The brief article, above, is one of admonishment and encouragement. Thank you my fellow blogger in Singapore for your extraordinary insight.
I think many of us can dredge up similar instances when someone responsible for the care of our loved ones dropped the ball. In my case, I flew down from Seattle, Washington to visit my father at a hospital in Oregon where he had been admitted because of a medical condition that had became acute in light of his Alzheimer’s disease.
I entered his room and saw him sitting up in his hospital bed, frantically rubbing his back on the stack of pillows behind him. “Dad, you look really uncomfortable. What’s going on?” “I don’t know,” he said, “but my back feels hot.” One look at my father’s back was enough to raise my blood pressure, and it takes a lot to do that since my BP is usually around 100/65. My father’s back was raw with welts. What he was feeling when he said that his back was hot was extreme itching.
I summoned a nurse – no small feat since it appeared that an old person with dementia in a hospital room was not as important as the other patients on the hospital floor. The nurse told me, “Oh, he must be experiencing an allergic reaction to the solution we used for his bath in bed. It’s the type of cleanser you don’t have to rinse off.” “Well, evidently, you do have to rinse it off! Look at the welts on my father’s back. He’s in misery! You have to get this dried soapy solution off him in order to relieve the itching!”
The nurse left the room, only to return a couple minutes later with a stack of washcloths. “Here, use these.” Then she walked out.
Left to my own devices, I drenched several of the washcloths in cold water, opened the back of my father’s hospital gown and proceeded to clean off, and cool off, his back. “Dad, this is going to feel real cold but it will make you feel better.” And it did. Ministering to my father in this way was a gift. I still wasn’t happy with the hospital staff, but I began to appreciate what turned out to be one of the final personal acts of caregiving for my father.
A month later I again flew down to Oregon, but this time, the cold washcloths I applied to my father were employed to bring down his temperature as he spent the last hours of his life in his assisted living bedroom dying. My father’s cancer – inoperable at that stage of his body’s vulnerability – had placed him in a stage of unconsciousness. As the staff alleviated the discomfort of his cancer with morphine, I lowered the fever brought about by the shutting down of his body’s organs.
A month earlier, what good would have come about if I had read the riot act to the nursing staff at the hospital? None whatsoever. Instead, I can be thankful for the gift of hands-on caregiving and comfort that I was able to provide my father while he was still alert and able to express his relief at having a cool, itch-free body.
I’m sad thinking about these incidents that occurred in the Fall of 2007, but I’m also delighted with having had the opportunity to minister so personally to my extraordinary father during the last weeks of his life.