Returning Home with a Cold

I hate being sick.

When I arrived here, I had a sore throat. I had thought i was because of a lack of water or fluids while in transit. It was, however, the beginnings of my first cold in a year. It’s more annoying than debilitating, but I still wish I didn’t have it.

I partially blame Mom, Cathy, and Dad — their cigarette smoke has done a number on my immune system, and probably opened me up to a cold I probably wouldn’t have otherwise caught.

But I do have to keep perspective — it’s nothing like what Dad’s going through.

Dad’s doing well, all things considered. He’s a little slower than usual, but it’s probably due to the morphine we’ve got him on. His wits are still about him, but admittedly he still doesn’t realize he’s at home, despite another trip into the living room. They’ll try again tomorrow to convince him of his whereabouts.

I however will not be here. I’m going back to Calgary. Because Dad’s condition is much better than i think we could have hoped, I’m going to return to my daily grind, until events warrant. That could be days, it could be months. Frankly, we don’t know. He has good days, he has not so good days. It’s all pretty hard to tell.

I hate to leave this in Mom and Cathy’s hands. It’s a huge burden. We should share a a family. But what do you do? I have a job I can’t neglect ad a house that I’ll soon have to pay for. I love my family and would be here every second, but there are just some things I cannot do.

Although I cannot compare myself directly to Dad, I hate the feeling of helplessness — knowing that there is nothing you can do, and all there is to do is wait.

Cathy has been the star through all this. I’ll have to make a point to reward her for all her sacrifices and for all the pain that she’s borne for the rest of us. If anything, it will make her an excellent manager, and an unbelievable mother.

But for now, we’ll just keep on living, helping out where we can, supporting each other (and Dad), and by the family we are.

A Slight Ray of Sunshine on a Very Cloudy Day

Today we a good day. Despite the slew of visitors, we finally saw some major improvement in Dad.

For starters, he had a shave — almost all by himself. And not with an electric — he used a safety razor. The shave was hardly perfect, but given his condition, it was certainly something to be impressed about.

Then came a big move — we took Dad for a spin into the living room in a wheelchair. We think Dad’s finally realizing that he’s in his own home, and not in a hospital. It’s definitely a good thing that Mom and Cathy decided to keep him at home.

Last, but certainly not least, Dad stayed up most of the day. This probably will let him return to a more normal sleep pattern. Don’t know if that’ll do anything, but it couldn’t hurt.

The doctor didn’t come today as expected, so we’re still in the dark as to what will happen. Unfortunately, this means I’m still unsure if I should stay, or go back to Calgary. I’ll hopefully figure that out tomorrow. I do need to go back soon though — the cigarette smoke is killing me.

Helping Out Around the House

And so ends another day at home. There’s a strange air of optimism that seems to permeate almost everything. We know what’s coming, but we’re always happy and upbeat. Well, Cathy is anyway — I’m a little too quiet around Dad. Mom tries to avoid him — but I think it’s mostly due to the emotional burden, I think. I certainly can’t blame her for that.

The key in all of this is distraction — to find things to do, people to talk to, or events to watch that will take our minds off what is happening down the hall.

For me, it’s running errands. Usually Mom’s domain, I’ve offered to get out of the house and get groceries, sandwiches from Tim Horton’s, medical supplies — whatever is needed.

We are lucky (in a sense) that the Winter Olympics are on. For Mom, this is significant. She gives herself to the current event and immerses herself in it.

Especially figure skating. That’s been Mom’s favourite sport for almost all of her life, I think. She knows all the moves, she can tell when a skater will make a mistake, and she knows the difference between a lutz and a sal cow (whatever that is). Hughes’ surprise victory tonight was something Mom really needed, I think — it allowed her an outlet for the emotion she’s been keeping in for a long time.

Cathy watches her daytime TV — soaps, Rosie, and Oprah. Around 3:30 or 4:00, Craig drops in and helps entertain. He has the unenviable task of trying to piece the family back together. This is something I cannot do from Calgary. There are times when I wish I never moved away.

Dad just sleeps. Except for a couple of hours today, when Brian Pryce came for a visit, and Aunt Ruth dropped by, Dad slept. Dad had a long chat with Brian — someting he hadn’t done for a while. Brian is Dad’s oldest friend, I can only guess the things they talked about.

