Tonight was a difficult night with Dad. I had a medical procedure yesterday and still had to work today so I was less patient with him than I should have been. What started out as a normal visit became a battle of wills. Lately his feet have had circulation problems so we have been trying to get him to take off his socks and elevate his feet. This has only been going on for a week but this is much more challenging then I expected. His stubbornness and need to see us to the door really presents a major hurdle since I know he likely doesn’t go back to bed but just returns to his chair to sleep.
Tonight I argued with him, threatened to stay the night and have Mike come get Allison who had accompanied me so I could supervise her homework. Trying to split my time between the two while still feeling physically wiped out from the previous day was getting on my last nerve. I ended up physically trying to push him into the bedroom, almost causing him to lose his balance at one point (I felt so guilty later, but at the time I was too frustrated to be anything but angry). He finally gave in, sitting on the bed and putting his feet up. I took his socks off and explained again, “You have had swelling in your ankles and feet, Dad. You need to keep them elevated.” Then I put his eye drops in amid more protests and promises to put them in after I left. We are all familiar with this ruse and I explained, “No, I will put them in. All you do is miss your eyes and curse. Just lay back and it will be over quick.” I put them in and instructed him to stay there and let them soak in while I put the old socks in the laundry.
No sooner did I return than I found him already sitting up and putting on new socks. I tried again to make him put his feet up, ran from the room yelling, “Just keep your feet up and I’ll call you when I get home. DON’T FOLLOW ME OUT! We will be gone before you get to the door!” I shut off all the lights and ordered Allie out the door, dropping my keys trying to lock Dad’s door as I left, then dropping my purse scattering the contents everywhere, gathering them just in time to see the porch light come on. Damn! Things just never work out as planned. I started the car, opened the window and yelled, “I know, I know…ONE RINGY DINGY! Now GO INSIDE AND PUT YOUR FEET UP! LOVE YOU!! SEE YOU TOMMORROW!!”, triple honking as I drove away.
“He just can’t help himself”, I thought all the way home. I know it is his need to control and protect. It is the Dad part of him that can’t let me leave until he knows I am safely to the car. I understand but I wish he knew it is that same need to protect HIM that is frustrating ME. All I could think on the way home is that stubborn streak is going to be the end of him…and there is nothing any of us can do. His need to protect is hardwired into his system and asking him to change now is incomprehensible.
Everyone has there own issues, idiosyncrasies and personal struggles that few around them fully understand. One can only imagine what Dad must be going through witnessing the disintegration of his intellect and, with it, his control over his own life, but on some level, if you really try, I bet you could relate his battle with some aspect of your life. Some people have phobias, others have addictions, still others have actual disorders. The worst part is when no one around you can comprehend the why or how of your personal struggle.
As a young woman I had a disorder of which I am neither proud nor ashamed, it is simply part of my history. From my late teens to my mid twenties I was bulimic. I, like many young women felt that my body was not perfect enough. Already being short, I had struggled with my weight since childhood. Magazines and movies all featured tall, thin women. The only short pudgy women were there for comic relief. I tried diet after diet, exercise, pills, starvation, and finally took the easy but dangerous road of binging and purging. I never used laxatives but vomited with frequency ranging from once a week to twice a day depending on how low I was feeling. Anyone who knew what was happening would have been able to tell how deep my problem had grown by the bite marks on my knuckles and the raw corners of my mouth.
The waves of my eating disorder varied as did my self esteem. I wish I could say I kicked the habit because I learned to be comfortable in my own skin but the truth is that with all of the media attention on the consequences of eating disorders over time such as loss of tooth enamel, oral and throat cancer, splitting esophagus, lazy bowel syndrome, diet related diabetes, brain aneurysms, coma and of course untimely death, I stopped as a matter of self preservation. I can, however say that I have not been actively bulimic in twenty years and, although I am not the picture of perfect health and I do occasionally try to lose a few pounds only to gain them back, I am health conscious, lead a happy life and my husband loves me the way I am.
