5 months into recovery from his stroke and Dad’s doctors and therapists rate him as 80% back to health and counting. At tax time he happily obsessed about numbers, receipts and deductions before sending things to his accountant. When his doctors and therapists ask how he did it, he says love from his family is what brought him this far. I say it is that, plus determination from him and having a strong advocate like Mom when his own voice could not be heard.
Prepping for homecoming – The Strong Advocate: no dogs and home renovations are easy, right?
Two days after Cristina and I arrived but before Allan got to Texas, Mom said to me, “Kristen, you can’t have Dolce here.”
“What?” I questioned. “We’ve always brought her here. Allan’s on his way from New York with the dog, as we speak.”
“Daddy doesn’t like dogs. He doesn’t want to think about the dog when he gets home.”
“But what about all of the other times we’ve come with her?” I pressed.
Mom said, “We accept her because she is yours and we love you. But Dad asked yesterday, ‘will I have to see the dog?’ I have to help him get better.
I called Allan right away. What should we do with Dolce for three weeks? Mom offer to pay for the housing at the kennel down the street. We rejected that right away. How would Dolce feel? She’s blind would be left alone at a new place, away from her people for 3 weeks.
The next day, I told Mom we would look for an AirBnB instead of staying at the house. Mom was relieved for dad but felt like she failed me and SB because we could not live with her.
While the move was hard at the start – driving in Houston traffic four times a day – it turned out to be for the best. All of the stress that might be there between mother and daughter if we lived under one roof, seemed to lessen on the drive home.
To further make Dad’s home environment comfortable Mom ordered a total renovation of the master bathroom. On New Year’s Day, Mom informed me that a contractor would be coming to completely renovate their bathroom so that Dad would not need to worry about doors, the cumbersome shower and the like.
“Who is this person and when is he coming?” I asked.
“The contractor is coming and on Wednesday. You will supervise the work. He says that the entire job will be finished by Sunday, then the cleaners will come on Monday so that Dad can come home on Tuesday,” she said.
It sounded too easy.
The work started a day late with major reconstruction ending on Monday. Mom was beside herself with worry that Dad would not be able to come home to his home. She made alternate arrangements for him to stay at the neighbor’s house, just in case. This was a good plan.
On Tuesday, the day of Dad’s homecoming, the bathroom still wasn’t finished. Everything worked but there was no shower door or fixtures to turn the water on and off. A thick coating of construction dust covered the bedroom and most of the first floor. To make matters worse, the cleaning team Mom hired did not show up at the appointed time. That was 2 PM and Dad was supposed to be home by 4.
Luckily my friend, Ayma had flown into Houston the day before to help welcome Dad home and be a support to me. She and I got to work. We swept baseboards, and chair moldings. We washed the walls, changed the bedding. I even moved all of the books and knick knacks to clean the tables underneath instead of dusting around the objects.
Dad stayed his first night at the neighbor’s house. He came back to a tidy home on Wednesday morning.
Love Brings A Full House
Soon after Dad was admitted to the hospital, Mom called his cousin Sherry in Trinidad. Mom was comfortable with her and could be vulnerable. Unlike to me, where Mom was painting a pretty optimistic picture, “look, Dad is awake, look here he is eating,” she communicated the full details of his situation without the smiles and positive reassuring laughter.
Dad was fortunate to be accepted into the acute inpatient rehab program at CHI Saint Luke in Houston, TX. One of the main stipulations of his admittance to the program was that he would be released to a home filled with family. Studies showed that patients who have family nearby made a more complete recovery than people without a support system.
Mom and Dad live about 2000 miles away from my home in the Catskills. Dad had no immediate relatives in the Houston area. As soon as Mom learned that nearby family would be a requirement, she called Sherry immediately and asked her to come.
Once Mom received the target discharge date, Sherry agreed to stay for 6 weeks, foregoing plans to tour South Africa with her husband. Sherry had taken care of her sick sister with a host of alternative health remedies. The doctors had given her sister some months to live but she thrived for years. Sherry would do the same for Dad. She would help start a regimen that would build his blood and strengthen him naturally so he would feel his best.
Love in Fresh Foods
The saying is, you are what you eat. As an avid cook, I also believe that I infuse my energy into what I make. If I prepare food with love, some of that must get transmitted as we gather together and share the meal.
