Uncertainty in Life, Part 2 – Taking Care of Pops
April 28, 2010
One reader, my only reader ;), asked why I have to move away and quit taking care of my Dad. The answer is rather complicated. As most things are.
I moved back home 5 years ago to take care of him. I lived in his house and cared for him full time for the better part of a year. At that time he had just spent 3 weeks in the ICU on a respirator hovering near death and then went to a rehab clinic for 2 months to get his strength back and learn to walk again. He REALLY needed me. And I was recently divorced AND laid off my job. So what else did I have to do? I thought I would be taking care of him for a year or two and then he would either be better or the cancer would come back and he would die (recurrence and mortality rates are very high with lung cancer – I hope I don’t sound flippant but that’s the reality). And sure enough, a little less than 2 years later it DID come back – while I was in grad school. And I took care of him of again. I took him to chemo every week. I made sure he ate lots of protein and red meat to keep his red cell count up. He still ended up getting about 3 blood transfusions. I took him and sat with him for those appointments as well. And he BEAT IT. AGAIN.
As happy as I was to still have my father around, during the 2nd round I wondered how much more I could take. I didn’t want him to die but it’s exhausting to go through each bout of cancer/chemo and it’s exhausting to live in expectation of the next bout. I ran myself ragged taking care of him while I was working half time and going to grad school full time. My own health suffered. The cancer has since stayed away. But, instead of cancer, last year he battled pneumonia. Pneumonia with malnutrition and altered mental status. He wasn’t feeding himself properly- likely due to depression. Once I figured out what was wrong (we first thought he had some sort of rapid onset dementia) and got him admitted to the hospital I thought I could rest. No. They wouldn’t let me leave him in the hospital. They had no one to watch him and he was a danger to himself due to his altered mental state (he kept trying to get up and walk out but he was too weak to walk). He lost all control of bodily functions. At least in the hospital I could get someone else to clean that up (I had been doing it for a week or two before that).
Honestly, he wasn’t expected to live this long. His oncologist calls him a 1%er. He’s beaten so many odds. But, contrary to popular belief, he is not a fighter. His biggest enemy right now is himself. It’s just SO frustrating to try to help someone who refuses to help you help him. He wants me to handle everything in his life. He’s in a wheelchair so certain things are difficult if not impossible for him. But reading mail, paying bills, feeding himself, scheduling his doctor appointments and taking his medications are all things that he COULD do on his own. But mostly he doesn’t. If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. I make all his decisions for him – he no longer wants to think about anything. He’s battled depression his whole life, and now that cancer and chemo have landed him a wheelchair it seems he has simply given up living. I no longer have any idea how to help him.
I’m glad he’s still alive, of course. I cherish all the moments I get with him when he’s in a decent mood and I can recognize the glimmer of his former self. And I’m glad I’ve been able to care for him. But he is an adult. And although, the cranial radiation has affected his memory, and although the pneumonia temporarily affected his brain, he is still now mentally competent to live his own life and make his own decisions. I really shouldn’t have to. It has taken a toll on me. The man who used to tell me “Just put me in a home when I’m old and go live your life” now gets upset when I leave him. It’s almost like having a toddler sometimes. At this point I’m exhausted. I can’t take care of him and myself. I don’t have enough energy left in me to battle my own diagnosis and keep taking care of him. So the impending move is, in some ways, a blessing. And perhaps, it will be the kick in the face he needs to rouse himself out of the depression. Yes, he’s on meds for the depression and they DO help – the doc upped the dosage after the pneumonia. That combined with the fact that I now make food and leave it wrapped in the fridge have kept him healthy for the last year. But if I don’t make food for him he will eat potatoes with butter and salt and microwave popcorn. And NOTHING else.
I probably sound like the World’s Worst Daughter. But years of doing this and the stress of my own situation have just made me feel old and tired. People keep telling me I’m too young to have to take care of my father. I’m too young to be in (almost) menopause. Maybe they’re right. But it doesn’t change the situation.
The move is due to Right Guy’s career. He could stay here but it wouldn’t help him achieve his career goals. He will have much better career opportunities elsewhere. I know he agonized over that decision in part because of my father. But ultimately it’s not even his choice – a computer algorithm will match him to his next job based on his rankings and the rankings of his potential employers. My job I can do from anywhere. And in all the possible locations there are other family members.
I will feel horribly guilty for leaving no matter what. Part of me wants to stay. But another part of me feels like, if I stay, I will just end up an old maid, childless, taking care of her aging parents (yes my mother also has issues and I fear I’ll end up taking care of her as well) and talking to her cats. I don’t want that for myself. And I can’t be wonder woman and take care of everyone. Please don’t think that I arrived at this decision quickly or that I take it lightly. I will likely beat myself up about it for years after I move. But think it’s what I have to do. Even though I’m also terrified of moving for a guy. Again. 😛