Father's Day: Teacher tells the difficult decisions to take care of the failed father in the middle of the pandemic (2023)

Daughter's Decisions to Care for a Sick, Elderly Father Are Frustrating in Times of COVID

Janet Meckstroth Alessi| Especially for the Palm Beach Post

"I'd rather go home and die," my father explained when his cardiologist told him he wouldn't live much longer if he didn't go to the hospital.

Dad's caregiver and I got Dad out of his wheelchair and put his legs one at a time in his Chevy Equinox to take him to Dr. bring the practice of Ruiz. For weeks my father refused to see the doctor and canceled appointments without my knowledge; but his stiff, bloated body and blistered legs told me it was time to become a father.

We lost my mother four months earlier in March 2020 on my wedding anniversary. Dad found herons on her bathroom floor. They have been married almost 64 years.

I used to chastise Mom for pestering Dad, but living without her quickly taught me why married men generally live longer than single men. The mother only wanted the best for the father. And she was right: heIt is"Stubborn as a donkey."

When Mom, who adored Dad, complained that he hadn't done anything for himself, I observed that she didn't blame anyone but herself because every morning she picked up her cereal bowl, spoon, cup and put her smoothies and spilled her cereal. , milk and orange juice. “You do everything but spoon feed him. What will he do if you die first?

Now I asked, "What should I do? How am I going to keep Dad alive and happy, what if he really doesn't want to live?" Thus began a journey that would take us on a roller coaster of emotions.

When I was taking Dad to the hospital, I got conflicted and stopped. I knew COVID-19 would not allow me to visit him, so if he died I would never see him again.

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"Dad, I'm not going to force you to go to the hospital if you really don't want to. But seven years ago, Dr. Ruiz saved Mom's life and he might save yours too. I'm not ready to lose you either."

"Oh, then take me to the hospital," he growled.

I was relieved, but still conflicted. I only heard my stoic dad say "I love you" once and I never saw him cry. I didn't want to upset him, but I also didn't want to regret leaving the words unspoken—so, as I drove, I pulled myself together enough to say, “You were a wonderful father and grandfather. Thanks for everything you did for Jordan, Christina and me. I love you."

Time was too valuable to waste on hurt feelings when Dad's only response was, "You're welcome." Dad has shown me he loves me by going to my high school and college basketball games, buying me new tires when he noticed mine were bald, and I've read—at least two dozen times—everything I've ever published.

"Are you afraid of death?" I asked.

"It's something we all have to do, so why be afraid of it?"

Dad has always been my rock. Still, I was surprised by his response.

Navigating the healthcare system

Right after I got out of the car, BAM! A rude welcome committee of two men who looked like security informed me that I was not allowed into the hospital. When they saw how difficult it was for me to get Dad into his wheelchair, they didn't offer any help but let me accompany him to reception.

I stood behind Dad and rubbed his shoulders as I answered questions. I was glad he didn't see the tears streaming down my face.

"We'll take good care of him," the sisters assured me. Still, my heart broke when COVID-19 cruelly forced me to leave.

Whenever I called the hospital, the operator always answered. The nursing station sometimes attended. But Dad never responded. (Mom bought Dad a cell phone years ago, but he refused to use it and the window for learning how to use it closed.)

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When a nurse answered, I asked, "Does my dad have a phone in his room? Does he know how to answer this? Can he reach it? Does it work? Is the doorbell on? Would you please go into his room and have a look? can you help him call me how is he?"

"I'm sorry, but he's not my patient. Please wait. Let me transfer him. I'll have his nurse call you. I'm busy right now. Can you call him back?"

Finally, after five days, I got a hospital administrator to come to Dad's room. She discovered that her father's phone was turned off. I was outraged. Were hospital staff so overworked and underpaid that they became insensitive? Did they take advantage of the fact that families can't verify their loved ones?

My indignation turned to relief when I learned that Dad's cardioversion was successful and his congestive heart failure was under control.

I might take Atticus Finch's advice in To Kill a Mockingbird: "You never really understand a person until you see things from their perspective, until you get under their skin and walk around." a pandemic was not in the hospital staff's job description when they were hired and that their primary job was to care for their patients.

After a month in the hospital, Dad was stable but so weak he could barely walk, so he went to a rehab center.

I was allowed window calls and spoke to him daily. However, the rehab center communicated very little with me during the two months he was there. At that point, Medicare stopped paying. So they called twice a day.

From there, I took Dad to a nursing home that does his laundry, cleans his apartment, bathes him, and serves him three meals a day. He had his favorite recliner, a big screen TV, and a DVD player. I filled your fridge with root beer and your freezer with ice cream. He could watch Andy Griffith, Lawrence Welk, football, basketball, whatever, all day without anyone bothering him.

