A Way Where There Seems to be No Way

Strategic thinking is one of my strong suits: my mind often ticks through options automatically. But my father’s situation: sick and in a Christian Science nursing home seemed like a brick wall at the end of the road. I was afraid that he would worsen and his fellow Christian Scientists would let him languish and even die all the while proclaiming him healed. Yet once he decided to opt for Broadview, the Christian Science home an hour west of my parent’s home in Los Angeles, there seemed little I could do . . . but pray. Why does prayer seem so wimpy? The last resort when all my heaving and hoeing has come up empty?

So pray I did. And I heard God whisper to my heart, I am still with him. I am there.  I still love him. I also heard God say one morning as I rose to consciousness, Buy plane tickets now. I agonized over the dates, praying, God, show me when to go. When you run a busy Healing Center it is not easy to leave town on short notice. It is not easy to cancel appointments, skip leadership meetings and tell your boss, my rector, that you are headed back to Los Angeles for the second time in a month. The best time seemed to be the week set aside for our family vacation. I asked my daughter if she minded going to Los Angeles and ask my husband if he minded being left behind. He reported that a tight deadline was going to make it impossible for him to go to the beach anyway. He urged me to go to Los Angeles and Sarah said she did not have a preference.

So I booked tickets, then proceeded to be dogged by nagging doubts. Should we go? After all, things seemed to have settled down. Dad was in the nursing home and Mom was sleeping a lot, recovering from months of battling cancer while simultaneously taking care of a husband who could not carry his dirty plate to the sink much less help cook a meal or carry out the trash.

When I was there in early June, I had placed chairs between the hall doorway and the sofa and again between the kitchen doorway and the fridge so he could grab them with both hands as he tottered along unsteadily.  I had also purchased a walker and was at first elated at the speed with which he traveled from the hallway to the fridge until I looked at this face instead of his feet and saw the fear: he was stepping lively to keep from falling and never touched the walker again.

Back home in Virgina, I organized a soaking prayer conference where I sensed the presence of God so powerfully that I repeatedly slid to the floor.  It was soothing, comforting and pleasurable all at once.

The day after the conference Sarah awoke with a burning throat and a fever.  Our housemate, Nathan, commented that she had all the symptoms of swine flu and we all chuckled. The next day, Sam had an emergency root canal.Two days later, Sarah’s fever was gone, but we got an email from her principal stating:

“Some of our students are reporting they have been diagnosed with a strain of H1N1 since the end of the school year and are receiving treatment from a medical professional.  There is not a specific source of the flu, and it is likely spread through face-to-face contact.  If your child is showing flu-like symptoms, please see a medical professional.”

Our flight was due to take off in four hours.  A call to Sarah’s pediatrician only told us that her practice was flooded by kids with swine flu and that they could not see us before morning. The next morning, now Thursday, the doctor said Sarah was not contagious since her fever had abated by Sunday evening so we rushed home, threw Sarah’s sheep pillow and our tooth brushing into our partially packed bags and raced to the airport hoping to catch the flight we had missed the previous day–only to have the lady behind the ticket counter, inform us that Sarah could not fly until a week after the date of her first symptoms. United booked us on a flight for Sunday but now the doubts increased: should we still go–for just five days–what was the point of that? Or head for the beach?

Again I sought the Lord, and sensed we were to go. But why? I wondered.  To keep Mom company? To drive her to Broadview to see Dad? Since an accident in November of 2007, we had asked Mom not to drive on freeways. Or were we going because Dad was going to die? After all the doctor at Foothill Presbyterian had said Dad would not live more than two months if he did not have laser surgery to bore a tunnel through his enlarged prostate.

Or were we going to accompany Mom to a routine appointment at City of Hope where she was being treated for cancer?  She had an appointment there that Monday, was that the reason for us to be there?  I had no answers, I only knew God had told me to go.

I went to the library and stocked up on novels figuring this would be a relaxing trip. But by the time we arrived in Covina the landscape had shifted. My dad had called my mom to say that Broadview had pronounced him healed and was moving him from the skilled nursing section of the home to the long-term care section. His care would no longer be covered by medicare, the estimated price tag: $10,000 a month.  They were required by law to give him three days warning.  This was day one.

“Come pick me up,” Dad said to Mom. “I am coming home.”

“You’ve told me not to drive on the freeway!” My mom protested.

It is hard to describe the mental pictures that swirled though our minds at this news. Memories of Dad, his long, bare legs protruding from his diaper as he clung to the furniture for balance, his hands moving crab-like down the long kitchen counter top. Scenes like these had overwhelmed me with an inchoate sadness. Back in early June and I had repeatedly retreated to my room and cried out to God, “Lord, this is too much for me, you are going to have to help me.” And He had, by helping me perceive his presence and assuring me of his love, by reminding me, “I am here. I am taking care of them. I am good.”   At one point God had reminded me of a time when we had inadvertently let our son–who was known to be accident prone– drive a car for six weeks with no car insurance.  I protected you then, He whispered to my heart, and I am protecting them (my parents) now.

