New Haven, Connecticut, USA
|“Unraveling” by Ron Slotkin. Used with permission.|
We have a routine, Dad and I. I wake up first, turn on NPR and brew our coffee. My clamor tells Dad it is morning. This used to be my pre-work ritual before Dad started to get lost — first around town, then around the neighborhood, then around the house, and then within himself. It is still my pre-work ritual, but the work has changed. My board meetings have become his doctor’s visits, and conference calls have become endless hours of please-enjoy-the-music-while-your-party-is-reached with insurance companies. My to-do lists drift around our house on the backs of old envelopes. We are unraveling together, Dad and I.
We conquer getting Dad out of bed and dressed with relative ease this morning and I am feeling hopeful. He held onto the walker patiently while I buttoned his shirt, pulled up his diaper, buckled his trousers, and slid on his socks and slippers.
I reach to slow him down as he shoves the walker too quickly to the dining room. He humphs at my hand on his back and rolls his eyes, but at least he allows me to help him lower himself into a chair when we get to the table.
We eat together. Or, I eat and then I try to feed Dad. He is staring at the crossword this morning, ignoring his bowl. Before Mom died, he used to pen in the words none of us knew. Pencil was a sign of weakness.
I slide the newspaper away to make more room for his bowl. Today is Tuesday. We had an aide yesterday and we have one tomorrow. Today I am alone.
The spoon and I have lost our battle with Dad’s backhand. The applesauce is on his shirt, on his lap, on the floor. Anywhere but where I intended it to go.
The sweet smell of applesauce mingles with the old egg stink of a diaper when he shifts in his chair. I used to pray that Dad would not poop on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Prayer has not worked for us yet.
I drag the table out of the way first. It is easier than moving him or his chair.
I place his hands on the chair arms and move the walker closer.
“Ok Dad, scoot.”
He grunts and inches forward to the edge of the seat.
I wrap my arms around him, under his arms.
I brace my feet against his feet, his knees inside my knees.
This is our dance.
“Ready?” I ask. His head bobs a tired affirmative.
“One, two, three…”
He shakes as he tries to push up with his arms, to push up with his legs. I heave and I can feel throughout my smaller frame his torso straining upwards until his hips are suspended above the edge of the chair.
We teeter, almost vertical, and then his knees give out and we crumple downwards, his bottom grazing the lip of the seat. The chair legs screech backwards across the wooden floor.
“Dad!” I am furious with him, with his body for betraying us on a Tuesday. Furious that the day of the week matters and that we cannot afford an aide every day or for more than a few hours. Furious at myself for being too weak and too old to stop him as he lands on that overflowing diaper and I go down to my knees.
I can see his wince in the multiplication of his wrinkles.
“I’m sorry,” he says, his first words in two days.
We spend a few minutes on the floor while I cry.
Today is a Tuesday. I call 911.
REBECCA SLOTKIN is a third year internal medicine resident at Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut. She received her bachelor’s degree in English Literature and Anthropology at Washington University in Saint Louis and her medical degree at Brown University. She values her literary background as another lens with which to view health and medical practice.