Thursday, October 14, 2004

Don't know what to do

(This post has nothing to do with TTC. It is about my dad and is morose and un-fun.)

I emailed my father a few days ago to say hello and check in; he has been depressed lately and his psychiatrist recommended that he increase his antidepressant dosage.

My father has always been a self-medicator. Instead of making changes to his routine or surroundings, such as exercising or replacing his broken-down 30-year-old bed, he simply takes a nightly sleeping pill to combat his insomnia. But, never a man of excess, he insisted on limiting himself to half a Halcyon, even when he needed more. When faced with his most recent diagnosis, after a twenty year depression hiatus, he immediately accepted the idea of medication instead of attempting any other form of therapy, but insisted that he only take the lowest possible dose.

When he grudgingly doubled the dose without improvement--and then tripled it--he finally realized that something else might be going on. And it is.

Though initially told by the lab technician two months ago that his CAT scan results were fine, his psychiatrist--upon seeing the ineffectiveness of the stronger antidepressant regimen--thought to check back through the results, just in case.

And there it was: a lesion.

The psychiatrist believes that there are two possible diagnoses, and my father should know which it is later today or tomorrow, when some additional results come back. The first, and least frightening, possibility is that he has had a small stroke; the second, and more probable, is that he has Parkinson's.

It all makes sense now. My sister and I had been deeply concerned by his stiff, often shaky left hand, which seemed to be getting much worse, and by the shuffling gate he had assumed in recent months. Not seeing him every week or even every month, the changes were particularly obvious to me when I was down recently for a visit. There seemed to be an invisible wall between him and the world; he didn't laugh or joke or smile or even talk much, just watched things going by. He had trouble driving, trouble using his utensils. We asked, very gingerly, whether all of his tests had been OK, and had they checked him out thoroughly. He assured us that he was fine, the tests came back fine, he was just an old man and that's all there was to it.

The Old Man--he occasionally goes by "O.M.", though also likes "O.W.", for "Old Warrior"--has been retired for the better part of thirteen years, having walked away from a lucrative corporate communications job as soon as he qualified for the pension. He is now seventy and lives alone; never remarried after The Divorce in 1979, though he had plenty of opportunities.

In fact, he has always believed himself to be much older than he truly is. His musical taste is firmly entrenched in the two decades before he was born: Dixieland jazz, ragtime, novelty songs. When a lovely middle-aged woman, whom he had vociferously admired, made it clear to him that she was interested, he refused to acknowledge it, believing her to be "humoring an old man." The age difference was all of twelve years.

He has been calling himself "elderly" since he turned sixty--taking comfort, I suppose, in preparing early for the real thing. Now, much earlier than the rest of us had imagined, it's here. He will almost certainly need help with daily chores: he suddenly is not comfortable driving, has trouble buttoning his shirt, can't lift anything heavier than a load of wash. It is an effort for him to get up and down the stairs of his house, the house I grew up in.

His mother, who, at ninety, is a mental dynamo but as physically frail as a living person can be, relies on him: he helps process her bills, drives her to appointments, is her link to the outside world. He is dreading telling her, moreso than my siblings, because "at least they have their own lives."

I just don't know what to do. I feel an overwhelming need to talk with my sister and brother, but the Old Man would not want me to say anything till there's a sure diagnosis. He has promised to call me as soon as the doctor calls him, and I am sick with the worry of waiting.

I have been so focused on having a baby, so self-absorbed, that I feel ashamed for not having worried about him enough before. Thank god his psychiatrist double-checked, or he might have waited additional months or years before seeking help.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is amazing to me how the world seems to pass me by when I am caught up in our fertility (or lack thereof) issues. But Dear Buggie - please don't be ashamed. It's the human condition - we all share it with you.

I'm sorry about your Papa's illness. He sounds like a really soft and wonderful man. You can be there for him now and then let your siblings be there when the time is right.

Take good care

Fractured Fairytale

9:25 PM  
Blogger Jen said...


So sorry to hear this about your dad. He sounds like a neat person and a good father, and I hope you can find some answers soon. If I may be so presumptuous to say, please don't blame yourself for not seeing anything earlier--I very much doubt it was self-absorption, but probably a natural inclination to see your parent as infallible.

What a rough thing to go through, especially with all the other crap being thrown your way right now. I'm sending you lots of love and all the strength I can spare!

9:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your Dad. Hoping the diagnosis comes back the best possible case scenario. Thinking of you and giving you a really, big cyber hug.


9:53 AM  
Blogger Barren Mare said...

Darling Bugs, don't feel guilty for having been wrapped up in your own problems- it happens to all of us. I had a very painful conversation with my mother about a month ago, which was basically a cry for attention on her part. And I hadn't even noticed that I was neglecting her. It's hard to balance everything, and it's only natural that you would have been focusing on yourself a bit more than your dad. I hope he'll be OK, and that your family can be a source of support and comfort.

3:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry to hear about your Dad. I have been going through some similar things with my Dad, and it is hard to have the day arrive when you really need to be watching out for your parents.

About feeling selfish...This is what we do. The drive to build a family can be crazily strong and take all of our attention. Now that you know your Dad needs you, I have no doubt you will be absolutely there for him.


11:57 PM  

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