This was around the time that my mother’s health, never great, really started to go downhill. She’d just learned that she had atrial fibrillation on top of the COPD, high blood pressure, super-high cholesterol, and fairly extreme artery blockage. My mom had spent years taking care of my dad, which couldn’t have done her health any favors. By the time of this particular hospital stay, he was already in a nursing home and so knew nothing about where my mother had been.
“I was really sick,” she went on to tell him. “I could have died.” She was hoping, I’m sure, for some care. Compassion. Concern. Something.
Here is what she got instead: my dad looked at her, shrugged, and said, “Really? Huh. I was all right.”
And we laughed and laughed, because this is how it had always been. Mom struggling through, lucky to come out alive some days, while through it all Dad remains “all right.” Even as his mind has failed him, he continued until very recently to insist to anyone who would listen, “I’m in good shape.”
Well, you can’t kill Daddy. This was my mother’s and my joke. Because you couldn’t. He seemed to walk through life in an invisible bubble, not catching colds, not breaking his arm, not even getting sunburn. I am pretty sure the guy never took so much as a Tylenol, except for the occasional hangover.
I am also pretty sure that despite it all, you still can’t kill Daddy.
As I’ve mentioned before, he stopped eating around the time my mother died, and lost over twenty pounds in a few weeks. It was upsetting and highly unusual, and I couldn’t believe I might lose both parents in such a short amount of time.
He got better. He’s gained the weight back. He eats fairly normally now.
His right leg became swollen, and they were concerned it could be a blood clot. All that sitting, I thought. I wouldn’t be surprised.
It was apparently not a blood clot. A few days of antibiotics and the leg was fine.
Then he got pneumonia. Well, this might be it, I told myself sadly. He’s old, he’s weak. Maybe this is just his time. While he had pneumonia, he fell and hurt his hip. You could see he was in pain. They were worried the hip might be fractured; we’ve all heard of elderly people who break a hip or an ankle and it’s all downhill from there.
They did an x-ray. He had not broken his hip. It doesn’t seem to hurt him anymore. He’s also over the pneumonia.
You cannot kill Daddy.
Then, one day, I got a call from his hospice nurse, saying he was in bad shape. Apparently, the night before, some severely misguided nurse had given him both Ativan and morphine for “restlessness.” A sedative and a narcotic, for someone whose restlessness never extends past a tapping foot or jiggling arm. He was practically comatose for the entire next day and into the night.
Needless to say, I was quite alarmed.
“Has something changed?” I asked the director of nursing, when I finally got in touch with her. “Is there something I need to know about his behavior at nighttime?”
Eventually, after much prompting on my part, she told me that no, nothing had changed. “There was no reason for him to be given those drugs. We’re educating our nursing staff.”
“Better educate them quick,” I told her. “Because when I Googled ‘Ativan and morphine combination,’ I immediately came across the phrase ‘euthanasia cocktail.'”
Both the director of nursing and the director of the entire facility looked mildly panicked at this. Which was more than a little satisfying and hardly surprising. “Oh God, no,” one of them told me. “No one was trying to kill your dad.”
“I know that,” I said. “But, they might have killed him all the same.”
I have no intention of suing them. I never did. But I left the vague threat hanging in the air anyway. What the heck.
What I didn’t tell them, but what they’d have known if only they were paying attention, is the one, most obvious fact.
Fact: you can try; you can do your damnedest. You could probably detonate a nuclear weapon right under his nose. You can take away everything he loves in life, his grass-cutting and his bird-feeding and his two pieces of toast in the morning. Go ahead, give it your best shot. Because no matter what you do, the simple truth remains. As my mother and I knew all along: you just can’t kill Daddy.