I sprung my Dad from jail.
That’s what he said, anyway. What really happened was he was unjustly incarcerated in a nursing home where, for all intents and purposes, he was tied to his bed twenty four hours a day except for a wheelchair ride to therapy and a shower.
He was there for more than a week before I knew about it. Parents develop a habit of not telling their children everything and, when they do tell, it is not always during the course of the event in which they sure could have used a helping hand. I catch myself committing the same offense and know first hand the not telling is because I do not want to intrude on the lives of my children. I do not want to interfere with schedules and jobs, not wanting to become a burden or worry as I get older.
By the time I could arrange care for horses and a dog, it was few days before I boarded a plane for Ohio. My always indispensable childhood and now, adulthood, friend, Carla, picked me up that cold and snowy November evening at Columbus Airport and drove me to Beavercreek, where she and I grew up together. I am sure no one in the nursing home had ever before witnessed the scene we created simply by showing up as ourselves. I am also sure we are now the stuff of much embellished legend, a story told in amaze around nursing home water coolers, or dining rooms, or where ever it is staff and patients share stories about the crazies they encounter daily.
Carla, who does not acknowledged the existence of the word “blend” except in relation to her paintings, is blessed with glorious crown of very long, very curly, very red hair always worn loose and flowing. She dresses in brightly colored caftans, throwing on a monk’s hood cape to go out in the cold. Tonight was no exception, with the addition of fur lined moccasin boots and a long, heavy wool scarf wound around her neck. Carla, like me, has always “walked with a purpose” as Mom used to say. No dilly-dallying, forward movement with intent, like a freight train, so get out of the way.
Having flown in from Arizona where I have lived for over twenty five years, and knowing I would be in cold, wet weather, I was wearing hard denim jeans, low heeled Western boots, a grey woolen frock coat and my custom, Bronco Sue felt hat.
When we arrived at the nursing home a heavy snow was being whipped a bitter cold wind. The flakes did not melt when they landed on us, instead they accumulated on our shoulders and hats very quickly as walked the fifty yards or so to the main entrance. We burst though the doors carrying snow and cold air swirling in our wake. The wall ahead of us bore the room indicators which we instantly deciphered and hung an immediate left, continuing shoulder to shoulder at that freight train pace. Wide eyed nurses and care givers fell away out of our path, patients in wheel chairs and walkers watched us pass them by, their eyes lit up in surprise. No one stopped us or questioned us. No one followed us to see where we were going.
When we blew into Dad’s room and he was lying flat on his back in bed, Mom at his side in a plain, office type chair. He saw us come in, his eyes lighting up with surprise and happiness. I went right to him and bending over his bed, hugged him. When I pulled back he had tears on his cheeks. He still had a grip on both of my arms so I could not stand up all the way.
I asked him, “Daddy, are you afraid to be here?”
“Yes,” he spoke quietly. “ I am afraid.”
He looked at me for a long moment, choosing his words carefully just like he always did. Finally, “They aren’t mean here, they are just stupid. They are going to hurt someone because they don’t know what they are doing.”
“Daddy,” I said. “Mom and I are both here with you now and we will stay until bedtime. The first sunny day, we are taking you home.”
He nodded and smiled a little.
I turned to hug and kiss Mom who was holding hands with Carla. Carla stayed a few minutes to visit then took her leave to work her way home through the storm, promising to stop by the house when Dad got home. She would love to come and help decorate the Christmas Tree.
Dad’s room was small, though there were two beds, the other one empty. I sat on the edge of Dad’s bed and we talked for a long time. About the snowy weather, about Arizona. About the horses and Cowboy, my Border Collie. About the border issues which always make national news and, even though we talked regularly on the phone, they wanted to hear the latest. Dad told me I should run for office to help straighten that mess out. I said I would never get voted in, that no one really wants to address the border issues and they darn sure don’t want to hear the truth about it, makes for boring evening news. He laughed.
“So, just how did you get your self in lockup anyway, Daddy?” Mom had given me the details on the phone but I wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth.
Dad said he had been working in the yard, shoveling five ton of pea gravel around the flower beds surrounding the house. As he quit for the day he fell on the porch at the front door hitting his head on the concrete. He made it in the house and, insisting he was fine, ate dinner and went to bed. Later, Mom found him with a high fever and called an ambulance. He spent a few days in hospital and then was sent to the care home to rehabilitate. He didn’t like being there one bit at all. He said the first few days he was there he didn’t have a room. He was in a big room like an emergency room with just curtains separating six beds. Patients were wheeled in and out at all hours of the day and night. One night, he was sure the other beds in the room were being used by the staff to have sex, he hoped with each other and not the elderly patients. Wow! It was unlike my father to say any such thing and, considering his fearful state, and that I never knew him to over react, I believed him.
