On the first leg, my seat mate was a well-dressed but fidgety young lady who appeared to be fighting with a significant other via text messaging – a battle she was obviously quite anxious about putting on hold between takeoff and landing. She curled in her seat, contorted herself against the window and basically looked uncomfortable for the hour and a half ride. At the end, she apologized for being such a fidget – to which I politely acknowledged that she hadn’t bothered me in the least (except for the way she kept turning her smart phone away so I couldn’t read any of the scintillating details).
The brief jump from Chicago to Omaha takes just over an hour, so the fact that the plane was jam-packed and that I had been seated in a 2-seat aisle with someone as tall and broad shouldered as me didn’t seem too big an ordeal to face.
My seat mate on this flight was obviously a local. St. Louis sports team ball cap, crew cut, dressed in Lee apparel from head to foot – Nordic complexion and features – and as bland as a third cup of tea from the same tea bag. Everything about him screamed “beige”.
As we approached Omaha, the extent of the Missouri River flooding became apparent. An entire interstate highway shut down – major sections under water. Bridges and sections of roadway gone. Fields and homes inundated.
My seat mate turned halfway to me and uttered his first words to the person he had literally been hip and shoulder to for the past hour.
“That’s a flood,” he said.
Only the word flood was pronounced more like ‘flUud’. Like the soft U had not only been verbalized, but dropped onto the kitchen floor like a 50 lb. sack of wet corn meal.
“Oh. Yes,” I said. “I left quite a bit of that home in New York. Where I am from… We had a hurricane, you know… Ooooh – lots of destruction…”
“How’m I gunna git home?” he asked to no one in particular.
“Swim?” I threw out there.
Just over two hours after landing, I pulled my rental car into the driveway of my parents’ home.
Mom – of course – had dinner waiting, even thought it was well past her normal dinner time.
We chatted a bit and I turned in early to go to bed and read – and to rest and prepare for the week ahead.
The next morning, Mom made breakfast and we spruced up and headed to the hospital to see Dad.
I had been prepared to see quite a bit of aging and deterioration with the old Pater, but was still kind of surprised to see how much he truly had aged - reminding me more of how my grandfather had looked in his later days.
Dad was his usual mess of drips and wires and bandaged spots and IV lines – this stuff seems to be increasingly more standard apparel each time I see him.
For someone four days after his first chemo treatment, having suffered swooping bouts of emotional roller-coastering, and facing his eldest progeny who – just 48 hours ago – had told him to get stuffed, he didn’t look too bad.
As the week went by, it became apparent that he was feeling better and improving. His physical therapy folks were happy with his progress and he became increasingly less gray hued as the week rolled along.
The real education for me during this visit was two-fold. There were lots of little bits I needed to respond to, fix or make go away (like finding out that everyone my parents know thinks I single-handedly created Watson, the Jeopardy playing computer – or that I live in a Jewish neighborhood based on the fact that there IS a temple down the street and Dad once got “Shalom’d” by a passing Rabbi) – but the major issues were quite eye opening.
The first discovery was that my job for the week was to act as interpreter. I quickly realized that I was occupying a space with two people who were very well rehearsed at talking and reacting AT each other – instead of actually communicating TO each other.
I was handed all the obstacles they could muster as to why the situation was so dire.
- Mom - “Your father will never leave this house. But I can’t care for him in a space not designed to accommodate wheelchairs, lifts and crutches.”
- I asked Dad – “So – if you and Mom needed to move to a senior apartment designed for medical needs, you’d go – right?”
“Yep,” he said, “There’s absolutely nothing tying us to that house anymore.”
- Dad – “I worry about your mother. I try to get her to take care of herself but she won’t leave me for any extended period of time. She needs some time to herself.”
- Me – “Well, quit calling her every ten minutes, for Christ’s sake. She doesn’t need a first hand account every time they successfully get you to the commode on time - or be alerted to the fact that you finally figured out how to adjust the volume on the TV. ”
I spent the week asking each one questions and then attempting to get an answer from the other one.
- Dad – “Your mother would never let me go to a nursing home. It would kill her.”
To save time, I’ll just say that his head would spin if he was aware of how ready an already exhausted, asthmatic 71 year old woman would be to have someone else hauling his flabby butt between bed and wheelchair.
The week practically flew by. At first, I didn’t understand why Mom had so many errands she had been unable to complete, small projects to finish, etc., since Dad was safe and sound in the hospital and she pretty much had the house to herself – especially since my lummox brother was working steadily.
But I came to discover that you can easily eat up an entire day from eating breakfast, getting ready, driving to the next town over (about 15-20 minutes – but when he is hospitalized in Omaha or Lincoln, it’s more like 1.5 hours), visiting for a few hours, grabbing lunch somewhere, visiting some more, driving home, making dinner, a little TV or computer time…and you find you are dead on your feet, wondering where the day has gone.
Add to that, my Dad calling every time the wind blew and nosing in on stuff he wasn’t handling or able to handle anyway:
Dad - “Did you call the insurance company about blah-blah?”
Mom - “No – I haven’t had a chance.”
Dad – “I need to understand coverage limits for blah-blah. Damn it – give me the phone number and I will call them.”
Mom – “Fine. What day is it and what’s your middle name?”
Dad – “wellphhhh!…fluster-bluster-blubber-blub!!!..what’s that have to do with anything?!”
Mom – “You called the house at 5:30 this morning to sing me a song about the pretty cow out in the field. I’ll handle the insurance.”
Dad’s on methodone, an oxycontin-type painkiller, mood stabilizers and much, much more. He has trouble operating a phone, let alone negotiating benefits.
Friday morning was Dad’s birthday, so we invited his morning coffee buddies from the local diner to join us at the hospital where my mom provided a cranberry/sour cream coffee cake and coffee all around.
The nurses had Dad bathed, dressed and combed and in his wheelchair by the time we arrived. He had a great time and made it for a couple hours before needing to go back to his room.
He really looked the best we’d seen him all week. His moodiness was lessening, he was much more alert and aware. And best of all, the visible lumps that had first indicated the presence of cancer had all but disappeared.
After we left, he had a few more visitors and a half dozen phone calls from family and friends. All in all, a big day for him. But he was so much the better for it.
Fortunately, he was so tired from the day’s events, we were able to skip the afternoon visitation.
This allowed me to prepare for the next exciting installment of my visit home.
The first meeting between my brother and myself in over 25 years – one that didn’t involve law enforcement officials of any sort.