As Father’s Day approaches, there are memories of taking Dad to the doctor over the years and acting as advocate/protector. A new book, “Dad’s Home Alone,” gives some useful advice.
Lately I’ve had a round of routine medical appointments where I find myself in waiting rooms in doctor’s offices. To my surprise, I’ve had a sense of someone sitting beside me – my late father.
I’m not losing it or having apparitions. It’s just that I spent so much time over 25 years taking him to doctors that medical settings remind me of him.
In 1987, he flew to Boston to have successful cataract surgery. “The colors look so bright!” he said afterward, noticing the American flag outside the medical building. Next week, I will have cataract surgery at the same place. That flag is still there.
As I go to my appointments, I remember doing the same with him – to see his family doctor, ophthalmologist, urologist, cardiologist, dermatologist, podiatrist. If you make it to age 96 and have good insurance, there’s a lot they can do for and to you. That, he told me more than once, was the problem.
In her new book, “Dad’s Home Alone,” Gail McGonigle has good tips on caring for your elderly parent. When doctors ask some elders how they are, she writes, they reply, “Fine,” hoping that’s the case. It may be your job to tell the doctor what you see and hear at home.
When my dad was in his late 70s and 80s, I felt I could help make any situation better just by being there. As he got older and more frail, that was harder. More than once, he announced he was going home if the wait was very long. I knew he was not feeling well, and only once, when he started to pull out an IV line, did I lose my cool and say very loudly, “Sit down!”
On the whole, he was fortunate to enjoy good health and his doctors enjoyed seeing him. Until his late 80s, he still drove himself there. He wrote upbeat notes in his daily journal: “July 15, 1994: saw Dr. Perkins. Annual physical. Went well. All O.K. (if the damn PSA test, etc. is OK?) My weight down a lot. He was startled. Weight OK so I’ll enjoy dessert tonight.”
Sometimes we had to wait and wait, like when he had pre-admission testing for heart surgery and prostate surgery. I’d distract him by talking and learned a lot. He tried to explain the odds in placing bets, and the meaning and derivation of certain crossword puzzle words. He told me stories about his life and work.
He never lost his expectation that doctors would be “like they used to be,” with time to just talk or make house calls. During many procedures, I saw his tolerance for discomfort and his fortitude. Once, a succession of specialists put him through a series of tests. In frigid winter, we went from doctor to doctor. Walking down some snowy steps, he slipped and we wound up sitting on the steps. He slowly stood up; we forged on to the next CT scan.
Others with elderly parents must have similar experiences. On Father’s Day, my gift is to remember his courage, common sense and independence, all more than I knew at the time.
Reach Sue Scheible at firstname.lastname@example.org, 617-786-7044, or The Patriot Ledger, Box 699159, Quincy 02269-9159. Read her Good Age blog on our website.