Thursday, September 15, 2011
Suspenders and a Hospital Gown...
Having an elderly parent move in with you is not like getting a roommate. It’s like adopting a teenager with habits that reach back to the 1950s, y’all. He doesn’t want to eat anything that even vaguely mentions a lack of sugar or fat. I swear if he found a can of cake frosted lard he’d buy it. Dont' get me wrong. I’m not saying that wouldn’t be good, but there’s no reason to kill oneself in one weekend. Now, he did ask me to put him on a diet. I explained that losing weight is not a matter of dieting; it’s a lifestyle change. He seemed nervous with that choice of phrase. I’ve been able to show him, in just a few days, how to do portion control and stop eating once you are no longer hungry, not waiting until you feel full. I forgot how many of those rules I let slide because just monitoring my intake since last Tuesday, I’ve lost 2 pounds. Once he gets under 300, we can weigh him and see how much he’s lost. It’s not that I’m being rude; my scale only goes up to 300 pounds.
And his requests for meals have been oddly specific with the expectation that they will all be filled post haste or even sooner. Meatloaf and lima beans. Which I found at a German place. Catfish, hushpuppies and banana pudding. Which I found across the street from my neighborhood no less). It’s a good thing that I am the king of the culinary treasure hunt. He has requested hamburger steak and even though I found a place that has smothered steak with rice, he said it’s not the same because he wants potatoes not rice. Considering he’s living on the West Coast and not Alabama, you’d think he’d settle for a reasonable facsimile but you’d be wrong. I mean I’ve had to adjust to the fact that there is no cheese dip in California outside of a jar at the Safeway and other than a couple of hissy fits and some pouting, I’ve been fine.
Speaking of bad diets, we went to the emergency room last night. It wasn't specifically related to his weight but the litany of woe that makes up his physical state. It was an interesting cap to an interesting day. He asked is I would drive him to the doctor. He said he was afraid he’d get lost on his way to the VA where I work and his appointment would be. Fear from a man who just drove from Alabama to California in three and a half days with no map. A man who voluntarily jumped out of airplanes in the Army. Who owned a hot pink welding truck. Who got a perm on a dare when I was four. Who went deer hunting armed with toenail clippers and self-confidence. Who brazenly mixes stripes and plaids. I'm kidding (but only about the deer hunting) but you see how his request threw me for a loop.
However, the request to drive him was one I had no problem granting. I mean, his doctor’s office was in the same building as my department so my time away from work would be minimal. I asked if he wanted to go with me in the morning (his appointment was at 1:30) and spend the day at the VA acclimating himself to the area and enjoying the farmer’s market we have every Wednesday. Once I explained that the cafeteria offered both biscuits AND gravy, no more convincing was needed.
So, I drove his pickup which smelled strongly of feet, dog food and contraband cheetos because he needed to use his power wheelchair and my car is not equipped for that. Clad in my three-piece suit, I drove a pickup for the first time since I was forced to learn to drive a standard on the column feed truck when I was abandoned in a field by my feed store co-workers the summer after my senior year in high school. I was country when country wasn’t cool. Has country every really been cool?
We got to the VA, headed to the cafeteria and met with our first roadblock of the day. No biscuits for the gravy. He was half-heartedly offered an English muffin with gravy but even the cafeteria lady who suggested it seemed to know it was an odd suggestion and our encounter became awkward until I blamed “California hippies” and we all laughed and he ordered a quasi-Denver omelette with sausage instead of ham. I left him happily munching and reading his book about the FBI’s plot to bring down Al Capone; your typical light breakfast reading. We then went to the Farmer’s Market and my visited offices where he met my staff and bonded with my assistant, Marie, over their shared demotions in the military due to violence toward and/or disrespect of officers. Guess I better learn to keep my sarcastic comments to myself lest I feel the wrath that apparently is resting right under the surface of the two people who know the details of my schedule and floor plan of my home.
After lunch, he went to the doctor and after about an hour, they called me and said they are taking him to the emergency room due to labored breathing and I rush to meet them there. He’s sitting in his wheelchair, slightly stooped due to a bad back and somewhat irritated due to Irish heritage.
We sit there while they perform a battery of tests and take a rather large sampling of fluids. They force him to take off his shirt and put on a hospital gown but he insists on wearing his suspenders over the gown. When they protest I explain, it’s either that or the full moon, as it were. Those wide pieces of forest green elastic are the only thing between a reasonably amicable but oddly dressed patient and a naked and irritated redneck. I told them if it was all the same to them, I’d prefer the keep at least a layer of denim between his flatulence and my immediate air space. And seeing as how the face masks weren’t distributed based on who was best dressed and/or physically closest to the patient, I needed some assistance, do you hear me. I mean, my hair was starting to involuntarily perm.
However, the oddest moment came when they wanted to perform a blood gas test and he winced at the needle. This from a diabetic who self-injects insulin four times a day. He likened the pain to being shot in the butt, which he consequently admitted had happened to him on more than one vaguely felonious occasion before my mother agreed to marry and remove him from the mean streets of Epps, LA, population 215, if you count cows, dogs and slow-moving squirrels.
With his admission, the “real pretty Indian doctor lady” asked if I were his attorney. I was confused until I looked down and realized I was still in my three piece suit with matching socks, tie and pocket square and he was outfitted in what I've come to describe as "slighlty medicated, topless Hee Haw extra". I laughed and said, “No, I’m his son. Thank goodness I didn’t inherit the ‘hood’ gene." I mean, the only 'shot' I've ever been is through the heart by someone who gave love a bad name. (every story needs a Bon Jovi reference, right?) He laughed and said, “Yeah, his Mama is what made him turn out so good. You know he’s run a department here? He’s real smart.”
It was in that very second that I realized that while he is very vocal about his pride in my accomplishments, I don’t think I have ever reciprocated. I thought about how he came from nothing and worked his fingers to the bone, literally up to the point where he hurt his back off-shore just to make sure his family had what they needed. I thought about how he scrimped and saved to buy me a new car in college and how hurt he must’ve been when it was repossessed after his accident and his workman’s comp check was much less than his normal pay. All I could think about at the time was how mad and embarrassed I was; I didn't stop to think how it affected him. He has his faults to be sure but for someone who got his GED in the Army, it was never a question of if I were going to college, it was when and where. It was practically pre-determined that I would be successful. He never wanted me to follow in his footsteps; he wanted the best for me. He told me he knew I was going to "besomebody" when I was in elementary school. All I remember is never wanting to be him.
And I felt ashamed for ever thinking that being him wouldn’t have been good enough; for always making sure everyone knew how different we were, when in actuality we aren’t so different. We’re very similar, at least on the inside. We both want to make people laugh and to take care of those we love and we’d give our last dime to help somebody. I’m not sure why I never saw that.
Wearing Calvin Klein suits and having a color-coordinated life doesn’t make me better than anyone.And although I’d like to think if God were to choose a "look" it'd be from the 2011 Brooks Brothers Black Fleece collection, I have a sneaking (Baptist) suspicion he might be wearing a John Deere hat or, at the very least, jeans. Maybe I’ll start borrowing my Daddy’s boots every once in a while. You know, just in case.