My father is still here, although we’re losing him a little bit more each day. He’s on morphine, in an effort to keep the pains in his back at bay. But it means he sleeps a lot, and he has trouble answering questions. The key is comfort, not lucidity.

Hopefully, he is comfortable. It’s hard to tell. Sometimes he’s grumpy, others he’s non-commital, and others he looks on the verge of tears. It’s probably being tired all the time. But he’s led a good life, and has earned the rest.

Coming Home to Watch my Father Die

I awoke at 4:30 this morning, not originally knowing why I was tired. I had tried (unsuccessfully) to get myself drunk the night before. I wanted to numb the pain. I didn’t want that dull ache in my gut that told of bad times to come. I didn’t want to hear that voice that was trying to tell me what I was going to see. But I couldn’t drink fast enough. I couldn’t put a stop to the future.

So this morning, I arose, dressed, and caught a cab to the airport. I checked in, made my way to the gate and boarded my plane destined for Toronto. All the while, and through the flight, I tried to simultaneously ignore and accept one simple truth:

I’ve come home to watch my father die.

This was not a trip I wanted to make. Partly because I’ve never dealt well with death. I universal constant it may be — but it’s one that still leaves me with the cold sweats, one that I sometimes wish didn’t exist. But I also didn’t want to come and see a man who was not the father I know and love.

This is one time I’m glad death does exist. My father is in pain — perhaps not physical, but the pain of living as he is now probably makes up for it.

This is all due to his worsening medical condition. Last year, my dad beat lung cancer. However, as we were celebrating the victory, some rogue cancer cells were preparing a second offensive in his brain. It led to the condition that brought me here today — a stroke that hit him early last Friday morning.

Still in Calgary, I had to hear only news and stories from Mom and Cathy — how Dad couldn’t recognize people, or how he wanted things that, to us, made no sense.

Today, things are a little better. At first, Mom and Cathy had to take care of Dad on their own. This was a burden they could not fulfill — it was wearing both of them down. So instead, the hired a nurse to look at his medical condition, a homemaker to change Dad’s clothes, wash him, and change his diaper (the stroke left Dad without basic bodily controls), and a “night watchman” to keep an eye on Dad while they slept.

I walked into my parent’s home feeling very guilty. I have done nothing. I am almost an outsider here, feeling like I’m only a spectator in a macabre show. Cathy and Mom have done so much and I so little.

Dad is bedridden. He sleeps in a hospital bed in what was once my bedroom. It is now the room he will likely spend his last days, however many they may be.

Today, he saw many visitors: Ross Gray and Jimmy Johnston, old friends and co-workers from Truck & Tractor — a company Dad worked for during most of my upbringing. Complete live wires, they had Dad laughing most of the morning, but also wore him down. Rod MacPherson, Cathy’s and my godfather, was also out. Auth Ruth, who picked me up at the airport, come down to see her brother and keep him in good cheer.

Mrs. Robinson and Julie popped in and out. At one point in the afternoon, she came in to say that she could smell urine — Dad’s diaper needed changing. Cathy, Mrs. Robinson, and I took to the task of changing Dad’s diaper and rolling him on his side (as not to get bedsore).

Most people look at their fathers as strong, powerful individuals — it’s a view of my father that I’ve had for whole life. But in the last year, I’ve been watching that view slowly develop little cracks. Today, the image was shattered by what seems to be a simple act.

My father is a proud man. Fiercely independent, he had serious trouble when the progression of his illness cost him his driver’s license. But I’ve never seen the pain is experiencing — not until his daughter and his wife’s best friend, with the loose assistance of his son, changed his diaper.

I don’t know if he really knew what was going on. But he looked like he wanted to cry. His dignity was gone, and he was now dependent on others. He puts up with it, but I doubt he likes it.

Mind you, I’m not even sure Dad knows what’s happening to him. I almost hope he doesn’t — knowing that you’re doing to die is knowledge that I don’t think most people would want to know. I think Dad’s having a hard enough time without knowing that.

Hell, I don’t want to know. I want to reset the clock back 12 years — back to high school. Things were easier then. The worst thing I had to worry about was my math homework.

I know a lot of people who thing that I must be mad for wanting to go back in time to high school. But most people don’t seem to look past their own bad experiences — the cliques, the homework, the bad relationships. I was a simpler time, when families were stronger, and people healthier. While I wish I could dwell in the past, I can only look to the future.

