Most mornings on the drive to the hospital, I stop along the roadside to cut some flowers for Dad. There’s an endless variety of exotic colors, shapes and scents. Dad has always been one to stop and smell the flowers so I bring them over to his bedside first to give him a sniff of the fragrant plumeria or ginger. He inhales and nods in appreciation. We’ve established a morning ritual. First, I hand Dad a warm washcloth so he can wash his face. Next, I partially fill a cup with warm water, put toothpaste (not too much) on his toothbrush and hand it to him. He brushes his teeth and spits into the pink spittoon I hold under his chin. We do that three times and then I use the washcloth to catch any drool. Finally, I hand him his electric razor and he makes clean tracks across his face. There’s an area on his left side and neck that’s a bit overgrown. He hands the razor back to me and gestures to that area. I’m awkward with the razor, I never seem to get it all. We perform in silence.
Dad doesn’t say much these days, but that’s nothing new, he has always been a man of few words. When he does speak, his voice is slightly garbled like he is talking underwater. There are no conversations, just two or three word directives, “Cover my feet”, (with his 6 foot 2” frame, Dad’s feet are constantly coming uncovered), or “Warm blanket”, (the one amenity of this hospital), or “Suction.” I have to call the nurse for suction, looking away as she threads a plastic tube up his nose and down his throat past his gag reflex to suck up the salvia and mucous. Dad gags and his face twists with discomfort. His sounds, the gurgle and the grey green fluids rising in the jar against the wall nearly get me gagging.
Today, a doctor arrives to give Dad a tracheotomy. With a tracheotomy they can better manage his mucous and saliva – bypass sticking a tube through his nose for a more direct route through his throat. I watch from the door. While the doctor is cutting a hole in my father’s throat (without anesthesia – just topical), I see Dad’s left arm and left leg move. I can tell they are not reflex motions like those from a yawn or a cough. I recognize them as pain protest movements reminiscent of what I do in the dental chair at points of high discomfort. I barge in as soon as the doctor is through, “Dad, you can move your left arm and your leg, I just saw you do it.” “No, I can’t,” he says. “Yes, you can,” I insist, racing out the door to share the good news with his physical therapist. I can’t find her. The next day, I see Dad moving his left arm and left leg in his sleep – intentional readjustments. When he wakes up, I tell him what I saw, again he denies that he can move his left arm or leg. This time, I’m able to find his physical therapist. When she comes in, she sits by the bed and holds his arm in a conducive position. She asks Dad to bring his hand towards his body― his forearm moves ever so slightly. (In sleep, he is uninhibited by his “I can’t” thoughts.) “See Dad,” I exclaimed thrilled to contradict him on this, “Yes, you can!”