Monday, January 22, 2007

"What Happened to Me?"

The title of this post is something that I heard my father say a few times this afternoon while I was visiting him in hospital.

Oftentimes, he lies in the bed, shaking his head from side to side, in a pose of what he's going through.

Today he was pseudo-sleeping when I came, so I sat and chatted with my mother. A short time later, someone walks in and introduces herself as an occupational therapist and she wanted to ask my father a few questions to assess him and his cognitive abilities.

She woke him, and even if it was just a light sleep, it was a sleep. To suddenly have to respond to questions would not be too good, I figured...and I was right.

There were basic questions that you and I would probably not have much difficulty with: What is your name? What city are we in? What province? What kind of building are we in? What season is it? What's the date? What floor are you on?

Even as she asked these questions, I knew that I had to hold back my retorts: my father has been lying in a hospital bed for over 4 weeks! How should he know the correct date? He'd been moved to several different floors over his stay! How could he know the floor?

I did ask her why she'd come now, especially after rousing him from sleep; he is rather clear-headed in the morning. She had gotten a requisition and was told to check up on him now, is what I was told.

My father, the former businessman, struggled with counting backwards from 100 by 7. He got to 93 and was stuck.

When asked to spell " world" and then spell it backwards, he couldn't spell it backwards.

He had to write a sentence for the therapist on a clipboard she provided. Even though he was lying in bed, and somewhat elevated, it wasn't a conducive situation for writing. I'm not quite certain what, if anything, he actually wrote on that paper. But when asked to read back what he'd written, he said, "You're a lovely lady."

He was asked to draw a clock face and provide the numbers. He couldn't do that.


When someone, G-d forbid, has dementia or Alzheimer's or even Parkinson's or suffers from a stroke, they might be so far advanced in the mental decline, and not realize that the answers they're giving are not correct, when administered tests such as this one today. The difference is that my father DOES recognize his inability to give the answers that, perhaps several hours earlier, might've been easy for him.

He recognizes these limitations. He told the OT that he used to do math so fast in his head. I grew up with math and spelling drills that my father gave me. This is how he taught us; this is how he taught himself. And suddenly the brain doesn't want to catch on anymore.

After the OT left, he was still hung up on that "subtract 7" question and pushed himself over and over to try and work through the sequence. I guess he was trying to prove to himself that perhaps he could do it, at least for himself, if not for the OT.

I saw the tears in my father's eyes when the OT left; I felt the heaviness of his emotional pain, and that of my mother who watched this too.

"What happened to me?... What will become of me?"

We tried to speak convincingly that after mental and physical rehab we hope to have him home again. As we do...and as he does.

As I've said, when the clarity comes, it is like a curtain is drawn open and the sun shines through. My father can talk about everything and anything. He can describe in detail episodes from 50 and 60 years ago. But when the daylight grows dimmer, the mind grows dimmer too.

The medication, the past seizures, the brain fluid, the lack of constant movement and being in a bed for so many weeks have taken their toll.

...But at what price?