Not knowing what to ask, I identified myself and began with a general but loaded question. "How is he?" I began making hasty notes on an index card, and then another, and then another, until after a few days and a lot of index cards I realized I needed a notebook to keep track of the sudden influx of information. Blood pressure statistics and blood sugars, paralysis and weakness, rehabilitation and therapy plans, insurance information and disability applications were all being thrown at me without signs of slowing down. Although I started out unsure of what I should be asking, I soon had hundreds of questions. My mind was racing already from the feeding schedules and lack of sleep and demands of a 2 week old, 2 year old, and 4 year old, and all of the new information surrounding the stroke sent it into overdrive. I was exhausted, but sleep wouldn't come. There was too much thinking happening.
I called back several times a day over the next several days, speaking with nurses every shift, anxious to know about my dad's current condition. One day the nurse informed me that he had fallen in the bathroom and broken several ribs. I can't recall if it was him attempting to do things without help or a lack of supervision that caused the fall, but it was the first in what would become a long line of post-stroke falls that are still happening today. I would quickly learn that his desire to do things he couldn't was deemed "impulsive," a common side-effect of right-brain strokes.
I will never forget the first time I talked to my dad after his stroke. After that first status update, the nurse asked if I'd like to be transferred to his room. The thought hadn't even occurred to me, especially considering the severity of what I'd just heard. It seemed like he wouldn't even be able to talk. Still, I let her patch me through.
The phone rang several times. As it picked up, I could hear it being dropped, and then I listened to the struggle as my dad tried to pick it up. And then we talked. Or we tried. My 53 year old dad sounded like he was 90. I could barely understand what he was saying, his words were so slurred and unintelligible. I could hear the frustration in his voice as I asked him to repeat himself, not understanding his first attempts at sentences. At that point I tried to do the talking, saying positive things about his recovery and communicating our love and concern. But I kept our conversation short. It was too hard. Hard to communicate. Hard to accept that this was our new way of conversing. Hard to experience the heartbreak, not knowing if we'd ever have another "normal" conversation. Hard to piece together this new reality with so many unknowns. And so, in an effort to make the unknowns known, my days, for weeks, were spent on the phone.
In an effort to remember what I've been through taking care of my dad post-stroke and share the growth and beauty that came along the way, I will be journaling this experience as part of Bee a Little Better. You can find all posts in this series under the label "the dad story". I hope you'll stick with me as I record this experience. If it doesn't interest you, come back tomorrow for something different.