He was king. But he missed his queen. "His mother was a good woman," he said wistfully.

After Mom died, I found an essay my dad had written called "My Wife: The Best Choice I Ever Made" and a poem called "My Girl." My favorite lines: "To see her beautiful smile, he would drive many miles... The sound of her sweet Spanish voice has made her his favorite girl... Although he isn't that good at talking, he will try his heart out." it brings tingles... he loves her very much and wants to be close to her…”

I was glad that at least Dad felt comfortable expressing his feelings in writing.

New challenges in assisted living

In Dad's new house, I could come and go as I pleased, take Dad on day trips (with help) and check on him via Blink cameras. But he refused to sleep in his rented hospital bed. His feet swelled up from never lifting them above his heart and he found it difficult to walk from his chaise lounge to the bathroom, even with a walker.

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At night, he suffered from "Sunset Syndrome", a form of dementia. Thinking he was at a circus or somewhere else, he called me and asked me to pick him up and take him back to his room. Unfortunately I couldn't convince him that he was in his room.

I hated that Dad's mind was playing tricks on him at night, but I was grateful that he was sane during the day.

A year after Mom died, Dad fell and was taken to the hospital while I was out of town for hip surgery.

Again, I couldn't speak to him for days. When I finally got someone to connect us, I could hear the relief and gratitude in his voice. He was worried about my surgery and afraid that I wouldn't know where he was. He was angry at being held captive and wanted nothing more than to escape.

After that, I asked my daughter Christina Matthews to visit her grandfather every day. He must have thought she was an angel. She brought him milkshakes and assured me I would get him out of the hospital.

I was told that an x-ray showed that my father had severe arthritis in his hip, which he broke in 2017. If his hip was not reattached he would not be able to stand. However, he was not ready for an operation.

I was devastated to have to tell him that his nursing home - which he called "home" - would not allow him to come back unless he could stand and turn around.

A week after my surgery, my husband, Otis Sinnott, drove me back to West Palm Beach. We visited the father and three foster homes. Two wouldn't even let us into the lobby. All had rave reviews ("This place stole my mom a wonderful car") and horrible reviews ("I wouldn't send my worst enemy down that hell hole").

Pressured by the hospital to choose one, I chose the one closest to my home and hoped and prayed for the best. But that night, on the phone, my dad begged through clenched teeth, “Please get me out of here!” My heart sank.

I called to see if I could move him, but Otis said Dad wouldn't be happy at all - that he was unhappy because he was bedridden and I should give him time to adjust.

The next day, I was allowed to talk to Dad on the phone while I stood outside his window in the hot sun like a snooper with a walker.

I was disappointed when Dad said it was better to stop eating and die. But towards the end of our conversation, he admitted that his trainers were nice and the food was good, so he thought he'd give this new place a try.

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Take a second guess, but also remain optimistic.

Sometimes I wonder if Dad would like me to let him stay home and die. At the beginning of our journey together, when I helped him into the car to take him to Dr. Bringing in Ruiz, none of us knew he would never again live in his home of over 50 years. That he would leave behind a life of possessions. That his world could be reduced from a house with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a swimming pool to what is within his reach, vision, hearing, thought, memory, imagination, heart and soul.

But I try to focus on the positive. If I hadn't taken Dad to the doctor, we wouldn't have been able to celebrate his 91st birthday, my wedding, Thanksgiving, and Christmas together.

I'm not allowed to visit Dad in his room, but he's alive and watching his favorite shows on the DVDs I take with him. (He says the TV channels in his nursing home are “worthless.”) He is well-groomed and always clean. And I can visit him in his lobby thanks to a machine that lifts him out of bed and into a geri chair on wheels. Convinced that phone calls and visits are essential to his well-being, I often invite others to visit.

I was sad and worried when Dad told me that his roommate had stopped eating because he wanted to die.

"You don't want to die, Dad, do you?"

"Oh, no, no. Not until I'm exhausted."

He makes me laugh. He also makes my heart flutter when I walk into the lobby and hear him say, "That's my girl!"

"This is my father," I say of this man who hates change, but who has grimly but courageously faced all the challenges that have uprooted him since his mother's death.


Dr Spencer Meckstroth, 91, was one of Palm Beach County's first optometrists. He has been president of the Palm Beach County Optometric Association, coached Little League baseball, deacon and Sunday School teacher at the Family Church, and served more than 80 medical missions.

Janet Meckstroth Alessi has been an English teacher at John I. Leonard High School since 1983.

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