated,” I said to the attending aide with one look at him. Instead, they took him for a CT scan. An hour later, I asked again for fluids. He was foggy headed.

“Dad, are you okay?” He seemed confused.

The doctor said, “Do you know where you are? What is your name…….?”

“Dad…….?” He stared at me with a blank face. “Do you know who I am? Please, get intravenous water. He’s dehydrated. This is what happens to him.”

Then Dad started to get very agitated.

More questions to him—who is the president? Do you know where you are? But no answers came.

“He needs fluids,” I said again. They inserted oxygen tubes in his nose.

“Out!” he yelled at me with terrified eyes. He tried to sit up and started a rowing motion with his arms. He was rowing himself out of the room. They put a breathing treatment mask over his nose and mouth. He grabbed at it, swung his legs over the bar of the bed and sat up. “Out. Out. Out of here,” he said again.

Finally they gave his arm the prick and inserted the needle that would connect him to the tube of renewal—water. He began to relax. He laid his head back on the pillow.

The CT came back clear—there was no bleeding in his brain. They diagnosed him with a lung infection because the x-ray revealed fluid in his lungs. They didn’t know the fluid had been there since his heart valve replacement surgery in 2007. They prescribed two antibiotics and took him off his blood thinner because it interfered with the antibiotics.

I didn’t question it. I trusted that they were making the best decision. I was so grateful they could help me at this moment of absolute helplessness.


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