Across the room, up high and gazing down at us like an animal in headlights, stood our bewildered father, the ball of one foot balanced on an arm of the sofa, the other foot stretched out into empty air.
I’m a big girl with an ample “caboose”, so I don’t run. Anywhere. But I’m here to tell you those crazy instances where people find superhuman strength during a moment of sheer desperation and lift cars off of loved ones and stuff do happen because I sprinted to Daddy. I don’t remember moving. I was just there with Bro right by my side, taking Daddy’s hands in mine as Bro blocked his potential flight path to the unforgiving floor below.
“Dad! What are you doing?”
“Why are you in the dark!”
Our heads knew he couldn’t understand our questions nor answer them, but our hearts couldn’t stop trying to communicate with him. Hearts have a mind of their own.
His expression went from What do you mean? to Who are you? Still, he let us help him down from the sofa arm to a seat cushion to the floor, back through the house and to bed, where he nodded off to sleep for the second time that night. Which didn’t take us off edge at all. We’d just found out the hard way Daddy going down for the night meant nothing.
Only after I sat down on the side of my own bed and took a deep breath did the pain set in from the ankle I’d just twisted.
I sat there for the rest of the night, ignoring the tight swelling, jumping at sounds, my room lights on, until pale morning peeked between my window curtains and I could smell Bro brewing coffee in the kitchen.
Thinking back to the effects of Vascular Dementia on Daddy during mealtimes still fascinates me to this day. Watching his brain work as he ate was like nothing I’d ever seen before.
I always hand-fed him myself, him sitting on the side of his bed, me in his wheelchair, our knees touching. All the times we’d visited his rehab facility earlier in the year, we’d found most of his meals spilled on the floor of his room — getting food to his mouth with his fingers was incredibly difficult for him, and using spoons or forks… forget about it. He no longer knew how. Feeding him myself accomplished two things — made sure he got the nourishment he needed (he could no longer tell us or even indicate that he was hungry), and cut way down on clean-up times. There wasn’t even any need to put a bib on him that way. Win win.
Nerve impulses aren’t usually something you “see”, you know? To us, they just happen and our bodies respond, all day, every second of the day, smoothly, seemingly without thought. I’m not sure when, during a meal, I visually noticed Daddy fighting his brain, but once I did, I couldn’t look away.
His leg muscles would stiffen and his palms would come down and position themselves on the mattress, beside his thighs. His feet would brace against the floor and he’d lean forward to stand up — but then stop himself mid-action, relax back down, and look expectantly at me for another spoonful of the yummy goodness he knew was coming. This happened over and over and over again, until he’d conquered the impulses and sat still for the remainder of the meal, or until the meal was over.
Start, stop. Start, stop. Start. Stop. Every meal. Only at meals.
A major effect of Daddy’s condition was that he couldn’t stay still, had to be up and moving all the time and exploring like any 3-year-old. But that ol’ thief Dementia didn’t stand a chance when food was in the picture. Ha!
The first time I laughed since our terrifying journey began was at myself.
After some trial, error, and literal shit storms, I managed to introduce some of Daddy’s favorite foods back into his diet, particularly apple slices and different types of applesauce. Applesauce gave him great joy, so much so that when a tiny white pill for hypertension was prescribed for him, my first idea was to put the medication in his dessert dish at supper. That’s how you got children to take meds they balked at, right? Hide it in their food?
I figured he would accidentally bite into it in the process of chewing and swallow it on down. Or not notice it at all until it went down whole. Nope. He would isolate that teeny little pill every single time and spit it out. So, I crushed it into powder and mixed it in (the label didn’t say not to). He would taste it in the sweetness and refuse to take another bite.
There was no fooling him. Ugh.
After yet another day, another attempt, another fail, I snatched up the extra hypertension pill I’d brought into his room and pointed at him with it, at my wits’ end. “Daddy, come on. Come on! Please? You’ve got to have this. For God’s sake, take your pill! Please?”
He looked at me, looked at the pill, and opened his mouth.
I almost dropped the thing, I was so surprised. Before he could change his mind, I slid it between his teeth and raised a bottle of water to his lips. He drank, swallowed, and began shuffling the dishes of food on the supper tray between us, curious.
All that sneakiness on my part, when all I’d needed to do was ask.
I belly-laughed myself to tears right where I sat. I couldn’t help it.
Daddy, quite annoyed, looked at me like, Lady, I don’t know what your problem is, I don’t know what’s so funny to you, how about just giving me the rest of my applesauce and we can call it a day, okay?
Okay, Dad. Will do.