The sign on the door at the Nursing Facility read "No entry whatsoever". I sigh, knowing this was the case and also knowing I had failed to bring the phone number I needed to call. I look for the phone number on one of the many pieces of paper on the outer windows - There it was, hidden away on a sheet between the "No Entry", "Beware of Covid", and "Our Staff Rocks".
I lucked out calling the nursing station - someone immediately picked up. I let them know I was there to see TB the Elder but did not know the room. He let me know the room number, that the numbers were on the room windows, and to just keep walking down the left side of the building. They would get him ready.
To be honest, I am a little nervous walking down there. I have not seen my father in over a week nor talked to him; I knew what he was like the last time we had talked - was it a lifetime ago or only nine days? - and was fearing something equal to or worse than I had left.
By the time I get to the window the young CNA was there, trying to open the window. He keeps struggling mightily, until I point out the window lock at the bottom. He nods his thanks, unscrews the lock, opens the window, and wheels my father forward.
Wheels. My father is in a wheelchair. That I know of, I have never seen him in a wheelchair.
Sitting in a wheelchair almost makes him appear more frail - or maybe it is that he is more frail, and I just refuse to accept it. He looks about the same as I remember him last Saturday - thinner than he has been in earlier years, his arms covered with age spots and scars and some scabs, his elbows encompassed by two white pads with the date on them for reasons I do not know. He has beard stubble of at least 10 days, but his hair is combed.
He is wearing different wristbands, like a seven year old girl that discovers how to make friendship bracelets. His medical admission with his information. A bright yellow one that seems to indicate he is prone to falls. On another bracelet - one I cannot read - it has a pink dot with "DNR" on it.
I know this is the way of it. It just shocks me to see it there, so blatant, a now constant reminder of the fragility of the future.
We start to talk. He seems to remember who I am, happily. Taking a lesson from advice given on this blog (thanks everyone!) I already have a list of things to talk about: That mom is doing well. A list of the well wishers that send him love and greetings (I mentioned everyone here as well - thank you again!). That the Ranch is fine, that my sister is fine and my brother in law is handling the money. That we have enough wood to burn. That I am sure glad to see him up and moving around and how important it is to follow the advice of the nursing staff to help him getting better.
He asks me if I want to come down to the end of the hall and meet him. No dad, I tell him, we cannot do that right now.
His conversation is on and off focus. At one point he thinks that my mother is dead (I quickly correct that). He asks about my family and how they are doing. He complains that the hospital is feeding him okay but is also trying to kill him with the amount they want him to eat (Note: This is probably the actual amount of food someone should eat, not what he has been eating). I nod benevolently, and say I suspect that is not really the case.
At one point he goes off into a ramble which I do not quite understand, something about replacing a "something" - a box, by the shape he is making, at the nursing facility. We keep talking about it and I finally understand he is talking about a propane tank - we replaced the one at his place in August (I was there, so this is the only way I can follow the thread). I still do not have the link between the two in my head.
He tells he was hoping to move back into The Cabin below the house, that that would be okay. I nod, not saying anything other reminding him that it was really important to do all the nurses and therapists asked to help him get better so that maybe that could happen. I say it half desiring it, but knowing in my heart it will never come.
He stands up as we continue to talk and moves to the edge of the bed. I worry as soon as I see this - I trying to convince him to sit back down but he says he is fine. After a few minutes of this, he tells me he has to go to the bathroom - "They will not let me go" he tells me, which surprises me (I think this is also not true, like the apparent food poisoning attempts). He starts towards the bathroom, stepping on some kind of floor mat on the ground - and stumbles. My heart is in my throat as I see him start to go down and I instantly question in my mind the structural strength of a window screen and how quickly I can get through. My calculations are not tested today: he rights himself and moves to the bathroom.
While he is busy about his business, I think it time to leave - the wind is blowing cold, and I want to make sure the window is closed before I go. I call one of the desk numbers and get a nurse, who by the tone of her voice seems concerned - bothered? - that the window is open. She says she will get someone down there.
My dad comes back. The door to the hallway has blown shut. We wait a bit, and he asks what I am doing. Just waiting for someone to come close the door, I tell him. We make conversation for a few more minutes. I call again. And again. And again. No answer. It has been 10 minutes since I first called.
He tells me it is okay to go.
I will not leave my post until the window is closed.
Finally, my dad tells me goodbye and that he hopes to see me again soon, grabs the two handles of the wheelchair, and starts to shuffle off to the door. He pulls it open, goes out into the hall, and starts to turn to go a direction. I have no idea where is off too.
He is grabbed by a CNA, who has brought him dinner. She gets him back into his wheelchair and brings him back into the room. I make sure she is shutting the window, thank her profusely, and turn to leave.
I was not ready for this visit.
I was ready to see my father. What I was not quite ready for was to see my father looking so relatively frail, so confused, so not himself. To see the man that all my life was a powerful embodiment of living in a wheelchair, shuffling and then stumbling; to hear a voice that now is wavering and somewhat always off kilter; to converse with him and to wander in and out of a past I cannot really see - this, I was not ready for.
But in my heart, I have to steel myself for this, just as I did for my mother. This is the way of things now. I can listen, I can empathize, I can nod and console and agree. But what I can never do - at least in my own heart - is somehow pretend that things are going back to the way they were. In a meaningful and real way, my father has gone somewhere where I can no longer find him. All I can do is cling to the parts that remain and hope that somehow, some of what we talk about makes its way to that inner core that I knew.