Last January, in the dead of winter, I got the phone call that all adult children dread.
“They took your dad to the hospital by ambulance,” my mother said, trying to conceal her panic.
I dropped everything I was doing. I packed a bag and went to pick up my mom. In the car, I prayed that this wasn’t the end. I wasn’t ready to lose my dad. Not yet. But who is ever ready to lose a parent?
My dad was in the ER, connected to tubes and struggling to breathe. He had severe pneumonia. His oxygen capacity hovered around 80 percent. He was stunned that this was happening to him. After all, he was still active and healthy, a guy who walked regularly and still mowed his lawn every summer using a push mower. He thought he had a bad cold.
I spent the next week driving back and forth between my house, my mom’s house and the hospital. In spite of all the articles I’ve written about caregiving, I felt wholly unprepared. But there I was, thrust into the daunting role of caring for my parents.
Like any journalist, I barraged the doctors with questions. What were they giving him in those IV drips? What was he eating? Will he recover fully? I wrote down everything they told me.
The information wasn’t easy to understand. My mother, who is hard of hearing and struggles with her memory, couldn’t really help. One doctor spoke so softly that I could barely make out a word he was saying. And as nice as most of the nurses were, some of them were hard to find or had no information. Had I not been a health writer, I would have been lost.
Later on, my dad told me that while he was in the ambulance, he had wondered if it would be easier if he died. No one wants a long stay in a hospital. “Easier for you maybe,” I told him, patting his hand. “But I need you to take care of mom. I want you to get well.”
I got my wish. After a blast of solumedrol – a heavy duty anti-inflammatory drug – he began to recover. He stayed in the hospital for eight days. On the way home from the hospital, we stopped to get him flu and pneumonia shots, which he had always resisted.
For now, I got a reprieve. From becoming a caregiver. From losing my dad.