Impotent. Is that the right word?
Words that describe how I feel when I have to communicate with my father include rage, terrifying rage, murderous rage. Words that describe how I feel the morning after …? Frustration, exhaustion and, yes, impotence.
How do you reason with a madman?
What is agreed-upon today is discarded tomorrow.
My mom needs frail care. She needs to be shifted from the care facility that she’s in because it’s a physio/rehab facility and put in a frail care facility. One should think that the major obstacle would be to find a place that can admit her within the next few days. And, yes, it is a major obstacle. All the places are full and have a waiting list of six months to a year. Many of them have their own residents on the frail care waiting list.
So we move to the next option, which is home care. This is not ideal but she has to go somewhere, and no care facility is available. Home care could be an intermediate option.
I don’t think anyone fully comprehends the logistics of taking care of someone who is bedridden.
‘We’ll get a wheelchair,’ says my dad, not for one moment comprehending that getting her from the bed to the wheelchair is a titanic task. Just getting her to sit up in her bed takes huge effort – and this is a bed that can be winched upright. If she ends up leaning over to one side, she can’t straighten herself. She is a dead weight. She doesn’t bend her knees or push with her feet to reposition herself. Her right arm doesn’t function well and so it’s useless as a prop to stabilize herself or to push herself up. And she moans nonstop.
As part of her daily care she has to sit upright on the edge of the bed. We watched the physio do this yesterday. Well, not just the physio; the physio and a nurse, because it takes two people to get her upright and standing on her two feet. She’s tired, she says. She’s dizzy, she says. Can’t she just lie down, she says. So, so tired. So dizzy. And hot. Terribly hot. But all the muttering and moaning is just background noise to the physical effort it takes two people to help her perform a simple task.
And still, at the end of it, my dad says he can take care of her on his own. At 86, and barely able to pass her a glass of water when he is sitting next to her, or to reposition a pillow or help her to sit up, he wants me to take her home and leave her with him. I don’t even know how I am supposed to get her out of the car and into a wheelchair. I can’t begin to visualize the mechanics of it.
The day before all this I sat down with him and explained what needed to be done. All that money that he had squirrelled away all his life was so that he could use it now. He was saving for their old age, and their old age has now arrived. He needs to access those funds to pay for a 24-hour nurse. I patiently sat through all the arguments and stories – shaking on the inside, knowing the inevitable.
We worked through ‘I don’t have the money’.
We worked through ‘I have no family left. No mother, no father, no brothers no cousins, aunts, uncles. There is just me. We were a big family. Now there is no one. I am alone.’
Clearly I, who have been at their beck and call every time they’ve needed any kind of assistance, don’t quite count as anyone. I let it wash. It’s not important.
We worked through ‘All my life I was told I’m stingy. All my life she wanted me to spend money on her, on things she didn’t need. And now she’s getting the money after all. I’m not stingy. But if something costs a penny less at that store than at this store, then I’m buying it at that store, because that penny is better in my pocket. No one suffered. Everyone had what they needed.’
That’s debatable. Did everyone get what they needed? Or what he thought they needed? I let it go. It’s history. It’s not important. We need a plan for the present.
I listen too each meander and then bring us back to the point of the conversation: ‘But what about mom?’
His response each time: ‘Huh?’
Mine each time: ‘Mom. What about mom? She needs a nurse. You can’t do it on your own. She’s in a nappy. She has a catheter. She can’t move. You need a live-in nurse.’
‘I can’t afford it.’
And that would be a very valid argument if it were true. But he does have the money. He certainly has the money for the next three months or even six months while we figure out what to do next. She might get better in the next six months. She might die. We might find a frail care facility. He might die. He could have an accident in the garden, or out on the road while driving. He could get sick. They could both be gone in the next three months. Who knows? What we do know is that she needs care now and he has the money now.
It took a long time but we got there. I went ahead. Got the forms. Brought them along the next day … knowing full well what would have happened overnight.
