Vitauts in the Hospital: February 10-13

Vitauts in the Hospital: February 10-13

“Old Age is no Fun”

After visiting Dr. S, we came home and it snowed. School was not called off on that Wednesday as it probably should have been, and I drove my Honda through the messy streets, picking up donuts for my morning class, and barely making it up Dodge street to 90th.

By lunch time, the roads were mostly clear, so I drove home, as I usually do to check on dad. It was trash day, and since moving in, dad has diligently pulled the trashcan back into the garage after the garbage men come by. He also has never, ever not gotten the paper in the morning. But today, both the trashcan and the paper were where I had left them in the morning. Unusual.

With my imagination, I automatically fear the worse. With an elderly parent, you just never know. I went inside and walked upstairs, and he was sitting in his room. Alive and well. “Dad, are you okay? You didn’t get the paper.” I handed him the orange bag holding the daily news.

“Jā, I am okay, I mean. But my leg hurts. I have some cramp and I did not feel like going anywhere.” And that was that. He seemed okay other than the sore leg.

The next day, he had gotten the paper as usual, but when I came home from school, he again complained of a cramp in his leg. I was pretty sure it wasn’t a cramp anymore.

On Friday, he was supposed to go to my aunt Valda’s house for a lunch party with his cousin John. Andra, my sister, happened to stop by while I was at school grading papers. She called me and said that he didn’t want to go to the party because his leg hurt, and he didn’t even want to stand up.

“It’s not a cramp,” I told her. “Have him check out his leg to see if there is any bruising or discoloration.” I was worried about some kind of blood clot or something. He refused to do any self check, and my colleagues overheard my phone call, so they all said to go home. They would cover me.

So I went home, and John and Andra were there with my cousin-in-law who is a nurse. She had a stethoscope and was taking his pulse and heart rate. He was panting in the chair. I called the doctor, and she said to give him some ibuprofen, and if the pain didn’t go away to take him to the doctor. I called back to tell her about his breathing, and they said to take him into the emergency room.

It was hard to convince him to go. He was very disoriented, and his voice was high pitched. I think he was in more pain than he would let any of us know.

After checking him in and doing some tests, the doctor told us that he had suffered a heart attack at some point in the last few days. The leg pain was likely a sign of that. He didn’t even know. He never complained about his chest hurting or anything like that. They gave him nitro glycerin and a blood thinner and checked him into the hospital.

He stayed for three days with visits from all of his children who wrote messages on the board in his room. He made the nurses laugh, and, of course, they all loved him.

One nurse asked how to pronounce his name. She got it after a couple of tries and said, “Vitauts? Where is that from?”

“It is Spanish,” dad replied, holding in the laughter the way he does, then smiling. “No, it is Latvian. My mom liked the name, so she chose the name.

We had a sobering talk with the doctors who said that he has congestive heart failure. His heart is not pumping nearly as much blood out as it needs to, and this leads to stress and strain, low oxygen levels and shortness of breath. There isn’t really anything they can do for him at this point, so we just want to make sure he is comfortable and that he doesn’t try to over exert himself.

The good news is that he came home on Monday, and he seems okay. He is not quite as spry as he has been, but he’s 89, and he still gets around the house, cooks his meals and takes care of himself. What more can you ask for?

On a side note, yesterday  we talked about his illness, and he didn’t quite remember being in the hospital. I showed him some photos of him in his bed, and he didn’t really recognize himself. He found it quite unflattering. I guess this is when losing your memory is kind of a good thing. You may be able to simply erase the bad experiences like wiping a chalkboard clean.

Oh, and another little story… throughout his visit to the hospital, he kept telling the nurses that he wasn’t hungry. He has a speech that I can deliver almost by rote. “I am not hungry, I mean. When you don’t work,  and you don’t really do anything all day, you don’t really have an appetite.” He will go on with this little speech for a few minutes. Then you put a plate of food in front of him, and it magically disappears. Even after the meal, when the nurse was collecting the plates, he would protest and say, “I didn’t really eat much because…” but most of the food was gone. It’s a wonderful world.

A few choice quotes about food. Given a bowl of soup, he looked at it and stated: “This soup? This soup is not for me.”

Given a plate with meatloaf and mashed potatoes, he said, after eating most of it, “This meat? This meat is difficult.”

And finally, “Old age is no fun, that I know. No, seriously!”

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