When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

19 June 2005

Father's Day at the nursing home

Just got back from spending the day with Dad in his (hopefully temporary) new pad.

I realize that I'm biased, but my father is one of the toughest and smartest guys I know. He's been in a wheelchair since an ill-fated motorcycle ride he took one day in November of 1967 left him a paraplegic, totally paralyzed from about mid-chest down.

While this may have slowed him down a little, it certainly didn't stop him; he picked himself up, continued on with his successful career as an engineer at IBM and, more importantly to us and to him, as a good husband and father.

Dad and Mom made sure that I had everything I needed in this world and probably more of what I wanted than was really good for me, strictly speaking, and supported me in just about everything I've ever done or tried to do.

Whenever I am tempted to feel sorry for myself--and believe me, I would be embarrassed to recount the number of occasions when this has been the case--I consider my father's example, and usually I just suck it up and count my blessings.

Dad retired about ten years ago, and has been in what is politely and euphemistically referred to as "declining health" for some time now, the truly precipitous decline coming a couple of years ago. Mentally he is just as sharp as ever, but physically he is increasingly frail, and he has lately been bouncing in and out of the hospital with alarming frequency.

His latest hospitalization was at the one-month point when the insurance weasels and vermin helpful public servants at Medicare declared that he had to leave the hospital... "time's up!"

Too sick to come straight home, he was discharged into a "skilled nursing care facility," which is where I went to visit him this weekend.

I didn't announce my visit. I grabbed a Saturday flight at the last minute out of LaGuardia, rented a car at the Raleigh-Durham International (sic) Airport, and drove straight over to see the old man.

"What the hell are you doing here?" he said, blinking, by way of greeting.

"Eh, I'm thinking of retiring here," I told him, and kissed him on the cheek. (Truly, I have stayed at worse-looking hotels when travelling on business; the place he's bunking at is bright, clean, and pleasant, and the staff seem kind and professional.)

So we caught up a little bit before he got too tired to keep talking, and I let him get some rest.

Today I spent the afternoon watching the NASCAR race with my old man. Dad, like many North Carolinians who grew up when and where he did (right down the road from the Earnhardt family, as it happens) is an automobile-racing fanatic, and he hasn't lost his taste for speed and noise.

At one point this afternoon, Sterling Marlin's car experienced a catastrophic mechanical failure and started spewing burning oil. The producer quickly cut to Marlin's crew chief on the radio, who helpfully observed that the car "just blowed up!" (Mr. Marlin got out of his car unhurt, thank goodness, but his race day was over.)

"Blowed up!" I repeated, mildly amused.

"Son, that's a technical term," my father admonished. Then he sort of caught my eye and we both cracked up.

Yep, Dad's still "all there."

Not everyone in the facility is, of course. All there, I mean. Out by the nurses' station, there is a big signboard with slots in it. Today, it read:
Today is SUNDAY
The year is 2005
The month is JUNE
The date is the 19TH
The weather outside is HOT.
Before I left for the evening, one of the attendants gave me the activities schedule for the month of June. There are activities planned every day of the week, weekends included. But there was one activity that was the same on every single day, and I think it may have something to do with the signboard by the nurses' station:
I found this sad, touching and darkly funny, all at the same time. A dozen cheap-shot jokes occurred to me, chiefly in the form of a long list of public figures I thought could benefit from a daily Reality Orientation.

But then it hit me.

My father has been my very own Reality Orientation for going on forty years now.

Happy Father's Day, Dad. I love you.

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