The next few days will be hard. If the doctor is right, we have only until the end of the week.

Life is short, and unfair.

Luckily though, the man in my old bedroom is still my father. He older, he’s frailer, and with almost no hair, but he knows who he is, who I am, and remembers the good times. I suppose that there is some comfort in that when the time comes, he’ll have seen me one last time.

Going Home to Visit with my Family

Tomorrow I’m going home, to spend what could be my last few days with my father. It’s not something I’m really looking forward to.

Last Thursday, dad suffered a stroke, probably a result of his brain cancer. It left him paralyzed on his left side, and with a few less marbles in his sack. On Friday, it was dire — he was near death, it seemed. Today, it’s not quite as bad, but it’s not all that good, either.

Dad’s had a stroke before, one that left him without the use of his left side for a while. But he recovered from that, and had several years without problem. This time, he won’t be so lucky.

He’s down for the count, it looks. Unable to understand what’s happening to him, unaware of people who might be in the room. He seems to be a shadow of the man who took me to the airport two months ago. I’m afraid that what I’ll find at home won’t be the man I know and love. He’ll only look like him. He won’t be him.

I dread going home.

But go I must. This isn’t about me. This is about my family, and keeping it strong through its darkest hour. No-one wants to admit that their parents aren’t invulnerable, that they won’t live forever. No-one wants to admit that death is a reality. I know I don’t.

I can only hope that things will improve. But I think I have assume it’s a hope I cannot cling to.

[Ed.Note: I did not end up leaving the following day, as planned. I went home on the 20th.]

Going to the Dentist, Getting my first Cavity

It is said that when under pressure (e.g. deadlines), the average geek will let other seemingly less important things (such as personal hygiene) fall by the wayside. Although I can safely say that I still keep myself squeaky clean (either that, or I’ve got mice under my bed), there was one thing that I didn’t really keep on top of.

Going to the dentist.

For two years, I let that slide. Unintentionally, I have to add. In fact, I’m kicking myself for letting it go that long. But with the new year came a number of changes (a new diet, a search for a home, a couple of attempts at regular exercise), one of which was a visit to the dentist. That was a week ago today.

The dentist (Dr. Chin) is quite good. Very sociable, very nice, and extremely professional. His assistants, on the other hand, I think he found at Dominatrices ‘R Us.

Because I had no dental records, they had to get those going. Which mean a full set of x-rays of my mouth. Far more detailed than I’ve ever had before, I should add. I’ve had the ones you bite down on, but never the ones that come with a fancy bracket and dig into either the roof of your mouth or try to burst out through your lower jaw.

Did I mention I have a really bad gag reflex?

My first dentist (Dr. Wallace) called me “Captain Choke”. He hated doing anything but checking and polishing my teeth. X-rays were almost an Olympic event: In goes the x-ray, I start to convulse, he dives behind a lead-shielded wall and punches a button, gets back to me just in time for me to spit it out. (I’d love to have something like that on film. It would be entertaining to say the least.) It was so bad he wouldn’t even bother with the fluoride trays.

So while the x-rays were developing, the dental assistant (there must be a universal constant somewhere that all dental assistants must be female and extremely attractive — mine looks a lot like Claire Forlani) probed my teeth. Much fun. Gingivitis in the top left. (Bad flossing habits, or rather, complete lack thereof.) But otherwise fine.

Well, except for grinding teeth.

None of my other dentists made note of this, so it might be a more recent thing. But it’s hard to tell. Either way, Dr. Chin highly recommended getting a night guard so I don’t grind away everything. At the very least, I’ll find out if I grind my teeth at night.

The x-rays came back, and Dr. Chin started scanning them. He “hmm”ed for a few moments, then said something like “2-7 DO”. I tried to figure out what he meant. Sounded like “do over” to me. Just what I needed, another round of that wretched bracket wedged in my mouth. But I thought I should check.

“What does ‘DO’ mean?”

“Oh, you’ve got a cavity.”

Twenty nine years, six months, and 14 days. That’s how long I’d gone without getting a cavity. But because I’d neglected my dentist for two years (and drank the my body’s volume in Coca-Cola in a very stressful December), I’d managed to finally bore a hole into my previously perfect teeth.

