My father passed away six years ago, several weeks after going into cardiac arrest on Valentine's Day as a result of massive kidney failure.
We didn't know his kidneys had been failing. Our family doctor did, and he knew that my father hadn't once seen the nephrologist to which he'd been referred in all the years that he'd had the opportunity. It took me years to accept that he was a grown man and knew exactly what he was doing through the time that he had ignored it. He had been a pre-med student, after all.
For years, I felt like I should have seen the signs and daily beat up on myself for failing him. I also harboured a lot of anger and resentment toward our former family doctor. The truth is that my father was not in good health, and between the excema, gout, several strokes and various other ailments, we just didn't see the symptoms. We couldn't have, and he lied about it. My mom had taken care of him on her own that whole time. We were there, but she bore the brunt of it. Knowing now how truly unwell she was, I become overwhelmed with guilt whenever I think about it. I wish I had helped more. And though it was always a priority for me, I had my own cross to bear at that point in time in my life, a story for another blog post.
Our family doctor retired a year or so later. My father's situation aside, I am just disappointed with his treatment of our family and the loyalty we gave him in spite of it.
It wasn't long after my father passed away that my sister and I started paying really close attention to my mom's health. It, too, was quite poor. It had always been. We had always accompanied our parents to their medical appointments but we trusted that they were listening to the doctor. My father's passing changed that. I learned that my dad refused treatments and medications for anything and everything. Accordingly, we began to watch our mom's health like a hawk.
I learned quickly that she didn't like to take her blood pressure medication because it made her nauseous, that she requested but was never given an alternate drug, and that she had been almost blind in her left eye for and indeterminate length of time and was due for a vitrechtomy. She did manage to take sufficiently good care of her diabetes. She really liked her endocrinologist and enjoyed visiting him.
But my father's passing really affected her. They had known each other since they were little children, growing up in their small town of Atimonan during WWII. They were there through each other's other relationships, friends, family, school, and first jobs. They watched each other grow into adulthood before they got involved and married. They remained strong while my mom came to Canada for work seven years before my dad followed in the 70's. They started a whole new journey having me and my sister in the 80's. I watched my parents weather rough storms where we didn't know if we would have a place to live, or food to eat. I watched every disaster and the closeness that ensued. In old age, I watched them go for walks together; enjoy morning coffee; watch Raptors, Leafs, tennis; stay up all night playing Scrabble trying to beat each other. They were life-partners; through anything, they knew they'd be by each other's side. And although she never said it, I know she missed him. For all her femininity, she is the toughest lady I know--there's what I saw as her daughter, but also what we had heard about her life before us.
It was only months after we lost my father that she suffered a series of strokes and was put into critical care--incidentally at the same hospital where my father had been admitted earlier that year--and I would learn what it truly meant to be a caregiver. Up to that point, we thought we had been really active caregivers for our parents, having watched them both come in and out of the hospital for various health concerns since we were little children, but it was only the start. This was the hospital stay where we learned that my mom's kidneys, too, had been failing and were already down to 15% functionality. This was when I learned the consequence of not managing your blood pressure. This was the event that robbed my mom of the dexterity in her fingers, preventing her from being able to administer her insulin shots. This was the stay when I learned simultaneously how superior the hospital's medical team was to the team composed of our family doctor and series of specialists to whom she'd been referred, and how immensely important it is to have family at the hospital to advocate for the elderly for everything from preventing doping patients with morphine to shut them up, pushing back on pressure to admit family to nursing homes, and demanding more information and tests. All of this was foreign to us; we had no other family here in Canada or friends going through this at the time. Our parents were old enough to be our grandparents. I was 27 and had to learn quickly how to manage this, getting my education, paying all the bills and my own mental and physical health.
To be continued.