The last person that I am a caregiver too is my dad. He is last today...here... but NEVER last in our thoughts or life!
I was and still am (and always will be) a huge Daddy’s Girl. My dad always told me me never wanted a boy. He wanted a princess to spoil, and that is what he did.We were more like best friends than father and daughter. Even though there were over a thousand kilometers between us, we were close as could be. It was never out of the ordinary to receive a phone call at 2 in the afternoon and it was my dad at work. He had heard a joke and had to share it with me. He would surprise me with visits, calls and gifts all the time. He was my best friend.
Before 1996, I had NEVER heard of Brain Injuries or TBI or ABI...but that was all to change for me that year. It would be the beginning of a long learning curve for me and bring me to and through places that I never thought was possible.
On the August long weekend of 1996, my mom married to her second husband, on a gorgeous Saturday morning. I woke up excited to see the day, to see my 2 children ‘dressed up’ and spend the day with family. As usual, around 10am my dad called and we spoke for about a half an hour – as we did most Saturdays (our big conversations were saved for on Sunday for at least an hour and a half). This time though our talk ended with an arguement, which I don’t quite remember how it started (which you would think I would - since Dad and I never fought or argued!) But we did ... and there was no Sunday phone call either – again I don’t remember why.
On Monday night just before 10pm our phone rang...
It was Mary (the lady my dad used to live with) calling to tell me that Dad was in a coma, from being beaten up. They didn't know if he was going to make the night, they were operating to try to take the pressure of his brain but it didn't look good. If I could get to Edmonton as soon as possible it would be best.
Edmonton was at least a 16hour drive from my house. I had just had my second son, Samuel, in December. Our calving barn burnt to the ground that February 29.(we were due to start calving March 1) I had a family to care for, my mom was not even in the country anymore- away on her honeymoon- and we were in the middle of a busy haying season.
I made some calls to family and friends to ask for prayer ... waited for calls from Edmonton with updates on my dad and tried to keep it all together as plans were made to buy a one way bus ticket to Edmonton. And the next day, Tuesday, Dennis drove me to the bus station. I was now on a bus for 16hours with no contact with my family. I wouldn't know anything of my dad and his status until I arrived in Edmonton. To say the very least, it was a long, long bus ride. I couldn’t talk to anyone, I couldn’t eat or sleep. All I could do was pray. So I did what I could do... for almost 16hours.
When I got to my destination, Mary and her daughter met me and took me to get cleaned up before seeing my dad. Yes! My dad was still with us! He was still in a coma and non responsive but he was still with us. I was over joyed! I was prepped by Mary on what would happen as I got to the ICU . I was prepped again when I met the nurses and doctors at the hospital.
But nothing prepared me for what I would see when I walked into the ICU. The silence was the first thing... it was so quiet, except for the beeping of machines. Everyone spoke in hushed tones, no one made real eye contact with others. I walked in and looked for my dad...but I couldn't find him. He wasn’t there – my first thought was “They made a mistake and he is not here!” until the nurse led me to a bed with a man laying in it. A man that was breathing via tubes and machines, laying so still and quiet, a man that had half of the right side of his head shaved with an angry looking incision across it. This man had tubes and wires sticking out of his head.
This man was not my dad...
It couldn't be my daddy. My daddy was so energetic! He loved to sing and dance! He would tell jokes to everyone! When I would walk into a room my dad would smile a beautiful big toothy grin and say to me “Hi Jo! What up!? Did you hear the one about...” and then flash those gorgeous, twinkling, blue eyes! My dad was a ladies man! He was handsome, tall, thin and larger than life.
This man on the bed wasn't my daddy...
But as I looked, I realized it was. There was the pock scars, from when he had chicken pox as a kid, on his forehead. There was the tattoo of his name on his wrist that he and his twin brother had done when they were in thier teens.
