Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Dog Named Blitz - Chapter Six, "Third Year: Part 3"

For background on this serial, please click here. You can also start at the previous section

As stated earlier, my father was stricken with Pick's disease, and by Blitz's third year Dad had been in a memory care facility for a while.  Although getting him there was one of the hardest things we would ever do as a family. 

For years Mom took care of Dad the best she could.  She was incredibly strong, as caring for one with dementia is among the hardest work one can perform.  Despite having little to no short term memory and constantly repeating himself, Dad had also developed repetitive habits like smoking cigarettes and demanding to go to the same lousy restaurant every night.  Mom took him - she had to take him or else he'd walk - and I'd try to take him a night or two a week to break things up for her.  My brother-in-law also pulled some shifts, which my Mom greatly appreciated.  However Dad was only getting worse, and was it was soon becoming more and more difficult to care for him. 

Despite all her care, strength, and best efforts, Mom ultimately reached the point of exhaustion that all care givers that suffer these diseases face.  For everyone's good, it now became necessary to place Dad in a memory care facility. 

As a family, we did a lot of due diligence on which facility would be best.  We toured a number, and saw a wide spectrum of care being provided.  A couple were shocking: even when they knew we'd be touring, some facilities were dirty and their residents were receiving horrible care.  It was heartbreaking to see. 

We were blessed in that we ultimately found a great place on the outskirts of the city. It was new, well staffed, clean, professional, and safe.  The other thing we really liked was that families of the residents had 24/7 access to the facility, no matter what.  That meant that the facility couldn't hide behind visiting hours.  They were an open book, which was exactly what we wanted for Dad. 

We had the facility, we now needed to get him up there.  The first step was to set Dad's room up with familiar things to make him feel like this was indeed his place.  This was accomplished via favorite pictures, artwork and books.  We also set up a TV, along with a large recliner that was nicknamed "Verne."  The recliner was named after famous pro wrestler Verne Gagne, whose notorious finishing move was a sleeper hold.  Once Verne had it applied, it was only a matter a time before his opponent was rendered unconscious.  So too with the recliner. Dad couldn't be in it for very long without snoring eventually ensuing. 

In a tragic twist of fate the real Verne Gagne developed Alzheimer's  and eventually was housed in the same facility as Dad.  Very sad. 

On our appointed day, we got Dad into the car undo the auspices of going for a ride.  The short trip felt like a long time, and I was quite thankful that my brother had flown in from his home in San Francisco to lend his support.  It just made things better for me having him be there. 

We entered the facility without too much trouble from Dad, and got him into his room.  He was progressed enough in the disease that he didn't get what was going on, which was equal parts blessing and curse.  It was a blessing as we were able to get him up there, and curse that once there, all he could utter, over and over again, was "let's go." 

After about an hour we got him as situated as we possibly could, and attempted to get him to lie down and take a nap.  He continued to say over and over again, "Let's go."  After about 15 minutes we were finally able to make it clear that we needed to leave, and he needed to stay.  Looking up from us as he sat on his bed, he said with extremely hurt eyes and as much lucidity as he'd displayed in years, "Please don't leave me here." 

In the abundance of heartbreak the disease cost us for all of those years, that moment was the most heartbreaking.  My family and I departed in silence, each of us likely having the internal dialog battle of "it's for the best" versus "what the hell did we just do?" 

It was of course for the best, and within a couple of days the route nature caused by the disease afforded Dad the opportunity to develop a new set of of repetitive habits, and he very quickly acclimated to the facility.  The place itself was quite nice, with big screen TV rooms, sitting rooms, comfortable commons areas, an ice cream parlor, and a large outdoor courtyard. 

It was to that courtyard that I'd often take Blitz for a visit with Dad.  Dogs were welcome in the outdoor areas, and were a common site for the residents as aid dogs were often brought in for interactions.  While I was originally worried about this as Blitz was often so wired up to meet new people, she was always on her best behavior on these visits; maintaining her composure but all the while being the friendly dog she always was. 

In the courtyard, Dad and I often played a game of catch, as Dad still had fantastic coordination and seemed to enjoy the activity.  I found it so remarkable that a man whose brain had been so ravaged - to the point where as to be unable to care for his basic needs, and to be rendered nearly mute - was still able to have a catch with his son.  And every toss, every one, was right at my chest, just like he taught us when we were kids.  It was amazing, and afforded memories that will last with me forever. 

While Blitz basically behaved, for these games of catch, it was just too much.  She'd be unable to control herself.  She'd fly back and forth, following the ball in the air and awaiting any drop so she could fetch up the errant ball.  It made both Dad and me grin, and I'd ultimately mention, "Boy, she's one crazy dog."  Dad would reply back with one of the few words he could still utter, "Yep."

Ultimately I'd feel sorry for Blitz, and I'd ask Dad to throw the ball for her to fetch, and he did so expertly.  She'd dutifully track down the thrown ball, fetch it in her teeth, and quickly return it to Dad where he'd take it from her and would start the process all over again.  Of the three of us, I'm not sure who loved the fetch game the most. 

Often while Dad was playing with the dog I'd think about what a horrible shame all of this was.  It was so very unfair on so many levels.  One tiny level was that Dad was never able to hunt with Blitz, and to see her work.  Dad was always a dog guy, and he would have been impressed with how she performed.  I would have given anything to have been able to have one hunt with the two of them.  Instead, I'd have to tell Dad stories from hunting and how amazing Blitz was. 

While I'm not sure Dad comprehended much of what I told him, and while I'm sure he wouldn't be able to recall any of it two minutes after I said it, he seemed to enjoy sitting there, petting Blitz, and listening.  At this point, the unfairness of the disease would usually hit me.  I missed my hunting buddy.  I missed my Dad.

We always closed these sessions same way, with me choking through a horrible lump in my throat, stating,  "She's an incredible dog, Dad.  I wish to God you could go out with us and see for yourself." 

And he'd always reply, "Yep."

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