Parkinson’s is an insidious disease. My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1992 after a fall while traveling in France on one of his great trips through Elderhostel (now Road Scholar). I watched him deal with Parkinson’s with dignity until his death in 2005. Dad did well handling the physical decline the first few years. The medications kept the symptoms in check and he was still able to travel and play bridge – two of his big passions.
In October 2001 he fell in the middle of night and broke his femur at the ball joint and had to have a partial hip replacement. After that he was in a nursing home, I mean “convalescent hospital”, for about six weeks. During that time he thought he was a trip and wanted a souvenir! That was the beginning of the dementia associated with Parkinson’s.
A couple of months earlier, he rear-ended someone on the way home from playing bridge because he thought the light was green. Thankfully, he decided to stop driving! His car was totaled anyway and the payout on an ’85 Toyota Camry was almost nothing. He drove my ’92 Camry until I got home from North Dakota, where I’d been visiting my cousin for a couple of weeks. We then bought a 2001 Hyundai Santa Fe – I wanted a car that was up higher and would be easier for him to get into. Little did I know how soon that would be so important! The only mistake was that I didn’t get the leather seats, which are easier to slide on.
Dad made a good recovery once he was at home, but the dementia was a problem that continued. Often he would ask my why I invited people over and didn’t tell him or why people were smoking in the house. Hmmm, not me. I didn’t invite them, Dad, you must have! The smoking hallucinations were frequent. I often wondered if that was because he quit smoking on 1984 after being a 2 pack a day since he was in high school.
But Parkinson’s is a progressive disease and it was no different for Dad. My life became an adventure of doctor’s appointments, emergency room trips, more time in nursing homes and figuring out how to get him up after each fall. I don’t recommend being in the same room when your father is being examined by a urologist! TMI!
My cousin Nancy and I often are on the same life track. During this time she was caring for her mother after she had a series of strokes. Aunt Lucie passed away in November 2004 at the age of 90. Nancy and I spend many hours comparing notes and supporting each other through this journey. We both had middle of the night bedding to change, fractured pelvis’ and other fun times. My mother Dora (Lucie’s sister) and her father both passed away in 1984 within months of each.
Luckily I got Dad into respite care for a week and then used frequent flyer miles to go back to North Dakota for Lucie’s funeral. It was important to be there for me. My Kitty Witty was Lucie’s cat and I brought her home with me since Nancy wasn’t sure what to do with her. I knew deep inside that it probably would not be long before Dad passed away.
Over the next few months, Dad experienced a very steep decline. The falls grew more and more frequent, his ability to play bridge was almost non-existent and he became very frail. By the end of July he was staying awake most of the night, chatting away to himself. I was exhausted and was afraid I would have to put him into a nursing home in the near future! Every time he went into one, he would completely disassociate and not really know where or who he was!
I arranged for him to go into respite care for a week. A week in a nursing home, yuk! But, it was necessary for my sanity and to get some sleep. Before he went in, he reminded me that if anything happened, he didn’t want anything done. Nothing, nada, zip. He had also asked me (several times) to please shoot him and put him out of his misery. Yeah, Dad, if I did, I’d to go to jail. Sorry, I understand you’re ready to go home, but, please, not by my hand!
At the end of the week, he stood up in a locked wheelchair and it flipped back and he hit his head, hard. I got a call Saturday morning from Earlwood and had to head off to the emergency room, armed with his Health Care Directive. He seemed to understand that I was there when I arrived, I assured him I would make sure his wishes would be honored and then it was a matter of waiting, but he never regained consciousness. After two transfers by ambulance, he ended up in transitional care at Little Company of Mary for the next few days. He was given nothing, nada, zip, as he wished, and passed quietly Wednesday evening. He was 5 weeks shy of his 82nd birthday. It was what he wanted.
I am grateful that I was able to be of service and to help my father at the end of his life. He was a good man and a great father. I was very lucky.