This was my dad. The nurse told me gently that he could most likely hear me and know that I was there so to talk to him. So I took his hand and told him that I needed him to get better. I needed him to get out of that bed so that he could come and visit me and play with his 2 grandsons! I told him that I would stand there until he would get out of the bed. I threatened to play “Achy Breaky Heart” on a continuous loop unless he got out of bed(Dad hated that song!) There was never any response.
He just laid there.
I stayed with him for a week at the hospital, leaving only to eat, update Dennis on how dad was doing via phones calls outside the ICU and to shower and sometimes to sleep. But for the most part I was there with him. More of our family showed up a few days after I did and after a week I had to leave because the farm needed me.
Our kids needed me.
By this time my mom had made it out to Edmonton (home 2 days into her honeymoon) and she drove me home. ..where I waited daily for news.
There were numerous calls for the next 6 weeks... not sure if he’d make the day – the night – today. Dennis and I made another trip out when they were sure he was going to leave us – but he didn’t. He was moved then to the step down unit at the hospital. He was still in a coma but now they had him in a medically induced coma to control his pain.
As we walked into dad’s room I looked at my dad and was stopped in my tracks. There laying on his bed not only my dad but my youngest son Samuel. Not literally... but there was my son! It was eery as I watched dad for the next few days but seeing Sammi too. Sam looks so much like my dad! He has dad’s eyes, dad’s smile, shape of face, nose...it was unnerving! (looking back now it was almost as if God were saying to me that here is something from your future...)
Dad’s initial prognosis was that there was a 1% chance of survival, then it was a 5% he would be in a ‘vegetative’ state for the rest of his life. Then it was 5% he would never talk but he would be ‘aware’. His chances of living kept changing daily as did his ‘level of life’...
My dad left the hospital in Edmonton in about 3 months and moved to the hospital that was in the small town that he lived in. He was now a limited mobility quadriplegic (he was able to spasmodically move his left hand)in a large Broda style chair. Things were not easy but slowly he started to talk to some people, he would answer simple questions – pretty amazing for a guy that was only going to have a 5% chance of a ‘life worth living’. Eventually over a year he was able to feed himself and with the aid of special exercise equipment he could move his legs. But he now will be forever in a wheelchair.
In 2005 my dad moved from the small Alberta town that he lived in to the small Manitoban town that I lived in. We moved him to be closer to me (I am his only child, his only daughter) and our kids. We got him into the local hospital and from there we were able to get him into the Personal care home (PCH) just a few miles from our house. It was great! I went from seeing my dad once every few years to whenever I wanted.
My dad and I have a standing date night on Thursdays. I take 2 of my boys (Sam and Zac) to air cadets then I go back to the PCH usually with coffee,tea, donuts or cookies and dad and I watch tv together and enjoy the coffee and treats. Most days my dad does not know who I am. When we ask if he knows me, I am Norma (one of his 4 sisters), Lois (his baby sister), Mary (his ex girl friend) or someone else from his past. I rarely am Jodi.
I won’t lie and say it doesn't hurt, because it does. I know people will be thinking, to, that he probably doesn't know other people, but he does. He knows my mom when he sees her, he knows his sister, he knows my husband! (my dad is very adamant that he was NOT at my wedding but he WAS at Dennis’!☺) Dad will converse much more with Dennis when we visit, he will sing with him and he will laugh at his jokes (granted, maybe Dennis’ jokes are funnier...) But it is a struggle. I used to spend my holidays with my dad in his truck. Riding on the dog house of his truck, singing the great country songs from the 80’s, eating Ritz crackers and garlic sausage and grasshopper cookies.
Now we have our Thursday nights. We have special days when we take a meal to dad and enjoy it and a movie. Every Christmas season we decorate a tree in his room, the kids will get into teams of 2 and each will decorate a ginger bread house and one will stay in dad’s room. We video tape all the kids programs and watch them with him – if he is not able to take the Handi-Van to the event.
All these memories I carry deep in my heart and always will.
And I will ALWAYS be Daddy’s girl.