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Swift: Do-it-yourself Dad may be least patient patient of all

Tammy Swift, columnist

They say doctors make the worst patients.

Obviously, "they" have never met Pat Swift.

So far, Dad's had a tough 2017. He fell on the ice, resulting in a brain bleed, a surgery, a shunt and plenty of rehab. His prognosis is excellent, with strong hopes that he can return completely to pre-fall condition.

By the end of his stay in rehab, the physical therapists were wracking their brains to find something he couldn't do. Dad was so anxious to return home where he could read his paper in the sunroom and get out of bed without alarms sounding. He was highly motivated.

He speed-walked up and down the hospital corridors, expertly wound bolts on screws to exercise his left hand and allegedly even bench-pressed a piano.

The therapists and doctors knew he was ready; they just wanted to make sure he didn't think he was ready for a triathlon. Before he was released, they gave him some straight talk: Fall down and break a bone, and you'll probably heal. Fall down and break your brain again, and you might not.

He finally was sent home with PT exercises and medications and something I never thought I'd see him use: a walker.

Even worse, they had given the walker wheels, which meant he could occasionally break away and hit speeds exceeding 45 miles per hour.

"Just watch him," Mom warned me. "You never know when he'll get up and try to do things on his own. He never asks for help."

So on Dad's first afternoon home, that is literally what I did. While he snoozed in his recliner, I watched him. If he got up, I was to sound a bullhorn to summon the Militia On Mission (aka M.O.M). Only in the most extreme instances of escape, I was to fire warning cotton balls into the air until he surrendered.

It may sound easy to watch an elderly man sleep. It probably is — unless that man is my father. Even with a walker, bad knees and less-than-perfect balance, he moved like a jackrabbit. I would leave the room to answer a phone and would come back to find him riding a pogo stick on top of a mini-trampoline.

The other part of the equation was my mother, who wanted to wrap him in cotton wool and place him in a safe deposit box.

It was an interesting place to be. Of course I understood my mother's excessive cautiousness; she had nursed him through some rough days and knew the very real dangers if he would fall again.

And I also understood Dad's need for autonomy; he spent most of his life as a cattleman and rancher, who was expected to show independence and self-sufficiency to survive.

Perhaps the perfect illustration of that was an incident I like to call "The Great Uprising." Dad was in the sunroom; Mom was somewhere else in the house. I was half a flight up in the kitchen. Suddenly I heard mom say "Paaaat!" in that tone of voice she used when we were in real trouble.

I ran to the stairs to find Dad not only taking the stairs alone, but also carrying his walker.

By the time I left, they had worked out a compromise. Mom would not hover as much, and Dad would no longer do handstands, ride bulls or take the blasted stairs without alerting someone.

No Patrabbits allowed.

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.

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