I lay awake worrying about what would happen. And it had happened. He had been stewing. The rusty cogs in his crazy mind had rattled into motion, had started turning … No, no, he thought. No. These professionals. They don’t know anything. They’re crooks. They just take your money. No medical aid fund goes bankrupt, he tells himself. No doctor goes bankrupt. They just take your money and give nothing back. She’s been in two hospitals and she’s still not well. They just want more money. I’m not getting a nurse in here. I don’t know her. She doesn’t know my wife. She doesn’t know about her broken arm. She doesn’t know her like I do. I’ll take care of her.
‘What is your plan?’ I ask. ‘How will you take care of her?’
‘Plan? What plan?’ he asks, shoving his chin out at me, looking at me as if I’m the crazy one. ‘I’ll see what needs to be done and then I’ll do it.’ He waves the back of his hand towards me, dismissing me and my stupid questions.
‘How are you going to clean her? What about the catheter? You can’t put a catheter in, you’re not a nurse or a doctor. How are you going to move her?’
‘We’ll get a wheelchair and I’ll carry her on my back if I need to.’ He hears only what he wants to hear.
Rage, rage, rage starts to well up in me. It’s electric. It vibrates through my body. Black tar, hot and thick, fills my belly, my chest, weighing me down. The molten tar surges into my arms and legs. It carries with it an electric current.
Impotent. I am impotent and shaking.
You cannot reason with a madman.
I leave the room. Go to the hospital reception and ask someone to help me. They tell me it’s a social issue. I need to speak to the social worker. But I’m here now, the social worker is not, and I need someone to help me now. I need someone to help me convince my dad that he can’t take her home and take care of her himself. Please can you help me?
I want to cry. I’m not a crier. I’ve not shed tears through this nightmare. I’ve taken deep breaths and told myself I’m fine. It’s time to move to the next chore. Who needs to be fetched now? What do I need to do next? Who will walk the dogs tonight? What will I cook for supper? Maybe tonight I can run. But standing there, in front of these people who are telling me this problem is not their department, I want to cry. I don’t cry. I convince the physio to go to the room with me, to show my dad how to move her, and to ask him to show us how he will manage.
He does so. He is patient and gentle. He goes through the whole long process of getting her up. He asks my dad to try it. He refuses. He says he can do it. He doesn’t have to do it now.
A nurse comes in. They manage to get her standing. They get her to walk a few paces to the door. They have to keep moving a chair behind her in case she suddenly gives up and sits down. She gets to the door. She has walked maybe four steps. She has had enough. She needs to sit. She wants to go back to bed. She’s tired.
‘Dad, help her back to bed,’ I say.
‘Huh?’ he says.
‘Please help mom back into bed.’
‘If you’re going to take care of her at home, show us how you’re going to take care of her. Help her into the bed as you’re going to at home.’
‘Please help mom back into the bed.’
‘You need to help mom back into the bed.’
‘Because she needs to get back into the bed. She’s tired.’
‘He’s still on the job,’ he says, waving his hand at the physio.
‘No, I’m asking you to assist me, sir,’ says the physio, showing far more success than I am at keeping his voice even.
‘Please help mom back into bed,’ I venture again, struggling to keep the frustration and emotion out of it.
‘Listen,’ he says, starting to shuffle his feet, ‘I’m not saying … I’m not guaranteeing anything …’
I give up. He refuses to make any attempt at assisting the physio. For all his bravado, for all his bullying, somewhere in his stubborn, muleheaded mind he knows that he will be caught out. He knows we will see that he is a weak old man who can’t help his wife back into bed.
But he holds the power. He is her husband. He has the money and he has the signing power on the money. He has final say over what happens to her.
This morning it came to me. I had been awake and staring at the wall for ages, numbly trying to wrench ideas from my mind and pull it through my headache, and then, nauseatingly, it came to me: she’ll have to come here. And then reason kicked in. No, she can’t come here. Someone has to pay the nurse. He is holding onto the funds that will make her last few months easier. I don’t have the funds. And I’m not the one living in a house big enough to house my mom and a nurse. I can’t take her to a frail care facility, because he has final say, and he has the money. She can’t stay where she is. I can’t leave her on the roadside and I can’t leave her with him. In fact, on the roadside would probably be a better option.
Impotent. He leaves me powerless and impotent. Not because he holds any intellectual superiority. But because you cannot reason with a madman.