First, let me say I am overwhelmed and humbled by the response to yesterday’s post after being “Freshly Pressed” on WordPress.com. I found it hard to breathe for a couple of hours yesterday morning, because it suddenly dawned on me that, wow, a lot of people have been and are in similar situations. We need support. We need to feel heard and we want to talk about our loved ones. So, please feel free to send me any personal stories you are comfortable sharing, or suggestions for upcoming posts. I know that a single day as Freshly Pressed does not an Oprah-worthy blog make, but I do hope you will continue reading and sharing stories. We can all help each other.
Long ago, when I was a student at UNT, my Abnormal Psych professor was explaining what was then known as Multiple Personality Disorder. He said, “The mind is one of God’s greatest gifts. Look at what it will do to keep us functioning.” At the time, his statement made some sense to me. Over the years, however, it began to make more sense as I realized some of the security work my mind had managed in order to keep me going. Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was reminded what an amazing bit of bio-electronics we humans possess when I witnessed dramatic changes in my father after he fell, hit his head, and ended up in the emergency room.
It’s important to note that for the last two or three months my father had gotten to the point where he barely spoke. When he did speak he rarely completed a sentence. This change has been emotionally challenging for me because it’s been so dramatic. Back in the day, dad was a master of the English language, and during the last few months, I couldn’t even piss him off enough to make him talk. Frankly, as anybody who’s ever known my father will attest, he never shied away from expressing his anger. Never.
Anyway, I believe it began during the wee hours of Monday, April 4. My ringing cell phone woke me up from a dead sleep. Initially I didn’t answer because I really just wanted a good night’s sleep. Then, I realized the only calls that ever come that late at night are either drunk dials or bad news. Of course, it had to be bad news. So, instead of listening to the voice mail message, I called back the number on caller I.D.
“Oh hi. Um..I’m Lucy…somebody called..I’m Mr. Parker’s daughter.”
“Oh Lucy! I’m here with your father. He fell and hit his head. The ambulance is on its way to take him to the hospital. “
“Oh! Umm…Do I need to go, too?”
For a few minutes, the caregiver dealt with a very sleepy, uncertain, and not-so-bright daughter trying to wake up enough to understand what was going on. Eventually, I apologized profusely for my dimwittedness and said I was on my way to the emergency room to meet my father.
It may have been her professional wisdom that kept her from describing the scene. I don’t know. Honestly, I’m glad she didn’t warn me about what I would see when I got to him. I was also thankful for my father’s poor vision because it meant he couldn’t see the change in my expression when I saw him covered in blood with a blood-soaked turban-like bandage wrapped around his head. His face was covered in blood. His hands were covered in blood. His shirt was covered in blood. All I could say to him was, “Hey Dad! It’s Lucy. I’m here. Wow, you sure made a bloody mess.” Thank God he saw some humor in my less-than-graceful entrance.
Dad was happy to see me, but he was sleepy. The lights were bothering him because, not only were they really bright, he just wanted to sleep. He was also annoyed by people talking loudly and RNs calling him “buddy,” otherwise he said he was fine. This was surprising considering his appearance. He ended up getting about 20 staples in his head. All the tests came back okay, no concussions or broken bones. And I had a chance to flirt a little with a doctor and a muscle monkey RN. Of course, Dad gave me the evil eye for it because I was doing it on his time.
“Dad, next time you want to work on introducing me to a nice doctor, try a dinner party, not a head bashing, OK?” Thankfully, he was again able to see the humor.
All in all, it was only about four hours and a few office supply jokes before he was back in his own bed, and we were done with it.
Actually, no. We weren’t done. We weren’t done at all. The most amazing thing was about to happen. Talk about throwing me for a loop!
I visited dad later that day after I took a little nap, and every day after that for about a week. The first visit, he was understandably tired. Still, he wasn’t in any pain, but he was surprisingly alert. He was coherent. He even talked in complete sentences.
The next visit, he was still surprisingly alert. He was still coherent. He was still speaking in full sentences. Okay? Wait. As I was able to set aside the worry, my brain started to function again and I began to catch on. He was speaking to me…in full sentences…for the first time in a couple of months. Granted, it still took a while for him to form the sentence in his head and then send it out his mouth. And, yes. It took me nearly 24 hours to realize that I was once again having full conversations with my father!
He began questioning me about conversations we’d had 8 months ago and asking if I followed through on some things. He berated me when I told him I did not. He asked about my daughters. That question alone was significant, because he actually remembered them. Better still, he asked about my daughters by name. He asked questions. I answered. He laughed. I laughed. I asked about his head. He got mad at me for worrying. I told him, “Tough <expletive deleted>, dad. I’m gonna worry because that’s one thing I’m very good at.” He laughed because I cursed.
“Dad, this is amazing. You’re talking to me. You’re bitching at me. You haven’t finished a sentence in months and look at you now! I swear to you, if I had known a good whack on the head would get you back for a day or two, I would have done it months ago.” Again, he laughed. Then, he said,
“Really? I wasn’t talking to you? Are you sure?”
“Yes, Dad. I’m sure. Please tell me you see why I’m laughing about you questioning my memory.”
He laughed again.
Yes. The fun did come to an end the next day when his blood pressure dropped and he stared at me from his bed unable to tell me what was wrong, but generally he’s okay. We can still sort of talk, but he’s slowly going back to being nearly silent. It’s no longer the I-fell-in-a-vat-of-toxic-waste-and-became-super-human stuff we had for a couple of days, but that’s okay.
As I’ve recounted this story to professionals, nobody has been surprised by the changes in my father. Apparently, it could have gone either way. The head bashing could have made him worse. Alternatively, it could have made him seem better for a few days, which, lucky for me, it did. I think I was lucky that I had a chance to experience what I call my New Dad again. I’m not so sure he was lucky, though. Even though we were able to talk and argue and laugh and joke and swear at each other, he also re-realized his life is very different. But there was a brief moment when he looked at me the way blind folks look towards you but not really at you. In that moment, I knew he knew I am just as surprised as he is by how well we get along and how much we count on each other, each in our own special way.
“Whodda thunk, Dad? Let’s just enjoy this while it lasts. I’ll be back. The girls will be back. We’ll visit you. And if things change, I’ll still visit you. I’ll still worry that I’m gonna piss you off, and I’ll tell you stupid jokes.”
“Oh no! Not more stupid jokes!”
So, this is how I came to realize, once and for all, the mind really is an amazing piece of bio-electronics.