(Okay Cathy, you can stop cheering now.)

I was in shock. Literally. I couldn’t believe it had happened. I had a cavity. That could mean only one thing. The drill.

But it wouldn’t be that day. I still had to go through an hour of extensive scraping, gouging, poking, prodding, polishing, and a mess of Kleenex to wipe all the tears of pain away. (What can I say? I’m a wimp.)

My gums hated me for two days.

Today was my follow-up. I ducked out at 11:00 so I could get to the office (about two blocks from our apartment) by 11:30. I was a little early, which was fine — they were waiting. With big smiles.

The first thing they did, once getting me down, was stuff a cotton swab in my mouth. I had no idea what this was for. After a moment, I thought it might be a new form of anaesthetic, where I could avoid the needle. Quite content with this, I lay back happily. Then Dr. Chin returned with a needle. A big one.

I hate needles.

The cotton swab was a topical — so I wouldn’t feel too much pain as Dr. Chin rammed this device of medieval torture into my upper nerve bundle. Needles are bad enough on their own, but are usually quick. This thing was in there for about a year (actual elapsed time, a couple of minutes), flooding my upper right side with a HUGE dose of painkiller.

Painkillers are funny things. (Especially nitrous oxide. [Insert drum roll here.]) At first you think nothing’s working. You’re convinced that you can still feel everything, and this is gonna hurt like crazy. Then you realize that your face has actually slid off your skull and is lying on the floor.

At this point, Dr. Chin thinks it’s a good idea to get me to sit up so they can do impressions of my teeth for the dental guard. Still being tense from the needle (which actually wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be), all the blood rushed out of my head to hide somewhere. It took all of 30 seconds for me to feel extremely ill. They had to put me back down again.

The next time they brought me up, I was much better. Except that I no longer had control of the right side of my face, from my upper lip to my lower eyelid. Poking it was a peculiar experience because I knew I was hitting something, just couldn’t figure out what it was. It was like being drunk without all the fun.

Dental impressions are done using some really fun stuff: dental alginate. It’s basically a funky kind of latex rubber that sets very quickly, and will set in just about anything, including a wet mouth. (Special effects houses use this stuff a lot when making prosthesis for creature effects in movies.) For me, this involved a very large metallic form which gets rammed in your mouth, full of this bitter-tasting pink stuff.

I’m amazed that I managed to keep the upper mould in for the 45 seconds it took for it to set. I gagged up a storm (and found out why the dental bibs have a plastic backing), but it came out in perfect shape. I prepared for the second one by starting breathing exercises, and staring at a single point on the ceiling. Barely even noticed it was there. The breathing was important, because the worst was yet to come.

At this point, I’d recommend that anyone who doesn’t want to read about my tribulations in the chair might want to stop reading. For the rest of you, just don’t mock me, okay? This is the first time I’ve had to go through this.

The freezing well in place, the assistant (I think she said her name was Madame Helga, but I’m not sure) started to insert a “clamp” onto a tooth adjacent to the defective one. This clamp looked like something out of the Spanish Inquisition — big, nasty, pointy, jutty things that gouge into parts of your mouth so that something else can stay in place. (It’s a little hard to tell, since my eyes can’t look into my mouth.)

Next came the “Suffocator”, a large piece of pink latex rubber (I’d love to know what’s with all the pink) which they stuff into your mouth [insert gag reflex here] and connect to the clamp. Then they pack on a 10×10 metal frame that sticks out of your mouth to stretch out the rubber so they can actually see what they’re doing. I was fine with all of this right until the latex started to stretch.

Eventually, Dr. Chin had to reset the whole thing so I wasn’t squirming in agony. I think they loosened a tooth in the process…

With me subdued by the dental dam, they proceeded to relieve me of my precious enamel. At this point, I should mention that the closest I’ve ever come to a drill was my last dentist, who ran it across some of the deeper crevasses in my rear molars (so I wouldn’t get anything caught in there). Now I was having a drill actually bore out my teeth.

The problem is that I’m not a huge fan of pain. Never have been. (I’d make a lousy spy.) Having my teeth drilled was pretty bad — I couldn’t tell if it was vibration or them drilling through the largest nerve in my body. (It’s either a lot of pain, or none at all.) Dr. Chin was a little frustrated at me, I think, as I ended up pausing the operation a couple of times because it began to hurt a bit. Turns out it was vibration.

