What a strange summer it’s been. With the virus still looming, we had the first wedding in our family, I turned 30, I worked (and am still working) through the last stages of getting my book published, and my dad had a terrible accident that changed everything.
The first week post-accident, I drove to the hospital over and over again, hauling people, supplies, or emotional support. I made the trip in the cool of the morning, before the dew dried on the grass and I had to go to work. I made the trip in the evening, when Simone, my boss’s wife, took my place on the combine so I could get off early and spend some time with my family, perhaps spread out on the hospital lawn, sorting through the mountains of paperwork and decisions that faced us.
I never went inside the hospital, except once, when I had to use the bathroom. Hospital rules said only one visitor every 24-hour period. Amy took a shift, Ben took a shift over the weekend, and Mom took the rest of the shifts.
People on Facebook told us we ought to be thankful that someone could be with him in Covid times. But though I had been perfectly willing to quarantine, social distance, and wear a mask to stop the spread of Covid, I found myself burdened and upset by this limitation. I wished I could go inside with my mom and provide emotional support, as Dad lay there at his worst, with the brain trauma, pain meds, and surgery anesthesia making him not quite himself.
They told us that Dad needed to go to a skilled nursing facility for two weeks. Amy called around to various places, but they all said the same thing. “No visitors. He can talk to you through a window.”
Of all the things I’d heard so far, this terrified me the most. More than the bleeds on the brain, or the pinched spinal cord, or the broken back, or the shattered wrists. The idea of Dad, at his lowest, being alone like that, chilled me to the bone. “Surely we can just bring him home?” I asked. “There are eight of us. Surely between the eight of us, we can take care of him?”
Indeed, there were eight of us. Imagine that. We’re never all in Oregon at the same time, but right now, we are. Amy hasn’t moved back to Thailand yet. I’ve come home from my coast-to-coast wandering. Ben’s still in Corvallis, 30 minutes away, with a year left to go before he graduates with his PHD. Steven’s living at home again, briefly, while he completes his Paramedic internship. He’s planning to move in with Ben soon. And Jenny, of course, still lives at home too.
Matt and Phoebe had planned to move to Houston a couple weeks after their wedding, but they were already considering delaying that, and staying in Oregon longer. Both their families are here in Oregon. The weather is so much nicer this time of year. And Covid is exploding in Houston, while Oregon has done relatively well.
When Dad had his accident, then, they delayed their move to Houston indefinitely. For a while they lived with Phoebe’s parents, but then they bought their first home, an Airstream trailer, and just last night they moved into our side yard.
So there are eight of us: Dad’s wife, six children, and one daughter-in-law. Surely we can figure this out? The hospital people were dubious, but they were impressed with Mom’s care taking and Dad’s progress, and decided maybe we could handle it after all.
Monday was a frantic scramble to get all the equipment he needed. I was on the combine, utterly useless at the moment, but watching the drama via our family WhatsApp group.
There was a list of items we needed, most importantly a hospital bed. Amy called Love Inc. in Eugene, and they said they had everything we needed except for the shower chair. Okay, perfect. The shower chair wasn’t urgent.
Then, at 3:30 Matt sent an urgent message. We’d run into a hiccup. Love Inc. had said they’d call Amy back when they had the items ready for her, but they never called. They close at 1:00. She tried calling the Corvallis branch, but no one was answering.
This was a problem, because Dad was supposed to come home the next morning.
A flurry of messages ensued. Mom sent Matt some more numbers to call. Matt called, and then told us different prices for different types of hospital beds. But none of them would be delivered in time. Oh dear. Well, finally we found one that would only be several hours late. Surely Dad could survive on the couch or something for a couple hours. Or, could he just get discharged from the hospital a couple hours later?
Matt said he’d call and reserve the hospital bed that could arrive the soonest, when suddenly a message came in from Amy. “No no we got everything!!”