Dad was not coming home. No one in the family had seen him since he had entered Broadview but we did not trust their assessment that he was “better”–not because we do not believe in sudden healings–we do–but rather because it did not ring true. When asked if he was still incontinent one nurse told my sister that he was not, then another told her that someone had to help him to the toilet because he dripped urine on the floor as he walked.

By the time Sarah and I got from LAX to the suburban town where I grew up via the Fly-a-Way bus and metrolink train (which we missed by four minutes necessitating a two hour wait for the next train) it was late, too late to visit Dad back in Los Angeles. The next morning the trip to City of Hope left Mom too tired to continue on to Los Angeles. As she slept that afternoon, I worked my way though a list of nursing homes near my parent’s home in the suburbs.  One was less than half a mile away. I called and Sarah and I went to visit but the sight of elderly people who looked as if their bodies had melted into their wheelchairs, like candles in the sun; and faces who did not return our smiles was depressing. If Dad had improved, even a little bit, was he a match for this place?

From my reading on the internet I knew that there were many levels of care but I did not have a clear grasp of where the boundaries lay. “If,” I asked the woman giving us the tour, “my dad is stronger and more alert than the people here, where would you put him? Where would you put your father?”

She walked me to the foyer and handed me a pamphlet for assisted living. “This is a nice place,” she said. “A very nice place.” I glanced at the map on the back. It was near my old elementary school. “Let’s go,” Sarah said.

The foyer looked like a hotel, complete with coffee service near the front door and a smiling receptionist behind the desk. I saw bright faces, smiling, alert, engaged walking about, some using walkers but most were ambulatory.  See, I was already catching on the lingo.

After a tour of the facilities the director urged, “Bring your mom back for lunch.”

But when we got in the car, Sarah said, “I think we need to go see Grandpa tomorrow. That has to be our top priority.”  I nodded.  He had now been at Broadview for nine days and no one had seen him since the day he entered in acute renal failure due to a constricted urinary tract.

Then it hit us: take Grandma to breakfast at the assisted living place, Atria, and then go see Grandpa.  Grandma was willing to visit and brightened when they served French toast–a family favorite–for breakfast.

After breakfast and a tour, we convinced my mom, Grandma, to put $500 down on a two room apartment at Atria, then sped out to Broadview on some of the oldest, narrowest freeways on the planet. If someone had described on-ramps only 30 feet long, I would not have believed them, but here I was, standing on the brakes in a desperate attempt to stop before we ended up in someone’s front yard. I was grateful I was driving my parent’s Acura and not my Honda which takes a bit more than thirty feet to reach freeway speeds!

Dad, quite sadly, thought we were coming to get him, to take him home, but at least we were able to reassured him, “We have found a place that is quite nice, where you can live with Mom!”

“I”ve missed you,” he said to us all as his eyes grew glassy with unshed tears.

We hugged him and explain that he had to have a physical and a TB test before he could move into Atria, then held our breath. He nodded, and my mom and I glanced at each other our eyes full of the unspoken: had my father, a man who had not had a physical in more than forty years just agreed to go to a doctor?  Yes! He had!

That afternoon the nurse from Atria visited him in his nursing home to evaluate his suitability for assisted living and gave him an a-okay so the process could move forward.  But where now to find a doctor who could see him with the Fourth of July just a day away?

I called doctor after doctor. If they were open the next day, there were not going to be open on the fourth to read the TB test.  As the minutes ticked to hours, I realized the minute hand was moving toward five; most of the medical offices were closing.  I was leaving in less than 48 hours.

Finally I called my sister in Toronto and she deftly managed to find a doctor who could see my dad the next day and the fourth of July.

The next morning we borrowed a wheelchair and got him to the doctor then back to Broadview to wait for the TB results.  My sister, Kathy, flew in the next evening and on Friday, the fourth of July the three of us–Kathy, me and my daughter, Sarah, drove to Broadview to fetch my dad for his TB test.

As we drove dad away from Broadview he said, “You are rescuing me.”

“That is because we love you Dad!”

“You sure know how to show it!”

My heart swelled. It often felt like a rescue to me too!

Kind words between my dad and me were few and far between, so this was a sweet moment.

We celebrated the negative TB results with a burger at In-and-Out in Glendale then I drove to LAX where Sarah and I would catch our plane to Virginia and home.

As Kathy slid behind the wheel, my dad looked up at me smiling with the satisfaction of a small child. The roles had reversed, I was the parent, he was the little one trusting in our care.

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