Few of those around me could relate to my self abuse, although Jenny was surprisingly sympathetic. I’m sure on some level she could relate having her own ongoing battle to deal with. I remember her standing up for me once saying, “Erin has to deal with this on her own. You can’t force her to quit because all she knows is ‘At least I’m not fat anymore'”….Her insight into my problem shocked me. I must give her a lot of credit for my eventual recovery because she was the one who brought up the possibility of oral cancer. I remembered seeing a film about oral cancer in high school showing before and after pictures of a man who had to have his jaw removed. The thought of my habit causing permanent disfigurement was jarring enough to initiate my recovery. If only I could have said something as recovery inducing to Jenny. All I know is that she may very well have saved my life.
That is not to say that all problems need be as extreme as mine or Jenny’s in order to develop a certain level of understanding or compassion for an illness outside of your personal experience. For instance, Mike is severely arachnophobic. I am the official spider killer in the family. I discovered his phobia while we were dating and I told him a story about walking through a spiderweb that an eight-legged buddy had made right across my doorway. I really thought he would laugh when I related how I walked inside and realized I had a little spider hanging off the remains of his home suspended from my arm and started screaming “Aaaaaah….Aaaaaah….AAAAAAAH!!!!” and flailing my arm around. As I told him in retrospect the spider was probably also going “Aaaaaah….Aaaaaah….AAAAAAAH!!!!” and hanging on for dear life. Mike did not laugh as I expected. He just sat there in horror. That’s when I realized, “Uh oh, I have crossed a line I didn’t know was there”. Over the years I have become accustomed to the “I see a spider” face and just say, “Point at something I can squish”. It works now but took some getting used to. It’s not that I like spiders…I hate them, too, that’s why there are lots of big heavy books in the house. It’s really the only thing phone books are good for anymore.
With this in mind, last Saturday, Mike came with me to visit Dad. We got him into bed with his feet elevated and turned on Mythbusters for him to watch as we all hung out there. Dad didn’t really get the scientific value at first and wanted to get up but we insisted he continue to lay down and keep his feet up. Mike decided to distract Dad with information about the show. The particular episode we were watching was testing “Shit hitting the fan” and “Getting cold feet”. Dad laughed at the myths, not really giving much credit for the real science of the show but definitely was interested in the “cold feet” part of the show which featured Tory Balleci riding along with a stunt pilot. So, what does this have to do with phobias? Another part of the “cold feet” myth featured Grant Imahara with spiders crawling on his face, big hairy ones…and they used that image to split from one scene through the next throughout the show. Mike really had to be careful of those scene changes because they freaked him out every time and they were not easy to avoid. He was a real trooper, though, and toughed it out for the full episode. He remained animated long enough to keep Dad’s feet up for a full hour. My hero!
Kelly wanted me to include her own phobia in the mix: she is severely afraid of bees. I believe I know the root of her phobia. When she was still a toddler she was stung on the toe by a bee. The agonized scream still rings in my mind as one of those parental moments you just can’t ever forget. From that moment on, all flying, stinging insects have terrified her. Kelly told me about picking up Allie from school recently, realizing there was a bee in the car and jumping out, locking Allie inside. Allie emerged un-stung but irritated with her older sister. I had never heard this story before tonight but Kelly seemed equally guilty and amused by her own story of her some what irrational fear.
Allie is equally afraid of snakes. I remember her being terrified of the bucket of rubber snakes displayed at the zoo from a very early age and never being able to get her to venture into the “World of Reptiles” exhibit. The “Harry Potter” movies are completely out of the question for Allie and Mike.
Poor kiddos…trapped in a family of issues and phobias. Then again…how lucky to know how it feels to be misunderstood for a personal idiosyncrasy. All our fears, issues, malfunctions, etc, can be used as tools to become more compassionate. Who can’t relate to being misunderstood?
Tomorrow is shower night. I intend to prepare dinner ahead of time and have a pie ready to put in the oven. Mike will accompany me along with Allie and as a team we are hoping to accomplish what I was unable to do tonight….get Dad to fall asleep showered and happy with his feet elevated and his eye drops soaking in so we can sneak out knowing he is safe and comfortable.
To paraphrase The Hunger Games: May the odds be ever in our favor.
To be continued…