Trash Triage

Trash can 2He was sixty-one and at his job when he asked the morning newspaper boy to help him throw it in the dumpster (http://tampa.cbslocal.com/2014/04/03/housing-complex-clerk-mistakes-suicide-jumpers-body-for-april-fools-prank/). The ninety-six-year-old woman’s body hadn’t appeared human. To him she looked like a mannequin. A dummy.

The surgeon made a similar operating assessment when my friend’s father had been ambulanced from a nursing home with a fractured femur. Expecting a routine consult with the doctor prior to surgery, the daughter left the hospital at ten that night and returned at seven the next morning. The minutes ticked by. One by one the heavy hours stacked up. Where was he? Why didn’t he come?

At five-thirty the daughter was beside herself as orderlies wheeled her elderly father out of the room and she caught a glimpse of the doctor. Confronted with her consternation, he explained, “I did not come by because 90 percent of patients with dementia never have anyone with them.”

All too sadly his informed statistic mirrors society’s devaluation of the demented elderly. That 90 percent of them are presented to the medical community as throwaways is a result built family by family. Child by child. Son by son. Daughter by daughter.

What are we thinking? Father doesn’t know who I am? Mother doesn’t remember my name? They don’t know me; so what’s the point?

Why do we make love conditional? Did our parents make it conditional when we did not know their names? when we could not say words? In our helplessness didn’t we sense self-worth through the security of a swaddling blanket, the contentment of cuddling, the soothing sound of a lullaby? They imprinted personal value. We did not have to do anything or be anything except ourselves. Unadulterated.

My father, too, was diagnosed with dementia. His was mania manufactured by the misuse and overuse of antipsychotic drugs. (See http://www.amazon.com/Before-Door-Closes-Daughters-Alcoholic/dp/1490808949/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1396716040&sr=1-1&keywords=judith+hall+simon.) My success in getting the mind-altering drugs eliminated did not restore the spark in my father’s voice that had belonged to him before he was made a zombie and cast off as nursing facility waste. I missed hearing that unique part of him the rest of his life.

The drugs, taking their toll, also left my father’s mental function vacillating between clear and unclear. On one of his hazy days, Daddy asked me, “Who are you?”

“Judy.”

“That’s what I thought. You’re the one who takes care of me.”

I’ll remember that the rest of my life.

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