There’s been some interest, due to my accidental hi-jacking of **Umkay’s **“Ask The Girl in the Wheelchair” thread, about my Dad’s situation since he broke his neck last October. A few posters asked that I start a thread, and initially, I thought “No!” Not because I don’t want to share, just because I’m busy enough as it is. And I’m not on the Dope that much anymore, and even when I was, I was mostly a lurker. And, because I just don’t want to dwell. And because it would take days just to summarize the last 7 months.
There is no TL:DR version, so if you’re in, grab a beer.
I did decide to write about all of this because I realized that I really never talk about all this. Not much anyway, except for with my brother. It’s the life I chose, taking care of Pops, so I need to deal.
So, I’ve decided I will talk about it here. In part because some of you have asked me to (and thanks for that), and in part because I probably ought to talk about it somewhere. They say you shouldn’t keep it all inside, right? This thread won’t be all about the Popsicle, though. What I need to talk about is how it’s affected me, selfish as that sounds, even as I type it. My boss and my lawyer have both suggested I “see someone,” just in the last week. Maybe I should. Or maybe, I’ll just type. All that being said, nowadays, his life and my life are intrinsically mixed anyway, so I suppose it will still be about him.
I guess I should give you the background, the details, and my current frustrations. Ask whatever you like, I can’t imagine there’s a question I won’t answer. However, I’m generally only here late at night. So I may not get to this thread more than once a day. I’ll try to step it up though, since I’m starting the thread and all, and it may just be very therapeutic for me.
So. . . .
On October 29th., my Dad fell out of his truck.
I got the call from my kid brother. “Dad’s in critical condition at University Hospital in El Paso and that’s all I know.” I was napping. No ‘Hello’ or anything. And my reply, as far as I remember, was “OK. I can go. . . . (thinking for a couple secs) . . .now.” He said he’d call if he heard more. I packed a bag.
I was in Las Vegas—living the dream. My brother was (still is) in Phoenix. So I was a 12 hour drive and he was 6. My Mom, Dad’s Ex-Wife, was 3 hours away from El Paso. Mom and Dad have been divorced for 16 or 17 years, but they are still friendly enough, and they lived in the same town in southern New Mexico. So, when Dad got hurt, us kids were in other states, so he told EMS to call Mom. He was flown out, probably before Mom even got the message, and he was unconscious by the time he got to El Paso. So he was admitted as a John Doe. So, from Phoenix and Vegas, my brother and I couldn’t initially get any information—except there was a 70 year old John Doe at University Hospital in El Paso, who was alive. So, I gassed up and drove all night. So did my brother. He beat me there, but for the record, he didn’t beat me by 6 hours
At Kingman, the hundred-or-so-mile mark south of Vegas, I heard it was some sort of head injury. That was absolutely incorrect, but the first indication I had that it wasn’t a stroke or a heart attack or an aneurysm. Would that it would have been, huh? Not that those things aren’t serious, but at least they’re things I have some understanding of. Anyway, at the time it seemed like good news. Somewhere south of Wikiup, I got a text that he might not survive the night – not in those words, but the implication was there. That was the first I heard of breathing issues. How do you have breathing problems from a head injury? East of Tucson, but West of Lordsburg—still 3+ hours out—I heard he was still critical, not breathing on his own and that it was a neck injury. Not that I hadn’t been pretty scared for him already, but something about “neck” – it wasn’t even “spine” – I don’t know, changed something for me. I knew I’d move back to NM at that point, if he should happen to make it through the night. I had NO IDEA how bad it would turn out to be, but somehow I knew, somewhere near the Arizona-New Mexico border that early morning, that not just his life had changed.
I finally made it to epasocitybytheriogrande around 8 or 9 AM. My brother met me in the hospital parking lot, I was looking for socks. I’d left a relatively warm Las Vegas wearing flip flops, arrived in a very windy and cold EP, and I wanted socks to go in my shoes. I’m not sure why I remember that so well.
My brother said words like ‘intubated’ and ‘quadriplegic’ and I’d been driving for 12 hours and was starving. Surreal, even now. That was the first time I heard what happened. He fell, out of the back of his truck, and landed on his neck, on concrete. Ended up being C4-C5, but at the time that wasn’t clear. There were T’s and L’s mentioned as well.
