Monday, October 26, 2009


Dad doesn't have very many good days. Sometimes it seems like every time we visit we have to witness a new nightmare for him, whether it is mealtime messes, bathroom mishaps, mobility issues, or psychotic symptoms, just to name a few. It's hard to remember that this man was in charge of health care for the country of Liberia, then for the state of New Hampshire, and finally for the state of West Virginia. He needs round the clock care and he doesn't often express gratitude for the care he gets from the nursing home staff or his family - why is that? Maybe it's because after managing a staff of professionals for so many years he expects people to simply do their jobs; maybe it's because it takes so much of his energy to perform day to day functions that he has no energy left for gratitude; or maybe it's because when you need help for every little thing you do, every moment of every day, the burden of gratitude becomes too great, and he can't think about it anymore. Never-the-less I know it is disconcerting for my mother, who has done so much for him on a daily basis for over twenty years.

A few weeks ago Mom and I arrived at the nursing home to find Dad bent over double in his wheelchair, unable to move or call for help. We quickly went to find aides to help him into bed (it takes two people and a lift), and we realized that the medicines he had been given almost an hour ago were still in his mouth - he had been unable to swallow them. We called the nurse who insisted that he HAD swallowed them, while we tried to explain that we had found them in a wad in his mouth - confusion reigned. Until a quiet, authoritative voice from the bed said "what are you going to do about it?" We all paused and looked at the broken, helpless man who had calmly taken control of the situation. There he was, the man who had supervised the opening of clinics all over Liberia, who had worked with Liberian government leaders and New Hampshire and West Virginia governors and legislators, cutting right to the heart of the situation, as he had always done.

The nurse got him more medicine and we settled down for a visit. Dad could hardly move or talk, but when I showed him the candy I had brought him from Granite State Candy Shoppe, his favorite sugar mints, his eyes lighted up. He indicated that he wanted a piece, and opened his mouth as I placed a pink sugary disk on his tongue. He closed his mouth and his eyes and smiled ear to ear, looking completely content. Gratitude? Maybe. I know I was thankful to catch a glimpse of the father I grew up with and who is buried in his disease, and I treasure the memory of his contented face as he enjoyed a simple piece of candy.

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