Friday, July 29, 2011

The Steep Decline

My dad is lying in a hospital bed after breaking a hip.  His speech is garbled and, often, unintelligible.  His body is thin and white, sprinkled with the skin splotches he’s always had.  He answers my questions, I think.  “How are you feeling?”  “Huh?  “I said, how are you feeling, dad?”  “Oh, okay, I guess.”  “Did you eat breakfast, dad?”  Then an unintelligible answer.  This goes on until he is distracted by something he reaches for in the air.  A bad eye compromises his depth perception, and so he seems to seek an answer to something above him, but I don’t know exactly what he's experiencing.

There are moments when a little of his old personality comes out.  A way of trying to answer with a humorous smile, and the way he tends to put his sentences together; always with a sense of study of what is around him.  But so much has changed.  And one of the hardest aspects, now that he can't speak very clearly, is being able to gauge if he's digested what I have said.  When his ability to talk has so much declined, I can't tell if he understands me, or if he remains confused.

I think back to just a few years ago, when he told me the news.  He was sitting in the family room of his home; at a table he always spent a lot of time sitting at.  He said, “Fred, I’ve got something to tell you. I’ve been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s."  He said it with his usual scientific tone; a voice of reason that he always used when describing things from a third-person perspective. 

I told him how sorry I was to hear of this, and I remember thinking to myself how I’d heard of the ravages of Alzheimer’s, and yet, it could never take hold of this logical, well spoken man.  Maybe his would be some mild form that would make him a little cloudier, but it just couldn't take him down. 

And so standing, looking over him in the hospital room where he appears emaciated and barely able to care for himself makes me realize how swift and severe this disease has been.  In the matter of three or four years, it has almost completely consumed him, rendering my dad a shadow of who he was only so recently.  It’s a reminder of how quickly life can change, and how important it is to appreciate the small, special moments.