My brother led me upstairs. Dad was awake, off and on, and way calmer than I would have been. They may have been drugs. His head and neck were immobilized by some pretty scary looking equipment. Tubes in his mouth, tubes up his nose, wires everywhere. I think I mentioned in Umkay’s thread that he’s blind in one eye and deaf in the other ear. So if we talked to him on his hearing side he’d naturally try to turn his head so he could see us. And vicey versey. But he couldn’t turn his head much, and he wasn’t supposed to at all. And he kept trying to talk, but we couldn’t understand, what with all the crap in his mouth. So frustrating for us, I can’t even imagine how maddening it must have been for him.
My brother, my Mom and I moved into a hotel room near the hospital. My Dad’s sister showed up, but slept in her car. The Doctors told us what they could, but there was so much swelling of the spine, they weren’t sure about much, except that he needed to breathe. So we all spent a lot of time cajoling the poor guy, bugging him, yelling at him, to just breathe.
By day 3 my mother and my aunt were both “claiming” him, bickering (literally) over his semi-conscious body about things that happened 30 and 40 years ago. So my brother stepped in. He told them both that they had no say in what happens to Dad—that he and I would take care of it. And that if they couldn’t get along they had better not -get-along somewhere else, or he’d remove them or have them removed, from the premises. That was a hell of a conversation, but it was absolutely necessary. These two women, who claim to love each other, but really resent each other, and who both love Dad in their way, would have made this so much worse had my brother not put them in their respective places that early on. About the same time, I told my brother that I could move home to NM if necessary. So it was decided. At that point, it was just up to Dad, to learn how to breathe again.
And he did.
He had surgery, to fix the vertebrae, and take the pressure off his spine. He got through that OK, and was even extubated within a few days, and slated for transfer to Rehab in NM.
So, I went back to Vegas, put in notice at a great job that I loved, packed up my shit and was in Las Cruces, NM, by Thanksgiving. Without a home. Without a job. And with 3 cats.
Now, I had lived in Las Cruces off and on from 1991 to 2005. I like the place, hell, I love the place. But the economy is terrible, the company I had worked for (for a hundred years back in the day) is out of business, and come to find out, I just wasn’t ready to come back. Even being from here, after 7 years in Vegas, I had some culture shock. I’m (still) not ready for this sort of thing. I do love the food, so there’s that. And Cruces will always be better than El Paso, which were the options we had at the moment.
To backtrack a little, Dad was in Rehab in Cruces for exactly one day, and ended up back in (a different) hospital with pneumonia. I was still I Vegas—had 4 more days—and I’ve never felt so helpless in my life. I went to the bar that night after work, got drunk, and cried my eyes out. I’d already quit my job in Vegas to come ‘home’ to NM and take care of Dad, but I still had a few days to work, and I needed the paycheck, and I didn’t think he’d live long enough for me to get here.
He made it, I made it, and I drugged the pinche gatos for the drive, so they made it, too. I rolled into town on Thanksgiving Day, 2011. 25 Days after a trip and fall.
Early December he was transferred to the Acute Care Hospital of Southern New Mexico (LTAC). There he got absolutely amazing care. If you ever plan do get injured grievously, I strongly suggest that’s where you go. Staff is wonderful, therapy is wonderful, facility is wonderful. Seriously, if I didn’t have so much to do, I’d check myself in. For some reason they weren’t allowed to cut his hair, but otherwise, 5 stars.
Since then? Geez, I can’t even begin to explain. Dad was in (LTAC) from early December til February 10th, when he got too healthy and got moved to a Nursing Home. He was hospitalized twice between December and February, but has been stable since the move.
