Daddy stood there looking at me, a huge, heavy plastic tub filled to the brim with books, magazines, and clothes in his hands.
Not looking at me — through me.
His eyes reminded me of the glass ones in the faces of wax figures in museums, reflecting light instead of life. Looking, but not seeing. The eye his ophthalmologists failed to save years ago shined, cloudy blue over an iris of coffee. He lunged at me. I sidestepped to protect myself, but he lumbered past to my bed and slammed the weighty container down on my pillow. Another clear storage tub full of dense stuff waited on the floor near the foot of my bed. Daddy hauled that one up and set it down beside the first, then stood back, satisfied.
I stared at him, a hand to my aching temple, my heart galloping. It was like he didn’t understand he’d slammed me in the head. Didn’t understand he was where I belonged. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t feel safe. I panicked.
“Get out of my room!”
Bro put a calming hand on Daddy’s shoulder, his face tense, bewildered. “Dad! What are you doing?”
“I gotta get up early… in the morning.” Daddy told us. “I gotta get up early. In the morning. Early. In the morning!” He strode to his bedroom, and came back to my bedroom with a third tub overflowing with… what? I don’t know.
Once he’d set the tub on my bed, next to the second one, he pointed at us both. “I gotta get up early in the morning!”
We tried to guide him from my room. He wasn’t having that and launched into a combative mode that scared us to death and somehow ended up with all three of us sprawled on the hallway floor.
My brain can’t play that moment back no matter how hard I try to. One minute we thrashed, and then we hit hard.
Daddy continued his strange mantra as we sat up, stunned. Words flitted through my mind like bees from flower to flower. Alzheimer’s. Dementia, full blown. Brain bleeds. Stroke. We had to go to the Emergency Room. Now.
Getting our 200-pound father up would’ve been tricky for Bro (9 months recovered from an aortic dissection and loss of a kidney) and me (insulin-dependent diabetic with nerve pain and arthritis), but to our shock, he helped and let us relocate him to the living room. He allowed us to dress him in a simple track suit and sneakers. “I gotta get up early in the morning.” In the Land of the Have Nots, if everyone’s breathing, walking, and talking (all 3 things at the same time), you think twice before taking on a massive ambulance bill. If you can get to the hospital fast on your own steam, that’s what you do.
“I know, Dad. You’ve got to get up early.” I sat with him on the sofa as Bro loped off to get dressed.
“Got ta go. Go home! Going home?” Daddy regarded at me sideways.
“Yes, we’re going home. We’re waiting for Bro, and then we’ll go. Okay?”
Online research said correcting a person with Alzheimer’s or Dementia was futile and made things worse, and to think of it like me being at the mall and Daddy trying to convince me I was home. My mind wouldn’t be able to wrap around that at all, would it?
For his peace of mind at the moment, I needed to roll with it. “We’re going home, Dad. You ready to go?”
Bro sat with Dad until I’d thrown on clothes, and then we were out the door.
Daddy’s mantra stopped as we rode along. I don’t know why.
He didn’t try to get out of the car, touch anything, or say a word… just looked out the windows at the early morning gray, content, as if a switch had been flipped. He remained as silent as a thought as we wheeled him by chair to the Sign-In desk, as he was triaged, as the nurses escorted us to a partitioned room deep in the ER, posthaste.
After a barrage of staff finished a physical examination, a question and answer period, and ordered preliminary tests, an ER doctor came in for a word and I don’t mind telling you, I wish she hadn’t.
She was already of a mind that Daddy’s tests would indicate a stroke. My information about how he’d forgotten his home weeks ago, and his sundowning and dementia symptoms were of no concern to her. In fact, she declared that one side of Daddy’s mouth was drooping and couldn’t I see that? Hadn’t I noticed that?
I’d been doing nothing but looking my dad in his face for weeks, terrified, and all morning. There hadn’t been and there was no droop. I said as much. Bro backed me up, not liking her bedside manner any more than I did.
“You really don’t see that? It’s obvious. Stroke.” She threw me a what a useless daughter look and left the room as if she no longer deigned to be in my presence.
I doubted myself because of that, and felt like shit as I stroked Daddy’s whiskered jawline with my fingers.
I snapped out of it with a quickness, though, even before Bro could comment, “Who the hell treats a patient’s family like that?” I mean, where were we, the Twilight Zone? If it was a stroke, it was the kind that didn’t show on a person’s face. I was nearsighted, not blind! And, that “doctor” was someone who had no idea how to speak to people. I wouldn’t let that heifer treat my father for a hangnail from that moment on.
If she came back in his room, Houston wouldn’t be the only one with a damn problem.
At the end of the day, Bro and I dragged ourselves out of the hospital. My body felt leaden and my ankles held down by weights as we wandered to my car. Daddy’s admission meant we could rest tonight and expect more information about his condition tomorrow, from a kindly doctor up on the Stroke floor who didn’t make the hairs stand on the backs of our necks.
We prayed Daddy would be all right until we got back.
The bleached slice of moon suspended in the winter night sky disturbed me, reminded me of a similar timeline 6 years earlier. My mom, coming out of remission from cancer right at Thanksgiving, admitted to the hospital the second week in December, a catastrophic brain event taking away her communication skills and keeping her semi-comatose through Christmas, hospice at New Year’s, her death a week and a half later. She’d been unable to say my name the whole time.
My dad, forgetting his house right at Thanksgiving, admitted to the hospital the second week in December, a catastrophic brain event taking away his communication skills… It felt like a time loop. A repeat. Would he follow her? Would he ever say my name again?
When we got home, we saw what we’d been too scared and distracted to notice before we left.
Kitchen items all over the living room.
Living room items all over the bathroom.
Bathroom items all over Daddy’s room.
Daddy’s stuff all over the kitchen.
He’d been moving about the house for a long time before coming in my room.
We felt like sleepwalkers who’d just woken up.