“Did you say anything about it, Dad?”
“What’s to say?” he shrugged. “Who would believe a feverish old man without his hearing aids?”
When they finally gave him a room he was kept flat on his back. Under him was a pad device to set off all the alarms in the building if he so much as tried to turn over. If he shifted his weight the alarms would go off. He could not sit up. They had him listed as “Fall Risk.” This was nothing new. Dad had been a fall risk most of his life. Some reason unknown caused him to have fainting episodes, lightheadedness. He had tried to enlist and was turned down because of it. Dad had learned to live with it. In all my years I saw him faint only one time. So, I don’t think it was something which happened regularly, just enough to be a concern for the Military.
Dad was ready to go home and so was Mom. But, because he had been, and maybe was still sick, and the weather was bitter cold and wet, I could not bring myself to put him in the car that night. Mom and I stayed until after the evening orderly had visited the room, checked Dad’s ostomy bag and given him his night dose of antibiotics. Mom waited in the foyer while I fetched her Lincoln, now covered with snow, and drove it to the door to help her in. She wanted me to drive us home. We pulled in the garage and went in through the pantry. That was the way we kids always ran in and out of the house and it was a warm, welcoming embrace of memories every time I went home as an adult.
Mom had gathered Dad’s dirty clothes and brought them home with her to wash and take back in the morning. “Momma, why don’t you go upstairs and get changed, I will start the wash and make us some tea and sandwiches.”
“Thank you, sweetie.” she headed up the stairs. I already had a sneaking suspicion about what had been going on.
When Mom came back down we sat at the kitchen table and ate while she told me again her side of the story about how Dad got sick and ended up in the Hospital. It was the same, pretty close to Dad’s version. She told me she was also very worried about the quality of care he was getting, that no one in the building knew how to change Dad’s ostomy bag and she had to show the care givers how it was done. Several times she had to show them and that was very embarrassing to Daddy. That is when she started crying and we hugged for a while.
“Mom, are you staying at the care center this late every night?”
“Yes, because Daddy is afraid to be there. I usually stay later, sometimes until 11:00 or midnight.”
“Do they offer you a bed or feed you?”
“Sometimes they offer a foldout bed, and Daddy shares his plate with me.”
I was pretty perturbed at that, but tried not to let it show. But, Mom’s know, they know. “So, then you come home, do his wash, go to bed and get back to the care home by what time?”
“Daddy wants me there as early as I can get there. Usually by 7 am.”
She had been holding to this routine for at almost two weeks, probably longer considering the hospital stay. This was going to have to change or Mom was going to be the next one to get sick. I told her the flight and all had worn me out and I would like to go to bed and she asked me to sleep with her. We got tucked in the big master bed, both of us reading and holding hands until Mom dropped off. I turned out the lights.
In the morning I called the care center and asked what time Dad went to therapy. They told me at 9a.m. andI asked them to let him know Mom and I would not be there to see him until after his therapy, then reminded Mom that Dad would be busy until after 9:30 so she and I could have a nice, hot sit down breakfast and wait to see if the skies cleared enough so we could bring him home. I think it was the first real breakfast she had eaten in a long time.
Dad was already back in his room when we arrived at the care center. He was worried about us since my message had not been delivered. But, when Mom excused her self to “walk down the hallway” I told him my fears about Mom’s late hours and not eating right. “Did you know she was doing that, Daddy?” He did not realize what she was doing, and he nodded at me. I had done the right thing in his eyes.
We spent the morning in his room, then I got him to venture to the community room. When he got out of bed and the alarms went off, it was the first time I got noticed. I told the blustery attendant to get rid of that thing or he was going to hear it go off real regular. Off to a great start.
In the community room we met some other inmates. There was a woman who poked her head in the door every morning, Dad said. She was always cheery and had a good word for him and Mom. There were others who were sitting around in their wheelchairs watching the T.V. or playing a game, working a puzzle. I asked Daddy why he didn’t come down here every day? Just look at the list of activities they have planned. He shot me the look. Later, when we were out of earshot of the others, he told me it was a nice enough room, but the hallway was depressing and sad with folks parked all alone in their chairs with nothing to say and blank looks on their faces. Some of them never getting out of bed, always sleeping. He was afraid of dying in that place.
One of my sisters and her husband came for a while, but he was fidgety and they didn’t stay long. I ran to Panera Bread Company and brought back hot soup, sandwiches and desserts. Dad ate like he was starving, cleaned his plate. Mom had asked me to bring my guitar that day so I played for them, drawing a little crowd at the door. Mom pointed out a room across the way where a very elderly woman was bedridden and asked if I would go play for her. Of course. The attendant was in there feeding her. I don’t know if she heard me or not, but he was smiling and nodding. The music gets folks talking and both Mom and Dad started with stories. A bit later in the evening we were treated to some Carolors who sang their way down one side of the hall and back up the other. When Mom and I went home that night, Dad was much better about it.
