This story was published in the Lancaster, PA Sunday News on March 28, 1999, exactly five years to the day before my father's death by fire. I'm pleased to report that the blessing I discovered in this article continued to be a strong presence in my life for all of those five years.
No one likes to think of his or her parents getting older, getting sick, suddenly not being there.
It is, however, something we all must face sooner or later. I have been one of the lucky ones. My 81 year old father has always been in good health. I don't remember him having more than the occasional sniffle, So it came as something of a shock to all of us, not the least my father, when he suddenly became very ill this past summer.
Dad's only physical problem to that point was bad hips. One hip was damaged by a disease when he was young, and the other has deteriorated with age and overuse. So, it was with some concern, but no real alarm, that my stepmother and I found him unable to get up for three days last August. The alarm did sound, however, on the fourth day, when Mom called and told me to get to their house immediately; Dad was burning with fever and was delirious.
When I arrived, I called Dad's doctor, and then the ambulance; he had a fever of 103. They did tests and took X rays and asked Mom and me dozens of questions, which we answered as best we could. We made the decisions we thought Dad would want us to make.
It turned out that Dad had pneumonia frightening enough, but not as bad as it could have been. He was admitted to the hospital, and so began a journey that has taken us to places we never thought to go.
The pneumonia cleared up relatively quickly, but the underlying problems of Dad's immobility were harder to fix. The first suggestion to put Dad into a nursing home was met with fear. But, after reassurances that Dad only needed to be there for a short stay for some physical rehabilitation and instruction in dealing with his limitations, we all agreed.
Dad entered Brethren Village in Lititz. Mom and I went from Columbia to Lititz every other day to see Dad. With the Route 30 construction, this was no small feat. Eventually we discovered a back road route that kept us from the construction and was rather pretty, too. I started enjoying the drive, and, more importantly, the increased time with my dad.
I had always considered my dad and me to be close, but as I grew up, married and divorced, and started a career, we hadn't had much time together. I suddenly realized just how precious and fleeting time can be.
Dad was only in Brethren for a short time, as promised, and was soon back home in Columbia. Unfortunately, his trials weren't over. Somewhere along the way, he had picked up a particularly nasty bug that soon had him in bed again.
After two weeks of arguing with him about how sick he was, we called the ambulance again and took him to the hospital. This time, the prognosis looked better, and he was transferred from the Susquehanna Division to Lancaster General.
He was admitted one night, and we got a call the next morning that he had been transferred to the cardiac unit. He had suffered a heart attack. At least he did it while he was already in the hospital! Soon, he was in for an incredible round of tests. He says that every part of his body was tested, prodded, photographed and entered into a record that seemed to disappear frequently, since each new doctor wanted his or her own set of tests.
Again, the fine medical staff cured Dad's illness, and he was sent off to another nursing home for more rehabilitation. This time, he went to Audubon Villa, again in Lititz.
After weeks of taking care of Dad and months of worry, Mom couldn't make the trip to Lititz as often as she had during Dad's stay at Brethren, so I found myself spending more time alone with my dad than I had since I was a kid. Despite the circumstances of our visits, I must say, it was wonderful. We talked, we watched TV, we just enjoyed being together.
He's home again now, and we're waiting for doctor’s appointments, a back operation and, later, hip replacements.
His spirits have remained, for the most part, high, and I look forward to seeing the new millennium with my dad.
When I was growing up, Dad rarely talked of his past. These days, he is more often in the mood for stories of his childhood, his youth and even occasional, precious stories of the early days with my mother, who died when I was only 6.
I treasure every story, every moment I get from my dad. I'd like to think that I would have come to the realization of how special and wonderful he is without the crisis that began last August, but I don't know that I would have. I do know for certain, however, that I have been blessed, whatever guise the blessing has taken.