“If you want to see your Dad alive, come home as fast as you can.” is the call my sisters and I received at the end of June. We were all in South America. My sisters were in Brazil, and I was in Medellin, Colombia. My sister’s were already scheduled t take the red-eye that night, but I went into high-gear changing my flights. The trip home for me was hellish, not just for the reason I was traveling, but truly a horrible travel experience. Dad was alive when we arrived, but all that was there was the shell of a man we once called Daddy (pronounced Deady).
For over two years Dad has battled with breathing because of Asbestosis from exposure to asbestos when he worked for the federal government. This condition also made him susceptible to pneumonia. For the last two years, he had been hospitalized several times because of pneumonia. When I found out why Mom & Dad were not answering the phone, because he was in the hospital with pneumonia, my thoughts were “No big deal, I will be home in 6 days anyway.” For Dad getting pneumonia was like anyone else getting a cold. He would go into the hospital, have a round of antibiotics and go home in a few days.
With all three of her kids, her son-in-law, and one granddaughter out of the country along with the other granddaughter living out-of-town; Mom was alone with only Trace, my nephew, to deal with this situation. My father has a living will and Mom had already had to invoke that to prevent him from being put on a ventilator. Dad said his good byes to Mom and to Trace. The last I talked with him before his condition changed so drastically, I told him I would be home in 1 week and he said, “I hope I am still here that long.” That is the night things went downhill. We were called to get home A.S.A.P.!
Traveling with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) is difficult enough….but this was my travel agenda home: Bogotá, Colombia to Medellin, Colombia; Medellin to Barranquilla, Colombia; Barranquilla to Fort Lauderdale, FL; Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta, GA; Atlanta airport was closed due to weather so we landed in Augusta, GA to refuel; then Augusta to Atlanta; FINALLY Atlanta to New Orleans, LA. With little time to prepare, this was one of the most difficult traveling experiences I have had. The airlines were a big assistance for me. Once I arrived in New Orleans, I had to wait more than 2 hours for my ride to arrive. Then the 1.5 hour car ride home. I was only able to see Dad for a moment before I fell into a coma in my old bedroom at home. For days I was physically paying a hefty price. The actual financial cost of changing my flight was higher than the original purchase price and as noted involved more connections.
The doctors explained that he now had only 25% use of his lungs, but was stable. They said he could live 2 weeks, 2 months or more than 2 years…. there was no way to tell. But to complicate matters, he had developed dementia. The night things turned, he wandered out of the hospital and was trying to get into their car (yes he had found the right car). The doctors were amazed he had the strength and ability to do that. When security brought him back, Mom asked, “Where were you going?” He replied, “Tommy (my childhood nickname) is trying to get home, so I was just going to pick him up.” His confusion continued and they began treating him with psychotropic drugs. The doctors did not consult with one another and we left the hospital with him (moving him to a swing bed unit) on 3 different psychotropic drugs. We were so exhausted, and trusting the doctors had not paid attention to this. At the swing bed unit, another doctor added another psychotropic drug.
He was not sleeping at all at night and we were taking turns staying the night with him. My MS limited how much good I was, but I did my best. He wanted to go to Homecoming at church. They allowed us to check him out. We came by the house and he fell asleep in his recliner. We checked him out permanently from the swing bed unit. The next day we took him to the hospital in Jackson where he stayed for 4 days while they ran test. They determined the biggest problem was the four psychotropic drugs. We left the hospital with no drugs except for one to help him sleep. Which also helped us also get much need rest.
Now, we function day-to-day with Dad not even recognizing he is at home , knowing what day it is, asking where his bedroom is (this is the same house he grew up in), and sometimes not recognising who we are. He mind is good for moments, but it is only briefly. I have heard the horror stories, of parents becoming the children and now we are living it. He is an elderly child. Sweet and innocent at times mixed with aggravation and frustration because he does not understand what is going on. Sadly, sometimes combative. He sits in his recliner looking lifeless, the shell of the once strong, powerful, active man, I call Dad.