When I visit my dad at his apartment, I never know what I will stumble upon. I was completely shut out from seeing him from March to September of 2020 due to Covid restrictions. I had to drop off items he had requested at the front door and wave to him through the window. Soon, I noticed he wasn’t in the lobby anymore, and when I tried to call him, he wouldn’t answer his phone. At times, my only communication was with the staff, who told me he was sleeping a lot and staying secluded. All activities had been stopped, and all meals were delivered to him.
I wondered how many hours a day he was sleeping. It wasn’t easy because when he went to live there in 2019, the help was a bit touch and go. I was astonished at the lack of accountability since I had a background in long-term care. We had to document every incident and follow up with one meeting after another.
Not so much with this place. It was like the Wild West of senior living with no rules and a somewhat fend for yourself environment.
So the lockdown wasn’t the most ideal. Once I jumped through multiple miscommunications, I was allowed to return as one of his essential caregivers. My suspicions of him sleeping all day and up all night were accurate. Every time I arrived in the mid-morning, he was still in bed with breakfast sitting on his table. He had lost all track of time. When I would say,
“Why are you still sleeping?” He would tell me there was no reason to get up.
The first time I went back in, I was thankful I had a mask in my possession. I don’t think his bedding had been washed that entire time, and housekeeping looked like they abandoned ship. I spent my time cleaning, scrubbing, and getting him to wake up.
His appearance had changed to resemble Rip Van Winkle with a beard flowing. It took a lot of effort to reverse the psychological effects this isolation had done to him.
His meals were still being dropped off to him during that time, so one day while I was there, two of the workers from the kitchen came in and asked him what his preferences were. He is highly deaf in both ears and reads lips, so their masks made it challenging for him to comprehend what was said.
“What?” He asked, leaning forward.
“What do you want for lunch?” one of them asked.
I pulled my face covering off so he could see my mouth.
“They want to know what you want for lunch.”
“Oh! What do you have?”
The one who had tried to ask the first time said,
“Do you want fish?”
She proceeded to take both of her hands in front of her to create a fin-like visual, and she moved her hips in a side-to-side motion. She was doing the best charade game of her life to try to get her point across.
He frowned deeply and leaned forward more, trying to comprehend her movements. I did not attempt to interrupt his interpretation as she continued to demonstrate while he pondered. I saw a lightbulb go off.
“Snake? We are having snake for lunch?”
His eyes were huge at the thought. He had just been telling me how much the place was going downhill.
She dropped her hands, exasperated.
“Fish!” I said, stepping in to help.
“Fish? That fish looked just like a snake!”
Recently, there was another Covid scare, so I was not permitted to see him for a couple of weeks. I worried he would slip back to his old habits because he was once again under total quarantine.
It didn’t take long for the facial hair to grow again and the sleeping in to start. When I went in the other day to surveillance his place, I found a pair of summer shorts cut in half. I just stood there holding them up, trying to figure out what in the world had happened.
I brought them before his eyes.
“What happened to these?”
“I had to cut myself out of them.”
I took a second to take that in. He cut himself out of his pants.
“I know I should move on, but I have to know..why? I just bought you these. Why did you do this?”
“I was stuck in them.”
I’m a very visual person, so I tried my hardest to develop a good image of why this had occurred. Nothing was coming.
“I was honest to God stuck in them, and I had to get out of a bad situation, Chris.”
I thought maybe a third try at it would clear the muddy waters, but it didn’t.
“So, instead of pushing your pendant for assistance, you grabbed a pair of scissors and cut off your pants?”
“Yes.” He said it like this was an everyday thing to do.
We both just stared at each other. I was at a loss for words. Of all the circumstances I have been in with this man, this by far had hit the top of the list.
I always treat him with respect, even if what he is telling me is so off the wall or not even close to the truth.
“I’m just trying to understand. Were you throwing a wild party and just decided to live freely? I don’t get this.”
He started laughing.
“No, I didn’t have a party. Are you crazy? I’m an old man! I was trapped in those and had to get out of them!”
Oh, my gosh! He could talk in circles for days on end! And he called ME crazy? I was not the one with a pair of shorts with a slit up the side like an evening gown.
“I think you wanted to show your leg off more on that side.” He laughed again. “Or were you needing an apron for the kitchen?” I turned them around and bunched up the material across my waist. The two pockets on each side were perfect.
“I still don’t get it. Why did you not ask for help?”
“Because they are busy here, and I didn’t want to bother anyone. I was struggling, and I figured I could do it myself.”
“Well,” I said, fanning them out, “you did.”
“You have gotten me a lot of those. I have at least seven pairs. Well, now maybe six.”
“Where were you when this all took place?”
His memory is getting worse, so he attempted to piece it all together.
“Were you in your bathroom?”
“I think so. They got caught on the side of the wheelchair, and I was stuck like that for a while.”
Now the story was all coming back to him.
“I tried to get myself free by pulling on them, but it wasn’t working. I saw the scissors on the sink, so I got myself out of prison.”
While it made me feel bad for him, I couldn’t help laughing. Which he then did too.
It reminded me of that part from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles where John Candy gets his arms stuck in his seatbelt while driving.
And the more I thought about it, the more I laughed.
“I don’t know what goes on around here. I will buy you another pair.”
“I won’t be having an encore performance. That’s it for this lifetime.”
No matter how much I have tried to tell him to call for help, he stubbornly refuses and decides he is the master of his fate.
And it makes me wonder, where am I not getting help? I don’t want to be a burden, so I often do it myself and keep quiet. But are we supposed to do that all the time? Don’t we have help available to us?
My dad must have forgotten all about Psalm 91:15 that says,
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
We wear an invisible call button that when we request assistance, it has been promised that help will come. Far too often, we do it alone and exhaust all options before we ask. We might end up fashioning our solution, which will never match the help of heaven. The more we don’t ask, the easier it gets until we forget that we can.
His tattered and torn pair of pants destined for the trash is a great reminder that we aren’t supposed to take any shortcuts.