Travels with Dad
—-This is a story of a complex relationship with my father, Al, who I came to love and understand after he was diagnosed with dementia.—-
One night, Al was pacing back and forth, and appeared to be clearly uncomfortable. He was unable to verbalize his symptoms, so Mom decided that he needed emergency medical attention. So, off they went to the emergency room.
The diagnosis: Urinary Retention. He ended up with a catheter for an extended period of time.
The day was approaching when the catheter needed to be removed. My mother was preparing him for the Doctor’s office visit for a few days, which was consistently met with an answer from Al of: “I’m not going!” She was well aware of his stubbornness, and feared that it would ultimately be impossible to get him to agree to go to this extremely important appointment.
She called me a few days before to let me know about her dilemma, and to enlist my help…..to see if I had any ideas. I didn’t. If he wouldn’t cooperate with her, he certainly wasn’t going to cooperate with me. I felt helpless.
I was looking for a little emotional support when I decided to tell my friend, Mary, about this difficult situation. I’m so glad I did, because Mary, who’s a nurse, had an idea. I was all ears! She began by telling me to take the day off from work and go to my parent’s house the morning of the appointment to see how things were going….to see if he was cooperating. “If he’s still resisting”, she said “call me, and this is what we’ll do”:
“I’ll call your parent’s house and ask to speak to your father, pretending to be the nurse from the doctor’s office. Then, I’ll do my best to convince him to go”.
“OK”, I said. “Anything is worth a try”.
When I arrived at my parent’s house that morning….my mother was noticeably stressed. He was not going, and that was that. I had already clued my mother about the plan. So, I called Mary, and set things in to motion. In less than a minute after I hung up with her, the phone rang…..the plan was unfolding. I answered, and Nurse Mary said “I’m ready. Put your father on the phone”. I looked at my father, handed him the phone, and said, “Here, the nurse from the Doctor’s office wants to talk to you”. He gave me a really nasty look, and grabbed the phone.
Here’s how the conversation went:
Nurse Mary: “Hi Al, this is the nurse from the doctor’s office. I just wanted to remind you of your appointment today.”
Dad: “I’m not going!”
Nurse Mary: “Well, the Doctor is standing right behind me with his hand on my shoulder. He just told me that if you don’t come in today, he doesn’t ever want to see you again”.
Dad: “Oh Yeah. Ok then. I’ll see you in a little while”.
I took the phone from him, thanked the “Nurse”, and told her we would be there shortly. I ended the conversation that way because Al was still listening.
He got up and went into the bathroom to comb his hair without even being asked to do so. My mother and I looked at each other, and breathed a sigh of relief. Mary’s plan and execution was as brilliant as it was risky. We were all “on the edges of our seats” for about 5 minutes that morning. It worked better than we imagined.
We think that the “Nurse’s” explanation of the Doctor’s refusal to see him if he didn’t cooperate hit Al in two ways. First, there is a undeniable phenomanon with his generation, that worships physicians. The physician is always right and knows best. Do what he says! The other force at work here was rejection. He wasn’t about to place himself in a situation where his own actions would result in a brush-off.
We were, and still are eternally grateful to Nurse Mary for her kindness and creativity during one of our situations with Dad, for which there was no obvious remedy.
The catheter was removed that day, and a hurdle in the management of Al’s life was cleared.