Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dementia Dad

"Did you play soccer today?” my dad asks. I think this is the fourth time this week he has asked me this. I often drop in to Extended Care to see him after my physiotherapy sessions, since they are held across the street. He is sitting in his wheelchair, looking out the window. I sit on his bed, careful to avoid the button on a cord that calls for the nurse.

“No, Dad. I had knee surgery in October.” We have this same conversation almost every time. I lift up my yoga pants legs to show Dad the scars on my knees. “This is the scar from 1998,” I say, “and this is the new one. I still have to wait at least six more weeks before I can play.”

He stares thoughtfully at my knees like this is new information. “That’s a long time to wait, isn’t it?” he asks.

Yes, oh yes.

We are quiet for a while. We’ve never had much to say, he and I. He was always the science guy, the technical guy – an avionics engineer who couldn’t connect with people very well- even his own kids. Of course, we all had our specialty niches: Meg was the smart one, James was the mullet-wearing one that he fought about haircuts with, and I was the sporty one. After I moved out to go to UVIC, the only time my parents and I ever spoke was on Sundays because that was the day of my soccer game. And just like all those years ago, once we are done with the topic of soccer, the conversation gets pretty thin.

“So, what did you have for breakfast today?” I ask. This is usually a safe subject.

“I had no stuff for my toast,” he says. He makes a triangle shape with his hands.

“Jam, you mean?”

“Yeah, that’s it. Jam.”

“Why not?”

“Well, the toast was shaped like a triangle,” he says, showing me the shape again.

What does this have to do with jam? “Cut on the diagonal?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says. “Everyone else had stuff on their toast. But not me.”

He starts to make the triangle shape with his hands again, but I don’t say anything. I’m eager to get past the great toast-and-jam debacle of 2011.

“Just toast for breakfast, Dad?” I say, finally.

“No,” he says, starting to make a different shape with his hands. “There were, uh, eggs,” he looks at his hands. “They were....egg shaped,” he explains without a trace of irony.

“Okay.” I say.

“And soup,” he adds, making his hands into a circle. I guess for the shape of the bowl.

“Soup for breakfast?! Nah, I think you mean for dinner last night.”

“Well, okay, yes,” he says. “It was last night but it was for breakfast this morning. It was that small stuff with air in it. It was shaped like this.” He slowly points to the small circular holes on the medical name bracelet he wears, the ones that allow you to make the bracelet different sizes. When did his wrists get so impossibly thin?

“Rice Krispies?” I guess.

“Maybe,” he says, staring out the window.

We don’t talk for a while. I decide no conversation is better than the riveting shape-filled breakfast exchange we just had. Then he looks at me and says “I want to go home. It’s so boring here.”

My stomach lurches. “Dad, you can’t go home right now. Mom can’t take care of you there. You can’t stand up or walk, remember? “

“Yes, I can. I can fucking walk.”

“Dad, before you came in here, Mom had to call me early one morning to help her try to lift you off the floor, where you had slid down. We had to get the fire department to help us. That’s why they brought you here, in the ambulance. Do you remember being in the ambulance?”

He looks at me angrily. “I came here in an ambulance?”

“Yes. A few months ago.”

We are quiet for a long while this time. We talk a little about the gardening they are doing outside here at the hospital. Across from the garden, in the distance, I can see the field where Sophie played soccer a few weeks ago. “I have to go, Dad,” I say eventually. “I’ll come and see you in a few days.”

“Okay. Thanks for coming. Have a good trip.”

I am not going on a trip. “Thanks Dad.”

“And have a good game.”

“Thanks, Dad. I will.”

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