Preemptive Grief

It’s been over a year ago that my dad fell and fractured his hip. He despised being a resident in the nursing home so much that he made sure to exercise a little longer, sometimes even taking an extra session a day on his own. Age and osteoporosis had taken a major hit on my dad’s brittle bones.

Late this past fall, he fell again. The first time, a horse had given him a upercut to the head. This time, the dog, not use to being leashed, became excited and wrapped up my dad’s legs like a bolo. He laid on the couch in agony until finally my mother who had been gone all day arrived home to find him. An ambulance took him to the nearest hospital, a tiny one story building in a town less than 15 miles away. The doctor who examined him told him he just pulled a muscle. Go home and take it easy…

That was a Friday. Over the weekend my dad could barely function, he was in such pain. On Monday they went to see the local practitioner who then sent him here for xrays. Imagine my surprise and anger to find out that my dad had actually fractured a disc and that an xray had never even been performed at the hospital. What kind of physician examining an elderly patient with a history of osteo and presenting with severe pain due to a fall does NOT order an xray?! Oh, this kind.

He spent the first 30 days of his stay at the nursing home flat on his back because the injury was inoperable, not even getting out of bed to use the bathroom or eat. Nearly another month after that in physical rehab. Thankfully, he’s home now, but he’ll never be fully recovered.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from my SIL (my brother’s wife): they had now taken my mom to the hospital. Diagnosis? Septicemia after a nasty bout of UTI. Her doctor told her that she was lucky they caught it early as she was discharged within a couple of days with instructions to take it easy and drink lots of fluids.

My mother, god bless her often bitter and crabby heart, has been a rock throughout my life. But we’ve (we, as in my siblings) noticed her mind is slipping. She often repeats a story several times within a short span in a way that you know she doesn’t remember already saying them once, twice and sometimes three times before. Whether it’s due to her forgetfulness or not taking her doctor serious, her UTI infection was not clearing up and this past Thursday she was once again admitted to the hospital with severe dehydration.

In all likelihood, by the time you read this she will be back home, but we as an extended family can no longer joke and tease about sending our parents away to a nursing home. The reality is harsh and cold and almost impossible to wrap my head around. I imagined my dad going out the same way my grandfather had: a heart attack while on the tractor in the fields. A noble way of going if born and bred to farming. As for my mother who always has had a sharp tongue? To watch her slowly slip away mentally is gut wrenching. She doesn’t remember many of the funny stories I tell her about Aitch or that Doodicus is getting awesome grades in school.

I don’t want to grieve for my parents already, but that’s what I’m feeling. And each time I see them looking smaller, paler, more fragile – basically at their worst – I have a harder time remembering them at their best.