My father is in the hospital again. Thus, a stop to see him is added to my morning routine, as well as to my route home. I don't mind; not at all. Were roles reversed, my dad would probably sleep in my hospital room. When my son was born and spent 10 days in neonatal intensive care unit, my dad was there every night into the wee hours -- even after I had gone back to his and my mother's house, where I was staying while Charlie was hospitalized.
During Dad's previous hospital stays, I've brought him oatmeal from Starbucks and various other goodies. During this one, though, I've been hesitant because his fluid intake was so closely monitored during his last visit. So I've just been bringing him the newspaper in the morning and a recount of my day in the afternoon.
Since he was admitted on Tuesday, though, his kidneys haven't been the source of concern like they were last month. So on Saturday, I stopped by Starbucks and bought oatmeal. I'd slept an hour past my alarm and thus didn't run till later, which postponed my visit. By the time I arrived, Dad had eaten breakfast hours earlier. He was nonetheless very appreciative, even as he lay on his side while a physical therapist and an aide cleaned a nasty-looking wound on his leg. It isn't healing properly; thus his hospital stay.
I sat by his bed and rubbed his back while the cleaning -- quite an intricate and arduous process -- was going on. Every so often Dad would grimace, but he didn't want any pain medication and, really, was quite stoic. He asked how I was, and whether I'd heard from Charlie, who's at a volleyball tournament in Florida this weekend.
Meanwhile, the aide was trying to distract Dad from the pain by talking to him -- truth to tell, like he was a bit of an imbecile.Or, in reality, like the old person with the skinny legs and flyaway hair she saw on the bed.
"Oh, aren't you cute?" she said. "I bet people tell you that all time."
She alternated talking to him and talking about him: "Oh, look how pretty his eyes are," she said. And then, "I bet all the ladies loved you in your day!"
I made myself focus on my dad and not on her words. I realize she was just trying to make conversation. Everyone at the hospital is beyond nice and caring, and my dad never fails to say thank you. His spirits are remarkably high, even though he hasn't slept in his own bed or felt the sunshine on his face or watched the birds from his living-room window for almost a week. If the anticipated treatment continues, he probably won't for several more weeks.
Today, Mom and I went to the care facility where he may be headed next while he gets massive doses of antibiotics through an IV. She was wondering how he'd take the news. "At least I can tell him this will cure the infection," she said.
Yes, God willing, it will. But I think what has struck me, like the north wind on my face while I ran this morning, is this: Even if the treatment works, it can't make my dad who he was -- the one in charge; the rock; the one always willing to go for a drive or to see something new or to help someone; the omelet-maker and steak-griller extraordinaire.
He still recites poetry, which his mother did to him, and which we kids grew up hearing. I bet each one of us can recite -- if not the whole thing, then at least 75 percent of Robert Service's "The Cremation of Sam McGee. When I visited Friday night, something I said reminded him of a poem called "Little Boy Blue." We looked at each other and said it together.
Dad still remembers with amazing detail the day Kennedy was assassinated and his subsequent reporting on it days and years later. He still looks at my mother like she was the 23-year-old he married 57 years ago this Monday, and he never fails to tell us, "I love you," when we leave.
Last night, I brought Dad some yellow flowers I'd picked up at Central Market and a bagel -- a food that has tasted good to him even on days when nothing else did. He hadn't eaten the bagel when I got there today, but after his wound-cleaning treatment he said he'd like it. So I went to the cafeteria and bought two little containers of cream cheese -- strawberry and plain -- for a quarter each. I sliced the bagel in fourths and asked which kind of cream cheese he wanted.
"Strawberry," he said. I spread it on the bagel and handed it to him. He thanked me and said, "Mmmmm," as he bit into it. A few minutes later, his lunch arrived. He offered me a taste, as he had his tuna sandwich last night. I declined (though I had tried the sandwich). Instead, I asked if he minded if I ate the oatmeal I'd brought him.
"Oh, please do," he said.
So I swirled in the brown sugar that came with it, then emptied in the packet of chopped walnuts and almonds. It was delicious, and I'm sure Dad will agree when I bring him some on the way home from church tomorrow.
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