The next morning, the sun was bright, sparkling off the snow of the last few days. Big, fluffy clouds in the sky, nothing dark and foreboding.
“Momma,” I said as we sat with our coffee. “Let’s take Dad’s coat and some warm clothes, we are going to bring him home today.”
Her face lit up and she smiled. “You know, they are not going to let us take him out of there without raising a stink,” she said.
“Yep, probably. But, it’ll be okay.” I said, thinking, this is going to be a whole lotta fun!
When Mom and I arrived the parking lot had been cleared, the snow now heaped up around the edges and under the trees. The sun was warm and there was no wind to speak of, so it seemed quite spring like by comparison to the previous few days. I let Mom out at the entrance and parked the car while she went on to Dad’s room. We had a game plan of sorts. Mostly it was get in there, pack him up and walk out. We knew it would not be that easy but it was a place to start.
As I entered Dad’s room, Mom was cleaning out his dresser and closet, his things neatly folded into his suitcase, his coat draped over the end of the bed. Dad was not in the room so we assumed he was still in his therapy session. Fine, there was less chance of someone coming in the room if Dad was not in there.
We had all of his things ready to go when Dad was brought back in. The orderly was going to put Dad in his bed, but Dad immediately caught on to our game and told him “No, Thank you,” and to basically get lost. The orderly buzzed right back out, to tell on us. Within a minute there was a woman at the door, telling us we could not take Dad home without him being signed out by the doctor. I asked when will the doctor come and she said she would find out. I gave her the name of Dad’s doctor and that we would be taking him there right after we left the building, so we were leaving. She asked to see Mom in the office. Mom said she was not going without me. The woman was not happy about that but she had no choice.
The woman asked Mom why she was taking Dad out before he was released. Mom told her because Dad wanted to go home, that none of us felt like he was getting the care he deserved and that we all felt he would be better off at home. Mom told her about no one knowing how to change Dad’s ostomy bag. I told her about no one looking after Mom and about how Dad was basically a prisoner with no rights, tied to his bed and spoken to like he was a child. They were not able to keep track of his medication, Mom had been doing that. There can be legal repercussions, the woman told us. Let my Mom sign what she needs to sign so we can go, I told her. I am going back to the room so Dad does not think we forgot him.
The house rules said Dad had to go out in a wheelchair, so I brought the car to the door and Mom had him waiting there, ready to go. He was already smiling, and he laughed when I asked him if he wanted to drive. Suitcase in the trunk, Momma and Daddy in the back seat holding hands, we drove away.
We arrived a few minutes later at Dad’s doctor and walked in. It was mid day but they took him in and with questions all around he was pronounced healthy enough to go home. His doctor had not heard anything from the care center, he did not know Dad was there, only that he had been released from Miami Valley Hospital over two weeks ago. He took me by the elbow to stop me as Mom and Dad left the room.
“How long are you staying?”
“A couple of weeks, at least, but as long as they want or need me to stay.”
“Good. Your Dad is a stubborn man. You know, I just last year got him talked him out of cleaning out the gutters on the house by himself,” he told me and I laughed.
“My brother called and was angry, he said to leave Dad in the care home, that he was exactly where he needed to be. Dad wants to be at home. I didn’t see any reason for him to stay and be scared and miserable.”
“Your Dad needs to be at home, and he is fine. He is old, nothing more.”
We made one other stop for something Mom needed at the drug store and went home to Big Woods Trail. We pulled in the garage and Dad got out first to open the car door for Mom, then we went in the house through the pantry door.
As I carried in the suitcase and Mom took our coats to hang up, Dad stood in the dining room and stretched his back, then he went to the sliding door and opened the curtains so he could see outside into the back yard. Back in the kitchen, he put on a pot of coffee and headed up the stairs to The Library. Mom right behind him on the stairs as if she could catch him if he fell.
It was home made beef-vegetable soup and biscuits for supper that night. As Mom and I stood in the kitchen cutting vegetables and mixing dough I looked at Dad in the family room in his blue recliner. His head was back and he was fast asleep, the local paper in his lap. In my childhood days, his pipe would have been resting in the big glass ashtray on the side table, the smell of borhkum riff in the air. I touched my elbow to Mom’s side and she looked up.
He’s right where he needs to be, Mom.
© Nancy Elliott Music and Sonoran Desert Sage Publishing 2017 ASCAP