My father has fallen before. One time, when he was home alone, he opened the bathroom window and tripped the alarm. In an attempt to get from the sink to the keypad to turn it off, he toppled. There were only seconds to spare and four feet to cross. He stretched his cane farther than he should have, it couldn’t hold his weight and down he went.
Another time he caught his toe. At the base of the driveway, edging his way closer to the street, the tiniest lip of concrete held his stubborn foot in place. I was too far away to help, close enough to witness his tree-like descent. His head hit the macadam while his legs, stiff and locked at the knee, rested on the slope of the driveway. Brown leather clad feet hovered inches above the earth while blood trickled from a gash on his cheek.
“I’m okay,” he usually yells from the ground.
“Could’ve fooled me,” I usually answer as I grab his hands and slowly help him to his feet, the effort similar to maneuvering a two-hundred pound sandbag.
This time was different. This time my father was knocked out cold, the impact so hard his brain ricocheted back into his skull. My mom said his legs and arms were in spasm like a seizure. His left eye, probably where he landed, was swollen shut, the flesh puffy and purple.
“I can’t get a flight out,” I say to my mom when she calls me back at two o’clock in the morning, four hours after ringing me from the ER. “Anywhere from five to eighteen inches of snow and Southwest has already canceled all flights in and out of Philadelphia for tomorrow.”
She updates me on the status of things. It wasn’t a stroke. He’s in a lot of pain. An internist stopped by but neither a neurosurgeon nor neurologist has visited. “They probably outsourced his scan to some facility in India,” I offer, though I’m not sure if this fact is comforting or concerning.
The next day my mother calls her Philadelphia neighbor, conveniently or perhaps ironically a neurologist. He runs through the protocol, provides instructions of how my father should be handled. I research rehab hospitals in Sarasota. Leslie has the kids draw pictures. We’re hopeful he’ll recover but also realistic it will be a long and difficult road.
Forty-eight hours after my father was found on the ground outside the club house, his body tangled up with his scooter, my mother calls to tell me he’ll be okay because he just asked for a Cherry Coke. Then she passes him her phone.
“I hear you had a fight with the sidewalk and the sidewalk won,” I start.
He laughs. He tries to talk. His speech, already slurred from his PLS, comes out as a string of noises. It reminds me of listening to adult characters in Charlie Brown holiday specials. I squint my eyes as if this will somehow enhance my hearing. He mumbles for a minute and then hands the phone back to my mom.
We all know this time is different. My mother can see it, I can hear it. We know he might be in the rehab hospital for another month. And even with all of that care, attention from speech therapists and occupational therapists and physical therapists and physiatrists, he may never get back to where he was. We all understand that. But we’re too busy exhaling to be concerned about what-ifs.
PS: I just want to say thank you for all of your comments and emails. Your support has been incredibly comforting, like wrapping myself up in a warm blanket pulled fresh from the dryer.