Family: Let me help you!


After the frightful he-won't-survive-the-journey-home-by-ambulance forecast by the hospice director, coupled with the doctor's anybody's-guess-is-as-good-as-mine" prognosis for Dad, we arrived at Catherine and Ralph's to help. The problem was, as always, not the help, but the concentration of it. We are nine adult children who lost track in the 1980s of our growth, but anywhere from nine to thirteen people that included spouses assembled, some toting an inflatable mattress, pillows, blankets, luggage -- oh, and iPads and cell phones to hang out of every electrical socket in the house. Bedtime looked like a war scene from Gone with the Wind. If only we had chloroform to knock ourselves and each other out as needed. 

Gee, isn't this wonderful? I thought. Commune living at its best. We are not dysfunctional, but a loving, unified family! Without a grumpy old nurse from a 1930s movie with the moxie to throw us out, two to six of us hung over Dad, as one person loaded the dishwasher, another wrapped food, another cooked the next meal, while others food shopped.

No task was too difficult for me.

I confess that in the commotion of helpfulness, nobody noticed that I had not changed anything that involved contact with C Diff. Hey, I had other gifts.

(Shut up!)

Because I, like most in my family, have an off-the-wall sense of humor, I imagined how our "help" appeared from Dad's perspective. For instance, eight blue latex-gloved hands that moved in with eagerness to adjust his pillow at once. In the past, he would have said: "Don't you all need to go home and make dinner for your families?" Now he was at the mercy of us at the love helm, and the focus was his comfort (and staying awake through our continued intravenous coffee intake.) The love was going to flow full throttle even if it killed us all.

Day Three of No Sleep (following several nights of scant)

Dad was lucid much of the time, except for the Morphine overdose administered at the hospital and, okay, sundown. Catherine said that I played the star role in each hallucination, scaling mountains, horseback riding in an upstate field and wandering the Iranian Desert. (Dad thereafter refused Morphine in any form.)

At home and even in the hospital, he did not identify suffering except for his forehead and at times the lower back, which were both problems beforehand. A main issue of concern we saw was that he was restless and did not sleep.

We spoke to the visiting hospice (a/k/a comfort care) nurse about Dad's sleeplessness, our concern that he suffered, his reaction to Morphine that included the accidental overdose. She told us about another pain reliever, a patch that was stronger than Morphine, but time released and non-hallucinogenic. She spoke to Dad's doctor and the patch was delivered and then we held onto it, fearing an ill reaction to it.

Another concern was that, at times, words were unclear. A large family necessitates multiple interpretations. Here is an example to capture the problem that occurs when one clings to each word, longing to feed the connection beast:


     "Dad, did you say ham sandwich? I think he said he wants a ham sandwich."

     "No, he didn't; he said bleach."

     "Why would he say bleach? That doesn't make any sense."

     "Neither does ham sandwich."

Eyes rolled and tongues clicked. When Chris, the day nurse arrived, she'd lightened the mood.

     "Hi, handsome, how are you today?"

Wow, now he's only looking at her. What am I chopped liver?

Ewe, what was that evil thought? Am I jealous of the nurse? She's a wonderful person. She's so good for him!


     "Yes, I am here."

     "Wait a second,  what did you hear him say?"

     "He said 'Hi Chris'." 

Whoa, I need to detach a while!

In order to feel useful, I busied myself, shined all kitchen surfaces, added a fresh tablecloth, lowered the lights and lit a candle on the granitetop of the island.

Ahh, visual peacefulness.

I then peeked into Dad's room and saw Catherine and Mary as they gowned up in the dimmed room and prepared to change Dad's bedding.  

They're good daughters, so gutsy and competent.

Dagnammit, I hate me! Oh gawd, how can I help? I can at least aid them as they change the bedding. I know, I will hand Mary the wipes!

I slipped behind her as she and Catherine worked in perfect synchronicity, and I grabbed a wipe from the package as Mary drew the diaper-like padding out.

    "Here's a wipe for y--"

She swung the padding back and it hit me right in the face.


Every muscle in my cheeks contracted as I worked up the biggest louie of my life.


     "Oh, my God!" Mary said. "Did I hit you?"

     "Only in the mouth," I said, pumping the automatic Dial soap dispenser into my hand and pouring it into my mouth. I worked it and spit. "I don't know... do I just suck on a Chlorox wipe?"

     "There's Listerine in my bathroom vanity," Catherine said.

Theresa was in the upstairs bathroom.

     "What are you looking for?" she asked.

     "C Diff killer mouth wash?"

When my three sisters and I convened at the kitchen table, it was quiet. Then we laughed until our sides hurt.

I pretended not to close my mouth or swallow as I spoke.

     "It o-hay. I keep mouth open for forty-eight hours."

Tears rolled as we giggled, but Mary appeared worried.

     "I wish it happened to me and not to you," she said.

     "We can make arrangements. No, seriously," I said, "I am healed. Before that, I was worried about touching surfaces with my hands. I am so over that. Who cares about hand contact?" I pointed. "I think it just got the tip of my tongue, right here."

My brother was nestled on the Tempurpedic mattress in front of the fireplace -- the ideal sleep surface if one could sleep without lights that blared and his silly ass sisters' unstoppable laughter.

Because of the close proximity to coffeemakers and sound, we were each awake the rest of the night, concerned about Dad who could not settle or sleep. We phoned the hospice nurse and discussed his condition, our concern about the pain patch. By the end of the phone call, the nurse rethought her own career choice.

     "She said that after ten years of working as a hospice nurse, she was doubting herself," I said.

     "Well, she is one of us now," Catherine said, "questioning herself, weighing choices, her career."

Hmmm, as a court reporter who went retail... I see your point.

In the early morning hours, we'd gathered and discussed the pros and cons. The new understanding that in geriatrics, pain is expressed in a different way, not through words, but through behavior. Without the hallucinatory Morphine aspect, it was a go, and in the case of an adverse reaction, twelve grubby, latex-ridden hands would pull it off. Within the next couple of hours, he began a peaceful and continuous sleep, yet not too deep.

 Rerouting Help

That Monday morning, Columbus Day, we each prepared to sail, as though somebody changed our microchips overnight and we knew now that our mission was suspended, that it was time to split before we killed each other with love. We group hugged and cried, racoon-eyed. With no discussion of returning, (and an ear cocked for somebody to beg,) like Oscar Madison, we loaded our cars and departed. Dad was resting and peaceful, so perhaps the mission was accomplished, such a high note to separate -- only now we were nomads, wandering towards diners and rest stops afraid to go too far, wondering when or if we'd be summoned back, as we had before.

We missed Dad and each other. For now, commune help was on hold as we thought of Dad and sought peace and rest each in our own way.

(We met Mary and Anthony at the Goshen Diner and ate second breakfast.)