October 9, 2016 by Paula Reed Nancarrow
Ariadne gave Theseus a sword and a ball of thread.
The sword he could appreciate. The thread she had to explain.
“Fix one end to the door post, and unravel it as you go in. After you slay the Minotaur, hold fast to the thread, and you will find you way out of the Labyrinth. You will find your way back to me.”
“But the monster is your kin,” said Theseus.
“All monsters are kin,” said Ariadne. “Hold fast to the thread.”
Theseus slew the Minotaur. He held fast to the thread. He found his way out of the Labyrinth. But charting a course home, on the wide open sea, somehow he lost Ariadne.
My father was in the hospital once before, in 1975.
He had a ruptured hernia. Not outpatient surgery then. “Dorisanne,” he said, “You want to see something funny?” and lifted up the sheet. “Bald as a baby.” My mother rolled her eyes. Her silence was eloquent then.
It can still be now.
“It’s Paula on the phone. Say something to Paula,” my father begs. “Can’t you say something?” I can hear her tearing out the pages of the Talbot’s catalog, folding them neatly like laundry, stacking the pile on her TV tray.
“It’s okay, Dad,” I say. “She’s busy.”
This year my father has been in and out of hospital three times in four months.
He doesn’t remember much about the first stay, right after Mother’s Day. Oh, he knows I flew out, and that the flight costs $800 – he was impressed till he found out he’d paid for it – but most of what happened he learned from us later.
He had my sister tell him, over and over, how he got there. How kidney failure cascaded into multiple organ failure. How the doctors brought out the orders for her to sign – Do Not Resuscitate/ Do Not Intubate – and told her to call us all home.
“You thought I was going to die in that hospital, but I didn’t,” he told Whitney. “Because I’m a fighter.”
He was the hero, in command of his destiny. It was a good story.
“You’re a fighter,” she agreed. “Bull-headed, too.”
We nicknamed the fighter Demon Dad.
I met Demon Dad the first time I tried to call. They had already moved him once. “You screwed things up,” he said. “You gave Whitney the wrong number, and then they took all the cell phones, and I can’t call a cell phone unless I have another cell phone.”
His blood pressure spiked. He did not sleep. He told my sister to cancel the meeting at the high school. My brother Scott was in jail – no, in the hospital. He had to sign his discharge papers. Everything was all screwed up. He knew his blood pressure was high. Where was the guidance counselor?
What was also high was the calcium in his blood.
The doctors were trying to stabilize with fluids. They gave him a sedative, to try to calm him down. The hallucinations and the paranoia increased. He spat at the night nurse, tried to punch her in the stomach. Ripped out both IVs.
They put him on an antipsychotic. And in restraints. At night he battled monsters. By day we watched him become one.
“Has he asked about Mom yet?” Whitney wanted to know.
We were changing shifts.
He refused to eat or take his medication until they let him go home. It was his constitutional right not to die in a hospital. His children had betrayed him. He was never taking any of us out to dinner again.
“Do you think the home health aides will be able to handle him too?”
“This guy? If he doesn’t fire them all first.”
Ready or not, here I come.
And he did. On my mother’s birthday, June 1.
The notes on his chart said “Acute kidney injury and encephalopathy.” Brain disease. I went to Doctor Internet. “Symptoms include progressive loss of memory, cognitive ability, and subtle personality changes.” Nothing subtle about it. Nor was it exactly a change. He was a manic, supersaturated version of himself.
“We’re getting air conditioning. We’re putting a TV on the screened in porch.” The only place my mother could sit without a television blaring. “That was my idea,” he announced. “And I am going to buy a convertible!!!”
“Is this permanent?” I asked Doctor Internet.
Maybe. I called to sing my mother Happy Birthday. “Happy Birthday to you, too!” she said. Five precious words.
“We’re having cake and ice cream!” my father shouted. “Because I. Came. HOME!”
Told at StorySlam MN!, October 4, for the theme: Perseverance. Artwork found here.