Turns out, there’s been a miscommunication. When Love Inc. hadn’t called back, Amy and Steven had decided to just drive in and see if the stuff was available, even though they were technically closed, and it was! They even had a shower chair after all, that had just arrived. And it was all free.
Apparently Amy had her data turned off, so she didn’t see the other messages until we’d almost ended up with two hospital beds. But thankfully, she managed to stop Matt in time.
We brought Dad home on Tuesday, July 14, a week after his accident. (Also, interestingly enough, it was Matt and Phoebe’s one-month wedding anniversary.) Everyone except Steven got off work long enough to see Dad come home. But Steven’s job, as a non-emergency medical transport driver, allowed him to be the one to drive Dad home! So we were all there when Dad arrived.
Dad was having trouble sleeping through the night. When things got dark, it did strange things to his brain, causing him to have agitated obsessive thought spirals about bins at the warehouse, and what should be moved where. So we left the kitchen light on, and made a schedule of who would get up to check on him when.
But what if he needed someone in the middle of the night?
Mom thought maybe she should sleep on the couch, but she couldn’t sleep with the light on. Could we go buy a doorbell somewhere? We concluded that it was too late.
“Is there any way we could put his bed next to the piano, and he could bang on it?” I asked.
We experimented with this. At the time Dad had very little use of his arms and hands, so we swiveled the bed to where he could bang on the piano with his feet. It worked very well, under the circumstances, although he didn’t end up needing to use it. Just as well, as it probably would have woken the whole house. And the next day we bought a doorbell, which we’ve been using as a call button ever since.
Dad was pretty much bedridden at first. He could sit up in a wheelchair for a little bit. And we bought extensions for a walker that he could lay his arms in, since his wrists are shattered. But he mostly lay in bed, and visitors conversed with him through the window.
Dad’s first visitors were Kevin Baker, who is his fellow pastor, and Kevin’s son Chavon. Chavon does odd jobs for Dad, and was the first person to find Dad after his accident. According to Chavon, Dad’s face had been so coated with blood that Chavon didn’t recognize him at first, but eventually he identified Dad by the shape of his nose.
As time has gone by, Dad has been spending more and more time in his wheelchair. He likes to wheel onto the porch to chat with people, unless it’s really hot, in which case he sits in his wheelchair and talks through the screened patio door. Already, talking through the window is a thing of the past.
The boys have been building a wheelchair ramp, which is almost completed now.
This morning, Mom realized that Dad’s head stitches have been in too long. Skin was beginning to grow over them. So, after getting permission from the home care nurse, Mom decided to take them out herself! It was very fascinating to watch.
Today, Dad has been home for a week and a half. Already, he’s made amazing progress. He can mostly feed himself now. He’s just so much better at adjusting himself to make himself comfortable. He’s sleeping well, with no more agitated thought spirals. He can tap at his phone with his good hand well enough to make phone calls, and he loves to wheel around the house with his phone on speakerphone, merrily chatting with whoever.
It’s really nice to watch him doing this. It makes him seem like my dad again, moving around, making decisions, and entertaining himself, instead of lying there helplessly.
This whole journey has been emotionally taxing for me, but seeing Dad’s rapid improvement makes it much easier. Also, receiving so much support from our community has been so helpful. And I finished up my combining job last Monday, which has made things so much easier for me. I don’t have the energy for a real job + a care-giving role.
Of course we have a long road ahead. Although Dad’s legs and feet are in great condition, allowing him to walk with a walker, and his right wrist is healing well, allowing him to feed himself and make phone calls, his left arm is still limp. Dad is unable to move himself between the bed, the wheelchair, and the walker, because he can’t lift his arm. We have to help him.
In fact, with all his injuries, from his wrists to his neck to his skull to his back, I’m sure we’ll have to help him for quite some time.
But that’s okay, because we have plenty of help.
Endnote: I’ve been posting a number of updates on my Instagram stories (https://www.instagram.com/emilytheduchess/). You can view everything I’ve posted so far under the “Dad’s Accident” story highlight.