My sister spent this morning listening to her friend’s father in his hospital room. His angioplasty last week went well, but the heart monitor has shown that he has some events and an implantable device would be good for him, one that watches and controls ventricular fibrillation and such. The plan was to do the procedure yesterday, but there were questions about his Coumadin levels, so it got postponed to after the long holiday weekend.
Three hours in a hospital room with a guy in his mid-eighties was easy for my sister. She chatted easily, sharing stories.
He enjoyed having his breakfast oatmeal enhanced with cappuccino ice cream she brought from a chain of shops that they first enjoyed summers at Lake George. My sister gave him a hospital foodhack he thought he would try the next day; mix the yogourt with the oatmeal.
That’s a hack I developed to help my father get more enjoyment out of the dysphagia diet they put him on to address what they thought was aspiration pneumonia. My job was the same as always; figure out strategies and then teach them to the rest of the family.
These past few weeks, my sister and I have been passing those lessons on to her college roommate. The importance of staying in the moment, of building allies by seeing yourself as one member of a care team committed to best possible outcomes, of focusing on the possible rather than the ideal have all been communicated in texts and phone calls.
Her friend asked me about how I did something that my sister valued, doing voice recordings with my parents to capture their stories, to hold onto the gifts that they brought to us. I pointed to apps — one of my jobs had been to help her friend choose a good phone and service provider — and suggested techniques.
Today, in the hospital room, my sister followed up, consolidating her friend’s fathers values and priorities so she could make sure that they were passed on.
This weekend is tough. It was exactly two years ago when my father came out of hospital walking, went into rehab and came out paraplegic. In fact, I had to cede right-of-way to a van from that facility just yesterday in the parking lot of the Walmart. The last time I slept anywhere but this basement was when I spent the night with him in the emergency room, waiting for surgery the next day.
I am proud of the way I gave my parents one more good day. So much of that, my sister realizes and has tried to offer to her friend, was about finding effective strategies, approaches and attitudes, then modelling them in a way that passed on the skills.
For me, every day of caretaking, even up to the last, is about learning and growth, finding the new that values the essential and lets go of the dross. What connects us as humans is the profoundly personal, those one-of-a-kind stories that resonate with shared humanity and love. On days when we find new ways to value those stories, new facets of them that bring them into clearer focus, we find something good.
It is good to see the hard lessons I learned go to benefit another person and her aging father. In virtually all of my struggles in the world I haven’t had anyone to stand with me, haven’t had someone to call on to help me develop strategies. I have had to do the work alone, breaking new ground, synthesizing what I could find and doing so much trial and error that I usually felt broken.
My sister’s friend and her father have another day together, another procedure to get through, more struggle. But they also have time for more joy and more connection and more stories and more love, if they can keep finding strategies that make every day a little better.
To me, that’s worth helping with.