Sorry for the delay in posting, I was flying back to Chicago today to see my family for a week before flying to France to do my annual house-sitting for Chris and his wife while they take their big yearly vacation (the French get a lot of vacation time, but they’re pretty much required to take a big chunk of it in August).
It’s been a strange trip already, after only three hours. My parents are both around 84/85, and dad recently had surgery for oral cancer, and while the surgery went well, a few weeks later some kind of dementia, or delirium (apparently, there are multiple categories) set in. We don’t know if it was the anesthesia, the surgery itself, some medicine post-surgery (he took a Benadryl shortly before it set in), the chemo, or what. But it’s been really bad, and of course with the radiation, he doesn’t want to eat or drink, so has lost a lot of weight. And now has pretty much stopped eating and drinking, so we’re getting a feeding tube installed, and are already giving him water via a daily IV drip.
I’ve done a lot of googling on this, and apparently there are some serious risks when it comes to operating on the elderly – risks of this very thing happening. You see report after report of them “not being quite right” after surgery. And they don’t know if it’s the anesthesia, inflammation in the brain caused by the trauma of surgery, “chemo-brain” (a result of the chemo), a bad drug interaction, or what.
Dear God, I’ve never actually witnessed someone like this in person. The only thing close was a friend who had AIDS and was dying. I was visiting him out west, and he kept telling me the same funny story over and over again. He’d chuckle every time he got to the punch line. The more he laughed, the more I felt my stomach tie up into a knot. All you can do is put on a good face.
It’s pretty horrible, I really can’t find any other words to describe this. You don’t know what to do. They’re clearly unhappy, in pain, can’t speak well at all (after the surgery, without the prostheses you can’t understand 99% of what they say, but after the radiation they can’t use the prostheses until the mouth heals). Because you can’t understand them, you have no idea if they’re talking out of the delirium or whether they’re trying to have a real conversation. And, as I’d read could happen, his sleep and wake cycles have switched, so now he sleeps most of the day, but is awake much of the night, wandering the house, frail, mumbling.
My poor mom is exhausted. And we have no idea, the doctor has no idea, if he’s going to get over this, if this just temporary, or whether this is permanent. And putting him a hospital or wherever isn’t a great option either – he’s always had a terrible fear of dying in a hospital, and is claustrophobic, and he’s just sane enough to know to say “no” to any move to a hospital.
It’s just horrible to watch. I don’t know how my mom and sister have been handling this the past month. They’ve been dealing with this every day for a month, and I’ve only been here 3 hours.
Anyway, that’s why I didn’t post when I got to Chicago. I’ll be posting lightly tomorrow, as is usual for the weekend, and hopefully will be blogging normally during the week.
I’m sure I’ll have more to write about this as it progresses. But as a single man, this scares the hell out of me – I have no spouse or kids to help if this ever happens to me when I get older. And my dad has killer health insurance – having been a former auto executive, and being a vet. And even then, the nurses are teaching my mom to give him the IV. Seriously, my 84 year old mom? I told her we need to inquire about getting some help, even if we pay for it ourselves. It’s amazing what even “great” insurance – the old kind of insurance people USED to have, that was pretty good (well, for some people at least) – it’s amazing what that kind of “great” insurance still does not cover.
My generation and younger is f’d when we get old.
I’ll be curious to inquire when I get to Europe as to how people, hospitals, insurance, families deal with these issues over there.
Off to bed, hopefully. Gnite.