Friday, September 18, 2015

The Time I Invited My Dad to Come Live With Me

When I was in my early twenties, my dad suffered a wound that got infected.  As a paraplegic man, he pulled himself from bed to his wheelchair and back again every day using just his upper body strength and a triangle-shaped "monkey bar" hanging over his bed.  He'd been doing this everyday for thirty years, but at some point, something must've caught on his skin below where he had feeling, and a wound formed.  It got so severely infected that he had to be hospitalized.  He needed intravenous antibiotics and multiple surgeries to repair what had become a gaping wound on his rear end.  Because of the location of the wound and the fact that he normally sits in a wheelchair all day, my dad was hospitalized and bedbound.  For years. 

It was during that time that my mother went further off the deep end than ever before and I helped my dad to divorce her from his hospital bed.  That was when I helped save their house from foreclosure too, though the money was all his.  He was living in a VA hospital across the state from his home because that was where the closest Spinal Cord Injury unit was located, and he needed their specialized care.  He got a weekend pass from the hospital to attend my wedding shortly after his own divorce, but it was hard to achieve.  He said they had been threatening him that, if he left for my wedding, he couldn't come back. 

A few months after I got married, my dad received a diagnosis that the wound was not improving and no further surgeries would help.  He had had problems with wounds for decades, and his more recent type 2 diabetes seemed to worsen his healing abilities.  He had been discharged from the hospital a couples times over the years post-surgery and rehabilitation, only to have the wound break down and get infected again, usually within a couple of months.  The doctors were at a loss for what else to try and told him that he should just stay in bed for the rest of his life.  He was in his fifties at the time.

I talked to my dad on the phone a lot back then.  He had internet access, but I was the one who managed things remotely.  I hired his divorce attorney, I managed his finances, I talked to his debt collectors, and I looked into options for living bedbound the rest of his life.  Because of his disabled veteran status, he could continue living in the nursing home where the hospital had sent him for the price of a pay cut from his monthly disability payments.  He could also choose to move back home, a nurse would visit him for wound care daily on the VA's dime, and he could hire an aide to cook him meals and whatnot.  This second option was well within his financial capabilities too.  I investigated options for living somewhere that was less like a nursing home while still being able to provide him with full-time care.  No such places seem to exist.

Ultimately my dad told me he would move back home, do nothing, and let himself die of the ensuing infection.  I begged him to give me time to buy a house so he could live with me.  I was living in a small apartment with my new husband halfway across the country and working full-time, but I begged him to wait, to stay in the nursing home and hang on for 18 months until I could make arrangements.  He agreed.

In the next nine months, my husband and I moved halfway across the country to an area where my husband and I could both potentially find work in our respective industries, an area with one of the best VA hospitals in the country as well as a Spinal Cord Injury unit.  It was also an area where we could afford an appropriate house, unlike where we'd been living when we got married.  We started telecommuting to our jobs full-time and bought a nice house with a ground floor bedroom and bathroom for my dad, a garage large enough for our car as well as my dad's van, and lots of sunlight.  I told my dad the house was ready.  He could go to his medical appointments and, if he needed another surgery, he could do it all from here.  Then when he checked out, he could convalesce at home with us instead of in a nursing home.  I could make him good food like I make for myself so he wouldn't have to deal with the nursing home food he always complained about or his constant battle with them to give him decent diabetes-appropriate meals.  He could even have his satellite TV if he wanted to pay for that himself (we only had cable).   

He decided he didn't want to move in with me.  He said he wanted to try another surgery so he could move back home and live alone again.  He didn't want to stay with me while he did those things and move back home later.  He didn't want to change things.  I realize in retrospect that he was probably never going to move in with me.  I grew up hearing idle suicide threats, though not usually from him, and I had spent the last few years hearing my dad talk about how afraid he was of dying (he has a slow-progressing cancer in addition to the wound), in spite of how much he'd always complained about being alive.  I had wanted to do whatever I possibly could to make his life livable. 

I envisioned a beautiful life for us in my sunny house with lots of windows.  It was so unlike the house where I grew up, which was dark and dank and moldy, where my dad complained about the lack of sunlight or fresh air or ceiling fans.  My new house had all those things my childhood home lacked, and I had dreamed up all the ways to make a bedbound life nicer, like giving him a Wii (which was new at the time) so he could play games and sports from bed if he wanted.  If he recovered enough from being bedbound, he could easily access the kitchen and living room and large deck from his wheelchair.  Our neighborhood also had a wheelchair-accessible gym since he'd discovered in a previous round of physical therapy that he rather liked getting exercise.  I knew it wouldn't be fun to live from a bed, or even from a wheelchair, but I thought it would be nicer in my house than in a nursing home.  We could even celebrate holidays together, which we hadn't done in years except when he'd had surgeries scheduled around the same time and I'd traveled to be with him for both.

I can think of a few reasons my dad might not want to live with me.  First, I know he liked living alone, and he hadn't gotten to do it for very long.  I wasn't competing with living alone though; I was competing with the nursing home.  Second, he might think I'd be like my mother.  He barely knows me anyway.  Third, it might be easier to continue doing what he hates and complaining about it to me than taking the chance on making a change.  If he moved in with me and hated it, he'd have to move again.  He hadn't moved in thirty years.  And in retrospect, I realize he probably would have hated it.  I've never seen him not hate his life except for a few days here and there when he was living at home alone. 

In hindsight, I'm relieved he didn't move in with me.  I was clinging to the possibility of having a functional parent in my life.  My mother had threatened suicide so many times that I couldn't bear the thought of my dad effectively doing the same thing by letting himself die of infection, but I could see him doing it.  It was the kind of thing he might do, dying by inaction.  I thought I could help, the way I used to think I could help my mother.

When my dad first went into the hospital, he'd started behaving like a different, more optimistic person than the dad I'd known all my life.  He laughed more, and he made plans.  Being free of my mother was such a good influence on him, much like my moving out had seemed to lift a grey veil from over my face.  I thought my mother had been the source of all his anger and unhappiness.  Now I know they had both made each others' lives worse, but the longer he was away from her, the more he went back to being the dad I'd always known.  I don't think he was physically violent anymore, which made him less scary, but he still lacked empathy.  He was still a pessimist and a chronic complainer.  He was still someone with whom I wouldn't want to live.

If he were to change his mind and ask to live with me now, I would say no.  I can't imagine that question would come up though, under any circumstances.  Last I heard, he was living at home with Dante and Dante's ex-girlfriend's son, he seemed relatively happy, and I hope he never has to live in the hospital again.  As it stands, he has been out of the hospital for months now, longer now than at any other time in the last decade.  Fingers crossed.

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