Dad came home with some specific directives: to gain weight and stabilize his blood pressure.
Dad arrived home at 114 lbs. He did not like the food at the hospital and got most of his calories from Glucerna.
His blood pressure had always been on the lower side which in his youth was fine. However as people age, it is harder to keep blood pressure regulated, and a sudden drop was what caused his fall. It was our goal to keep the pressure regulated through food and keep him off of medications as much as possible.
Cousin Sherry set about preparing nutritious meals for the family. Breakfasts were oatmeal, or porridge with raisins or blueberries and flax seed. Lunches were usually some left overs from the night before. If there were no left overs, Sherry would make sandwiches – tuna salad, chicken salad or some quick dish like a colorful veggie pasta dish.
I usually prepared the evening meal as I worked during the day and couldn’t really help with daytime meals. Dinners were true festive family gatherings. Most nights I was cooking for 6 hungry adults.
The emphasis was in fresh food so we cooked something new every nights. Steaks, meatballs, curries, chicken, fish. The trick was trying to find new ways of preparing the same ingredients. I used lots of fresh herbs to get flavor into the dishes. I wanted to make sure the food was tasty but I needed to accommodate a number of conditions including blood pressure and blood sugar.
By the end of his first month at home, Dad gained 20 lbs.
To stabilize the blood pressure, we needed to know the blood pressure. Mom purchased a blood pressure reading machine and started to keep a daily diary of his blood sugar and blood pressure readings.
Because dehydration leads to low blood pressure, we monitored the amount of water Dad drank throughout the day – aiming for 2 liters. If the blood pressure was consistently low, we added a teaspoon of Himalayan sea salt water to his glass. As the readings were stabilized over the course of a few days, then we took away the salt.
When Dad first came home from the hospital, his red blood cell count was very low. It seemed that blood barely flowed to his extremities. We had to massage the fingers for what seemed like a minute in order to get a blood sample to measure his sugar levels. To build red blood cells, we cooked beef liver once per week. Dad ate it over the course of two or three days with some rice and watercress, kale or another dark green vegetable. We also added beets and beet greens to his vegetable intake. However I forgot to warn them about the effects of eating the beautiful red veggies. Your poop turns red – do not be alarmed!
Love Exercises His Body and Brain
After Dad’s release from the hospital, he did two months of outpatient rehab at TIRR Memorial Herman. Once he started the program, we studied with him. We did brain games at breakfast, lunch and dinner. We bought Dad all types of puzzle books that he could do on his own time. Cousin Sherry would take him on slow short walks during the day. We would time him doing dexterity exercises like transferring small balls from one box to another.
Though Dad was approved for 12 weeks of outpatient therapy, he was dismissed at 8 weeks due to his rapid recovery. He was certified as ok to go forth in his own.
Mom the advocate steps in
Mom needed to get back to work but was not comfortable having Dad alone with just an occasional person to check in during the day. Though I could work from their home, I wasn’t great company. I could not devote the time needed for someone to be active and engaged. Mom researched day programs for older adults. She found a program at Silverado, Memory Care. The day program included physical activities and exercise like Zumba and aerobics, mindfulness exercises like yoga, Tai Chi, cognitive exercises and other social and volunteer activities.
“A fine recovery over several weeks and months”
My cousin is a neurosurgeon in Manhattan. When Dad first had his accident, my cousin followed the case closely. Three days after the accident he told me, “I would anticipate that he will make a fine recovery but it can take several weeks and months.”
Dad now he goes to Silverado 4 days a week. While I am in Houston, I pick him up as often as I can. I always instruct Dad to show me a new way to get Home. He still remembers all of the roads and he knows where the gas stations with the best prices are.
He participates in the exercises and activities fully. Even if the activity isn’t or wasn’t his thing before, he does it because he knows that these experiences are the way to build and maintain his brain.
Mom is starting to have the comfort she needs to go back to work.
This weekend he hooked up his computer speakers himself and blasted the Thriller album from YouTube and danced, while he watched SB do a giant floor puzzle. At Mother’s Day brunch, he had a sip of Champagne and walked through the buffet line alone. I’m grateful to have another birthday with my Dad.