But he hallucinates. And, of course, he’s frustrated. I’m not sure if his hallucinations frustrate him or his frustration makes him hallucinate or both. But I know it sucks, and I know I haven’t been able to do much to help. Changing the subject helps, but I’m not there all the time. I go to see him twice a day, but I work full time, and I have to sleep, and I have to once in a while do my own thing, so he’s mostly alone. My Dad was born in 1941 and started working in 1955, at age 14*. That’s 56 years of working, almost every day. Mostly, he was a heavy machinery mechanic, although he put in some time ore drilling too. So to be stuck in a bed, an active guy like that, it’s literally driving him insane. He thinks there is equipment he needs to fix. He thinks there are parts lying around that need to be put away. The worst thing is, he thinks he’s tied down. Not all the time, but too much of the time.
I wish, sometimes, that I was hallucinating instead. I miss what I lost, what I give up. I absolutely hate the job I have now, but beggars can’t be choosers. I think all the time, when I’m tired, or not quite awake, I’ll just go back to Vegas. I’ll get that job back. Then, I realize, not it’s going to happen.
And, it may sound silly, but I really, really miss watching baseball. It’s June now, and I’ve only watched a handful of games on TV all the way through. I haven’t actually been to a game since 2011, and that’s just weird. Baseball was my favorite thing. It still is, but there’s no time. It hasn’t been all bad. I’ve connected again with my favorite cousin, my oldest friends, my god-kids. And I drink a lot less since leaving Vegas. It’s not that I don’t like it here, I probably would have come back eventually anyway. But I’d have liked to come back with a job lined up, with a place to live, on my own terms.
I have next to no support here, but I have fake support. I love that people ask me how my Dad’s doing. But I wish sometimes they’d ask how I’m doing. My Facebook inbox is full of people who want to know why I haven’t posted about Dad. It’s always accusatory, too. “Haven’t heard from you in weeks!” “What’s going on?” Mostly from people who live within 200 miles. (I know that sounds like a long ways away if you’re from Back East, but this is New Mexico-- if it’s not a 6 hour drive, it’s not a problem.) Motherfuckers, come see him! He’s not dead! He’d LOVE to talk to you! By all means, if you can talk reasonably knowledgably about a transmission, he’d rather talk to you then me!
And he’s not fucking contagious!!!
Medicare/Medicaid is a cagey beast. **Broomstick **said, in **Umkay’s **thread, that poverty can kill you if you’re disabled, or something along those lines, and she’s right. The thing is, Dad wasn’t really poor—not for the little town he lived in, and the way he lived. He has a small retirement, gets nominal Social Security, and still worked side jobs here and there. That’s what he was doing when he got hurt, a side job he probably wouldn’t have gotten paid for-because it was for a friend. And he had a life insurance policy (that Medicaid won’t let him keep), and savings (that Medicaid won’t let him keep). Had he not gotten hurt, he’d have lived quite comfortably until the Zombie Apocolypse. Maybe longer; one never knows. In fact, Medicaid tells us he makes too much. He couldn’t begin to afford the care he needs, but without some creative accounting, he can’t qualify for help. After working (and paying taxes) for 56 years! Pop’s taxes have raised generations of welfare kids in 56 years. Time for that to pay off, no? No.
Plus, nursing home care is not at all synonymous with health care. Dad is in supposedly the best home in Cruces that accepts Medicaid. But, it’s a state-run-for-profit institution. So, almost all residents are on Medicare or Medicaid (meaning fixed income). So, the only way to profit, being on a fixed income, is to spend less. The staff is, for the most part, great, but the facility just doesn’t have the money to staff the place adequately, or to buy needed equipment. I just found out they can’t do a swallow study on site. What?
So, now I’m just trying to get him out of here. Had we known how hard it would be to move him back in December or February, we would have taken him to AZ in the first place. Right now Arizona seems like the Magic Kingdom to me. It may or may not be all that much better, but if nothing else, my brother is there.
I love my Dad, but it’d be so nice to spend a day, all day, in my crappy apartment, couchin’ it in my PJs, without ever having to leave-or even get up to take a shower. Just one day. It’s amazing how priorities change.
Alright, I just re-read this, and it sounds really whiney to me. And, Holey Moley, it’s long! But, I’m also tired, so maybe it’s not so bad. Anyway, a few of you asked for it, you got it.
Next episode. . . El Madre Loco.
And someday, I might just tell you about my worthless sister. But only if you’re nice.
Thanks for listening.