Coffee and cigarettes…

December 17, 2008

on the mend… but only just so

Filed under: brain candy — techrat @ 11:50 am

Went and saw my father last night, down at Bay Pines. As it was a Tuesday, I had Miss Kidd along with me. I have no idea how much or how detailed this will be, so I’ll stick most of it behind the cut here.

When we got there, we ran into a small group of other patients outside, sitting in their wheelchairs and having a cigarette while gabbing away. They looked like my father – early 60s, long-worn and bodies half-broken. One was missing an arm, another his leg, and one had both legs but neither worked at all. “Good evening, gentlemen,” I said as we passed.

The one-armed man, bald and very obviously on chemotherapy, smiled broadly at my daughter and said “Merry Christmas, young lady”. She dimpled at him, lighting up the area like a flare, and returned his greeting with a furtive look at me. I gave a subtle nod, and she toddled over and gave each of them a hug and a kiss on the cheek. The paralyzed gentleman, who was very obviously an old Cold Warrior who’d seen far too much and had the appearance of being made from beige granite, flushed a brilliant pink, much to the amusement of his fellows. As we walked away, I could hear them rev their conversation back up from where they’d stopped, and maybe it was a bit more energetic. The ribbing they gave the blusher certainly sounded quite animated.

I daresay she made their night.

“So this is the VA Hospital?” she asked as we walked up toward the entrance. “I forgot Pa was in a war. Vietnam, right?” I nodded, and she took this bit in as well. A few moments later, she asked, “So if you start breaking down like Pa, does that mean you’ll be here? You were in Desert Storm, right?”

I tried to distill the VA’s mission down for 12-year-old comprehension, but I couldn’t bring myself to tell her how the Republican administrations had regularly cut VA funding, basically neutering support for the men and women who made their cushy jobs possible in the first place. I did make sure to point out the mission statement on the wall:

The Price of Freedom Is Visible Here

As we entered the lobby, where hangs portraits of Bush-43 and Defense Secretary Gates, she scowled at the Chimp’s face. “As many soldiers as he gets hurt and killed, you’d think he’d take better care of them.”

Every day, this girl continues to astound me. Some days, she’s around age 5… others, closer to 50.

We made our way up to the inpatient ward, and found his room. As I expected given the time of day, he was asleep. Even in his sleep, he looked to be in pain. Considering he was hardly ever not in pain in all of my recorded memories, I knew the expression well.

They took the left leg off about 2″ below the knee. It was still stained from the betadine wash at pre-op, and wrapped in thick layers of gauze and Ace bandages. The drainage bulb was tucked into the elastic, and nearly full. In his sleep, the missing leg twitched.

Miss Kidd studied the new amputation carefully, comparing it with his other one with a very solemn look on her face. “He’s not balanced,” was the first thing she said. “Will that make it hard for him to learn how to walk again?”

As we discussed prosthetics and physical rehabilitation, the pharmacop injector on his IV went off with a slight hiss and click of valves opening and closing. I glanced at it and saw the security container attached to it. Morphine/fentanyl, in considerable quantity, and some quick mental math showed his dosage flow was, putting it mildly, high. If there’s one thing the VA excels at, it’s pain management. Then again, they’ve had decades of experience with it.

The thing about opiates… you still hurt, but you just don’t care about the pain.

As Miss Kidd and I talked in low tones, Dad stirred a bit. We didn’t have much time – visiting hours were almost over – so I chanced nudging him a bit to see if he was going to wake up. His eyes fluttered open, and despite being mostly blind due to cataracts, I could tell when he figured out I had Miss Kidd with me.

“Hello, baby,” he murmured to her as he tried to force through the fog to wakefulness. He’s the only one allowed to call her that. The last time one of her other relatives tried – a grandparent on her mother’s side – she very firmly said, “You don’t call me that. Only Pa.” in that sweet childlike tone that implies impending murder in one’s sleep at some point in the future.

“Hi, Pa,” she said softly. “I love you.”

Sometimes I think the only time my father doesn’t scowl is when his granddaughter’s around. “I love you, too,” he told her.

He spent the next 3 or 4 minutes struggling with an overhead handle to get into an upright sitting position, just so she could come sit next to him on the hospital bed. I know better than to try to help him – his fierce indepedence makes me look utterly helpless by comparison.

As they talked – the visit was more for her and for him than it was for me – I watched, as I usually do. He was obviously tired, and in extreme pain. He hit the morphine button a couple of times while we were there, and would randomly complain about his foot hurting – despite not having one anymore.

My interaction with him went as it usually does. He gave me shit for not having been around, or having called, or shown any signs of life for months. He asked after Z and K, and then gave me more of a hassle for never dating the one and for losing the other, which devolved into a general critique of my stunning lack of life success, which led to:

“So what’s this I hear about a new girlfriend?”

I gave him a high-level overview of AB, leaving out a number of details, including her ethnicity, that would make him apopleptic if he ever found out. Everyone may be a little bit racist, but Dad’s a major over-achiever in that regard. He’s also aggressively intolerant of, well, damn near everything.

Having about had my fill and feeling a bit snarky, I said, “She sent a message for you, Dad, and I quote: ‘You people really need to come up with better holiday traditions than this. You’ll run out of limbs soon.’”

Not only did my father laugh, so did the old guy in the next bed over. (AB wins style points there, yo.)

“Yeah,” he mumbled after the laughing and follow-on coughing fit passed. “Well, son, it’s your fault. Christmas has always cost an arm and a leg with you around.”

(OK, so I got my morbid sense of humor from both parents. So?)

Miss Kidd punched him on the arm for that one. “Pa! NOT NICE!”

Shortly after that, we said our goodbyes and left, as I had to get Miss Kidd home. Dad said he was going to probably check himself out Friday, which drew a stern look from her and a sharp, “Pa, you will stay here until the doctors say you can go home. Am I clear?”

(Why, yes, she IS an alpha bitch in training. Who didn’t know this already?)

I dropped Miss Kidd off at her mom’s, and then went to mine for a little bit to check up on her, make sure she was alright and see if she needed anything. The usual doting-son routine. We conspired to sneak her out of the house at some point so she could meet AB for herself – I’m not letting my dad anywhere near her, but I do want Mom to meet her.

And then I decided I needed to see her myself, and off I went for some desperately needed snuggle therapy.

Now that he’s through with the surgery, I’m a lot less touchy than I was. I’m still a bit raw and sore about the whole ‘I can’t believe you just wished your father was dead’ thing, but it’s not a live munition anymore, at least. Progress of any kind is still progress, I guess.

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