The Bullheaded Tiger With The Indelible Stripes

There comes a time for most of us when the roles of parent and child are switched, and the children start caring for and watching after their parents. As I am an only child, I knew that this would happen to me–that eventually I’d be the person responsible for my father’s health and welfare. I just didn’t think it would be so soon, and–though I knew it would be hard–I didn’t expect that I’d have to sit by and watch while he made decisions that could put him in serious danger.

My father has end-stage liver disease, and is currently awaiting a transplant. He has been in and out of the hospital since March, and each time has been a terrible scare, because my father’s personal habits are negligent at best, and terribly dangerous at worst–he has had open wounds that have been in danger of becoming infected, and it seems that nothing short of a miracle has prevented an infection.

This past week, he was hospitalized and had surgery to repair the destroyed skin on his abdomen from where a buildup of abdominal fluid paired with an abdominal hernia caused the skin in his belly to rupture multiple times. This has been a gory and messy process, and painful. The surgery was successful, and he recovered from it well, and after a week of sitting prone in a hospital bed, the doctors were ready to release him to a rehabilitation facility today, where he’d have medicine monitoring, constant nursing, food provided, and most importantly physical therapy to help him regain the strength in his legs after having spent a week in bed. Surprisingly, my father agreed initially that a “nursing home” was where he needed to go–he felt that he’d be best cared for by professionals who could be completely vigilant and he’d be much safer than he would be at home, alone.

However, my father is a classic-case Type-A control freak, incapable of accepting the fact that anyone other than him is able to do anything correctly. He left his house last week expecting to go in for a daytime doctor’s visit and was gone for a week. During that week, he fretted constantly about his bills, his cat, the fact that his shop was unlocked, and numerous other minutiae. After he’d agreed to go to the rehab facility, he got it in his head that it was absolutely imperative that he go home for one night to “put things in order.” The things he needed to put in order, from what he told me, were all things that could be handled easily by other people, but every time his not going home was mentioned, he got upset and distraught, and insisted, “You don’t understand, I NEED to put my things in order!”

My father’s medical care is covered by MassHealth, and the rehab facility would have been as well, but if he were to go home for one day, the insurance would not cover his stay at the rehab–they will only cover it if a patient goes directly there from the hospital. He had worked up a plan in his head and become so attached to the idea that it was essential for him to go home, that when the social worker informed him his insurance would not cover the rehab if he went home, he decided to forgo the rehab, not the completely unnecessary visit home. The hospital, having no more reason to hold him there, had no choice but to release him, and I, after numerous appeals that he reconsider, had no choice but to accept his foolish and dangerous decision. When he noticed that I was not happy with his decision, he pleaded with me, “Why can’t you just be happy for me that I’m going home?”

The doctors and social workers are convinced that he’ll be back in the hospital within the week–which would not have been a danger had he gone to the rehab as planned. I will not be able to see him because he lives in the middle of goddamn nowhere, and therefore will not be able to ensure that he’s following the doctor’s orders and, most importantly, maintaining decent hygiene (which I absolutely KNOW he will not do). I suppose I can only hope that the visiting nurses will stress the importance of this to him, but then again, he’s notorious for not listening to anyone’s voice but his own.

I am at a loss. I’m responsible for the life and wellbeing of someone who’s still technically of sound mind, and therefore can legally make asshole decisions that could jeopardize his life. As his friend says, “You can’t wipe the stripes off of the tiger.” But I don’t want to see the tiger die from something that could have so easily been prevented. And I don’t want to go through another week like this one, where he’s cooped up in the hospital, connected to a zillion wires, miserable, and taking it all out on me. Rehab would have been a step forward–this is a giant leap backward. He says he’s fully committed to his recovery, and yet he’s consciously made a decision that puts that recovery in tremendous jeopardy.

I have nothing left in my arsenal. I’ve used everything I had, and I’ve got nothing.

I haven’t exhaled in weeks.

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~ by saltgirlspeaks on 24 August, 2007.

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