When nice turns to naughty at the nursing home
December 8, 2006
Is there something in the air tonight, are the stars just right, Fernando?Wait, that can’t be it.”Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has turned on the panic button, indicating an unusual amount of cerebral turbulence. Please return to your seats, fasten your seat belts, put all trays and sea backs in their upright positions, and whatever you do, don’t look out the window.”Hmmm.I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I’m heartily sick of politics, of lying officials trying to cover their collective asses while our nation is turned into a fume-choked parking lot for Hummers, ringed by Wal-Marts and, in the hills beyond, the mansions of the rich. Meanwhile, the rest of us are rapidly being reduced to living in our non-Hummer cars on the fringes of that parking lot, only leaving to go into the Supercenter to buy necessities or to go to work in the nearby factories to make widgets that attach to those necessities, which are made in China and shipped here in containers larger than some small towns.As for the world at large, well, don’t get me started. And I, in turn, won’t get started, either.Instead, I’d like to introduce you to my dad, whose name also is John. Some longtime readers might recall that he used to write letters to the editor, screeds aimed dead at the heart of some vicious right-wing initiative or lying politician or whacked-out policy that he felt strongly about. He hasn’t done that in a long time.My dad currently lives in the Colorado State Veterans Home in Rifle, to which he moved recently after being kicked out of another area nursing home that I won’t name because they might sue me.He moved up to Colorado from Arizona a couple of years back after his second wife died suddenly, completely unexpectedly, sitting in her favorite easy chair one spring day. Dad had already experienced a few strokes, wasn’t getting around all that well, and everyone, including him, figured she would outlast him by a considerable span of time.So much for figuring.Anyway, I found him a nursing home close to me, moved him in, and all seemed hunky-dory. I forgot, however, to factor in my dad’s innate stubbornness and resistance to authority figures and rules.Right away, he started getting into trouble with the management over his refusal to follow the smoking rules.My dad’s been smoking since he was 12, and he turned 80 this week. His lungs are in much better shape than the rest of him, and while he has largely given up the cigars that stank up our various homes while I was growing up, he still sucks down a pack or two a week of Camel filters.Not long after his arrival at the home, he was caught smoking in the hallways, prompting an apologetic-sounding call to me for assistance in getting him to behave. Which, of course, I never could do, and certainly can’t do now. Dad never listened to anyone unless he felt like it, and he usually didn’t unless he’d had a few drinks and the subject was politics.Well, the violations continued. He’d get caught in a hallway, in his room, in the dining area, wherever he felt the urge to light up, or to carry a lit cigarette back inside because it was chilly outside, or lunchtime, or whatever.It finally hit the fan when one day, outside without a match to light up with, he hit upon the brilliant scheme of lighting his butt on a gas stovetop in an auxiliary kitchen that he knew would be unstaffed, something he’d often done at home in Arizona. He got caught, of course, and the management called me and said they were throwing him out, he was a danger to himself and other residents, if the state heard about this they’d pull the nursing home’s license, etc.I argued them out of evicting him, made him sign an agreement that he’d never do it again, and he promptly did it again a week later. What’s a son to do?No amount of argument would sway them a second time, so I moved him to the vets home in Rifle, where he now resides.Predictably, he’s already been caught smoking in the boys room there, so they won’t let him have his pack of cigs under his own control. He has to ask a nurse for one, and they watch him like a hawk.That’s not the only kind of trouble he’s gotten into, of course.Take his driving, for instance. It’s been decades since my sister would get into a car with Dad behind the wheel, and while he was living in Arizona, it took a doctor’s orders and my surreptitious sale of his car to get him to stop. That should have caused a statewide safety celebration, but he was a Democrat in a Republican stronghold, and they probably didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.Anyway, at the first nursing home he liked to drive his electric wheelchair around, and he seemed pretty good at it. Then I started getting reports that he was running into things and people. By the time I moved him to Rifle, the management there decided they needed to test him before permitting electric-wheelchair-driving privileges.So far, he’s had two of these tests.During the first one, he managed to run over every single obstacle on the test course, prompting me to ask pointedly whether they had told him he was supposed to miss them, not hit them.In the second test, he not only hit every stationary object in sight, he ran into one of the therapy counselors in charge of administering the test.Suffice it to say, Dad’s lost his driver’s license, though he doesn’t seem to care much. He seems content to tool around in his manual wheelchair, occasionally bumping into his neighbors or me or one of the nurses even though he’s traveling slower than normal walking speed.Maybe he does it on purpose, just for old time’s sake.That’s my Dad.