Oh, and talking with that damn dam in your mouth is an exercise in clarity, let me tell you!

Drilling complete, I managed to relax my grip on the chair arms (I think my fingerprints are permanently embedded in the naugahyde) and breathe a little easier. Next came another fun little exercise: Wedging things between Geoff’s teeth. I have no idea what the heck some of these things where, but none of them seemed to be real dentistry tools. I’m convinced Dr. Chin was trying to see how many things he could pack into my mouth without me knowing.

The fact that he had to pound a couple of them in there makes me certain of that.

I now had about 15 different tools wedged, clamped, stretched, bored, packed, and stamped into my mouth. (If nothing else, my big mouth actually came in handy for a change.) There was some more poking and prodding, and then finally came out the drill again. But this time, it was to grind off the excess packing they’d wedged into that teeny little hole. A few moments of that, and then they proceeded to sand.

Yes, sand. With sandpaper. Small strips it, mind you, but it’s still sandpaper. Back and forth they went, smoothing out where the filling is. (I can’t even feel it anymore … but I know exactly where the sanding was. I can feel it on my teeth.)

With that all done, they finally removed all the various implements of pain from my mouth, and released me to the bathroom to tidy up. (I had bits of dental alginate, spit, tooth dust, and who knows what else plastered all around my mouth.

Let loose to the world, I returned to the office and attempted to return to work. It’s a little hard when you can’t talk out of one side of your mouth (and every second person cracks a joke about drooling). But luckily, it’s since worn off, and the only thing that hurts is my tooth.

The one they drilled. Go figure.

This was a small cavity, fortunately for me, but still took about 30 minutes to bore, pack, and file. Why? (Everyone, all together!) ‘Cuz I’m a wimp. If nothing else, it’s taught me a very valuable lesson: I’m never going through that again, so I’m going to have the most rigid dental hygiene from here on.

Speaking of which, I gotta go and brush my teeth.

Meeting with the Home Inspector

There’s nothing like the feeling of soul crushing debt.

Actually, it’s not that bad. Especially when there’s a darn good reason for it. In my case, it’s because the last formality of the conditions has been cleared, and the sale is now final. (Yes, I could still technically back out, but it would cost me $10,000, which I’m not ready to fork out.)

This morning, Chris and I hiked over to what will soon be our new address so I could meet with the home inspector (Don) and go over the results of his findings. This is the first time I’ve ever met with a home inspector — or even known a home inspector — and I have to say that this is one job I’m not sure that I would want.

Don has to know everything about a house — what goes into its construction (and that covers all existing homes, new and old), what goes on inside it (heating and cooling systems, water delivery, electrical, etc.), and what could potentially bring it down. This means that there is a huge amount of information that he has to know.

And a lot he had to tell me.

Don’t think that the house is a lemon — it isn’t. Not by a long shot, especially for its age. There were a few things that I need to do, and preferably soon. One is the roof — apparently some of the shingles are in need of replacement. This is something that will have to wait a year — I certainly can’t afford it now. Another is the eavestroughs — they should be replaced, and the downspouts moved away from the house. (There’s some slight water damage in the southeast foundation corner that needs patching as a result.)

Beyond that, the rest is functional (or cosmetic) maintenance, and nothing I can’t take care of regularly. This was what I expected. This is a used home — people have lived in it before me, so it’s not going to be perfect. But considering the condition that it’s in, and it’s location, I think I got a real bargain on it.

Given, it’s not huge — it’s only two bedrooms — but it’s a roof, a sanctuary, and it’s mine. No more rent (just mortgage payments), no more elevators (just a flight of stairs), no more showers that change temperature every five seconds (just have to make sure to not run out of hot water), no more trying to find a parking spot in the building (but the garage does need a bit of work), no more listening to CP trains or emergency vehicles echoing around (not sure what we’ll have where we are, if anything) … it’s not paradise, but I’m really looking forward to it.

So this is one less thing I get to babble about now. Considering I was at this for only a month, I’m almost surprised at how fast this all came together. In fact, I feel so lucky, I should go buy a lottery ticket.

Now you just get to hear about all the stuff that goes along with *owning* a home.