Before you even read this post I want to ask you a question: Do you smoke? If the answer is yes, just quit dammit. Just quit. That is my plea to my Daddy. That is my plea to all smokers. Just quit. And I get that it is not that easy. God KNOWS I get that. I am working through my Dad’s addiction to nicotine so PLEASE do not try to give me the same excuses. I know it is hard to give up, I know that after decades it is near impossible to do, etc. HOWEVER – do you have someone in your life that loves you dearly and would be emotionally altered if you left this life for the next due to this senseless addiction? Then, there is my counter to any excuse you give me. Plain and simple. Love yourself enough, love them enough and just effing quit already. Make a plan, consult a doctor, go to a clinic – most counties have free smoking cessation programs. If you WANT to you can find a way. And, now on to my story…
I sit at my Dad’s kitchen table as I type this, occasionally looking up to see him dozing as he sits there. He is 70 and his world is closing in on him. Since my Ma’s death in Jan 2010, Dad’s health has been on a decline. He lived out of the freezer (ie frozen meals galore that are easily microwavable), his smoking is out of control, he eats anything he wants (including sweets) – I could go on and on. After two months of continuous doctors visits, two hospital stays (one being 10 days and involving ICU), and a million medical conversations with every specialist on the VA’s roster I have been schooled on his health – everything they have educated me on is ominous. Dad has not controlled his diabetes since Ma passed. It ranges in the mid 300s. He went into AFib. He has congestive heart failure. He may have blockage due to smoking, poor eating habits OR he could just have a weak heart due to the rampant diabetes (heart capacity is 28%). He has only 27% lung capacity (and after an extensive breathing test I have been told that that will not be correctable). COPD has been discussed, smoker’s disease. He had an injury that cannot be treated due to the out-of-control…everything. So he has a completely torn rotator cup to throw in the mix.
I was unable to be with Ma when she was sick and I was not close by when she had the heart attack during dialysis which lead to her death. My Dad called me one morning as I made my way to my office in NYC to let me know that she was non-responsive and things were not good. I made it home and as I sat there, next to her bed in the ICU, I hated the world (and myself) for not being physically present while she suffered through all that she endured. But, Ma was sick for a decade. Her illness was a roller coaster ride. And although I was not physically present, I was completely involved in her medical care, knew what was going on at all times and was conversant with her doctors and team. But I was not “there”. With Daddy, I have the ability to pretty much be a live-in caregiver during this process. I have an amazing boyfriend who understands my need to be with Dad. And, even though we had only moved in together a few weeks prior to the health collapse, insists that I spend time with Daddy and reassures me that everything will be ok. I am not sure I could do “all of this” without his continual love and support and understanding.
There are days that the walls of this house feel like my prison. My Daddy is sick. Terribly sick. I cannot fix it, I cannot make him instantly better, I cannot convince him to do EVERYTHING he needs to do. So, I cry a lot, I fuss a lot and I feel guilty a lot. The crying happens when I least expect it and I believe that it is just the emotions coming out because I have no additional strength to keep them inside. The fussing comes from a wide range of things – his binge eating in the middle of the night when he thinks I won’t realize it or the cigarettes he desperately needs even though they are killing him at a quicker rate than the first fifty years of his addiction. The guilt hits me from various angles. More times than not it is the “hating myself because I would rather be anywhere than here” issue. And, that does not mean that I don’t want to take care of my Dad at all. That means that after a day of fighting his cigarette addiction, consoling him as he cries because I have to dress him, fighting headaches from reading every cardiac article or new recipe that fits his diabetic dietary needs – sometimes I am just tired and would rather be anywhere other than here. But I also realize that I cannot escape it. And, I don’t want to “escape it”. I want to be here, I want to help. It’s just the emotional thing again.
I know that these far ranges of emotions do not make me Sybil. I know they are natural and part of a process you go through when you are both the child of and the caregiver to an individual. But knowing all of that does not make it any easier on me. During the breathing test, the technician was great and patient and out of nowhere Daddy started up: “That’s Baby Girl. She is my youngest. I have three: 48, 46 and she is 43. I am going to live to 90 for her because she needs me. I am going to live till 90.” I could only pray to be so fortunate. But right now – he is too weak to button his own buttons, he cries because he is not self sufficient (and even though I insist it should not be a worry – he thinks a nursing home is eminent), he wants salt, he wants sweets and by all the strength he can muster – he wants a puff on a cigarette. And I am the villain that keeps all of life’s joys away from him and I am the saint that takes care of him day and night. It is a lot to handle at times, the duplicity of it all.
I have had beautiful moments in the middle of all of this. My love for skydiving has opened up venues of conversation with my Dad and allowed us to connect like never before. We discuss plane types, the FAA, what issues skydivers face, Felix Baumgartner and his amazing leap from the edge of space. And, although he repeatedly noted he hates that I love to jump out of planes – when he introduces me to anyone at the VA it generally goes: “This is my daughter, Chelle, she’s a skydiver.” I smile, “Yeah, I know it’s crazy. No, I don’t have a death wish.” Daddy smiles through it all.
So, I push a wheelchair because he is unable to walk more than a handful of steps. I talk him through panic attacks. I try to lift him out of depression. I make from-scratch meals that are pretty damn tasty. I try to prepare for everything we will face. I fall short, I come out winning and I struggle to do my best. I take one day at a time. We are not guaranteed anything in this life. So I take one day at a time, while preparing for the good and bad ones that lay just ahead.
His heart cath is scheduled for next week in Virginia. I will drive him there and pace and wait and hope and pray. And I am trying desperately to not put all my hopes in one basket thinking that the cath will lead to a stint or a bypass and that either of those will reverse this horrible course we have been set upon. I am trying to be reasonably optimistic without setting my hopes so high that I will be caught entirely off guard if those hopes are squashed.
Thank you all for your warm wishes, thoughts and prayers. They have helped tremendously through all of it.