At Fusion Rehab and Wellness, we have many programs that can assist you and your loved ones who are dealing with Strokes, Parkinson’s Disease and many other neurological issues. We see our fair share of cases and have one of the best neurological therapists, Rich Gaudio, who treats people who suffer with these often debilitating diseases. At this point you might be thinking “Ok, I’m gonna read another article about new therapy treatments or what community services are available”. I am going to talk about something different and far more personal.
A lot of you may have a parent, grandparent, relative or spouse who is living with dementia or other neurological impairments. For me, It’s my father.
His problems began twenty years ago. It was a Sunday afternoon and we were finishing up work on the addition to his house. He was not safely secured to the roof, lost his footing and fell. He landed on the concrete retaining wall and compressed ninety per cent of his spinal cord.
He went through surgery and spent months in the VA hospital in Richmond. There he had to learn how to walk, dress himself, use the bathroom and drive all over again. He had a strong will and determination, and pushed himself to get himself as back to normal as he could. He even got to the point where he could walk with only the assistance of a cane.
In 2007 my wife and I moved away from Fredericksburg but made several trips back to visit family. My dad was doing ok, but not great. He was losing his hearing, his balance was getting worse, but his mind was still sharp. We moved back to Fredericksburg in 2017 to be closer to our families and so our daughter would get to grow up knowing who her family is.
In moving back I got to learn a lot about neurological issues. My dad’s mother was in a Secured Nursing Facility in the Alzheimer’s Ward. My moms mother had just passed away before I finished moving back to Fredericksburg. My Grandfather had suffered a series of strokes and his condition was declining. My dad was having more and more issues as well.
I took off work for quite some time helping my mother care for my father and grandfather. Grandpa got to a point where he had to be placed into a secured nursing facility as well. My fathers mother passed away in December of 2017.
I spent a lot of time watching my grandfather slowly slip away from reality and remembering who we were. I watched him go from being calm and soft spoken to fits of rage at the drop of a hat. Eventually, he spent more and more time asleep until one night, he never woke up.
It was during this time that my father began to have a series of strokes as well. With the passing of my grandfather we had hoped that my Mother would be able to get some much needed time alone with my Father. It was not to last long.
My father was diagnosed with Vascular Dementia about a year ago. Between his spinal cord injuries, strokes and that diagnosis, his condition has slowly worsened. I would get calls at night from my mother asking me to come over to help dad because he’d had another fall and she couldn’t lift him any more. There were the calls that he had another UTI and was in the hospital. Then the calls got worse. Mom would call in tears about all the bad names that Dad had called her and that she wasn’t any of those things. My mother had been the sole caretaker of her parents, husband and mother in law for the past two decades.
This weekend my sister flew in from out of state to visit. Since Covid-19 I have been very careful not to spend a lot of time with them and when I do, to do it with the proper PPE. My parents are in their seventies and they don’t need any more complications. So this weekend we spent time as a family. That’s when I saw how much dad has deteriorated the past nine months.
He doesn’t remember words. Has trouble with his speech. Can’t be left alone for fear of him hurting himself. Thankfully he gets thirteen hours of in home assisted living care through the VA. This week his in home PT will most likely be one of his last. If you aren’t making progress, insurance won’t pay.
He fell again last night and again I went out to pick him up. My mother is exhausted. I’m exhausted. I went to get a bottle of water for him from the refrigerator in the garage. I passed by fifty years of tools he has amassed and built countless things with. His hands won’t ever use them again.
It hurts so much seeing my father slipping away from the man he once was. I see the strength in my mother, who has gone through this several times before. I feel helpless when she finally breaks down and cries. I reassure her that I’m there for her, but I know she is mourning for a man who is there, but isn’t.
These are not easy things for people to talk about. It’s tough to watch people you love forget who you are. And the caregivers, the ones who are there day in and day out, can only rely on the comfort of knowing that they are doing all they can for their loved ones.
I know that what I have written is not uncommon to many of you. You may say to yourself “I know exactly what that’s like”. It’s ok to talk about it. If you feel like you’re trapped alone in this you aren’t. There are millions of people around the world who wake up every day praying that there loved one will have a little better day today then they had yesterday. Some are lucky. Sadly, most others are not.
Please don’t feel like you are alone. If you feel like talking about it or just need someone to vent to, email firstname.lastname@example.org. You are not alone. We are all in this together.