For Yom Kippur every year, I taper off caffeine to avoid withdrawal headaches and irritability. Let’s face it — the day is tough enough already. I do this even though a part of me takes pride in my ability to harness it to keep up the pace of my life. It’s this part that has me start my early pre-workout 5:30am routine with an espresso shot, a device I use to coax myself to emerge from bed on freezing and dark freezing January mornings (and now March ones). The part that knows while water is healthier, coffee is tastier and acts faster. So, after giving in to that part of me most of the year, I need to ease back in the early fall. I switch from all caffeine, to about half-caf, to only a little, finally to almost zero.
The added upside is that caffeine turns out to be a close chemical cousin of Ritalin. So for a short time after the high holidays every year when my system is basically starting from zero, it clarifies my concentration and calms me. No, really.
At some point, I will give up this rite, along with fasting. Like I said, the day is tough enough already. This will be one of the privileges of getting older, I suppose.
For my father, however, abandoning Yom Kippur is not a privilege – it’s a challenge. He always wants to prove that he can do things his way even if they are exactly the opposite of what he should be doing. This DNA sequencing is part of why he is still alive at age 92, after all. So at age 92, he fasted this year. Why wouldn’t he? He is stubborn, my father.
Sometimes though, conventional wisdom actually is right. It was this time. He got weak, fell while reaching for something while getting dressed, bounced off the corner of his bed, crashed into the floor, and fractured his hip.
Some hours later, I was sitting on the couch after attending a break-the-fast party at a friend’s house and scanning my phone for the first time that day. It was about 9:30pm. The rest of my family was upstairs in bed already. By then, my father had been on the floor since 2pm. Although he has a “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” neck pendant that his community provides him, he didn’t wear it. As I said: stubborn. He also has a cord in the bathroom not 10 feet from where he fell that he could have pulled. That didn’t occur to him either.
But he also was too stubborn to just stay there. After 3 excruciating hours on the floor, he managed to crawl the 50 feet over to his desk so that he could reach his iPad to send an email for help. Then, somehow he pulled himself up high enough next to his desk to pull down his iPad and use it to start sending emails to my brother and me letting us know he was on the floor.
Several hours, and a phone call from my brother later, I saw the messages. As I mentioned in an earlier post about technology we’ve deployed for my dad, we have a camera deployed in his apartment that points to the front door. However, we can also see most of the apartment, including the area next to the desk. That was where I saw my father was laying face down when I checked it.
My father lives 15 minutes away in a community where there is plenty of help. I called the front desk there to let them know what had happened and to ask them to send someone upstairs. They did so right away, which is yet another reminder of why I’ve been so happy that my father doesn’t live in the house he insisted on staying in for years after my mother died. Sometimes I have anxiety dreams about trying to manage everything for him, but he still lives there.
In this case though, it was a question of just driving over. By the time I arrived, the front desk had called an ambulance. I would describe the condition he was in when I walked in his front door, but the readership here is small enough and I’m not trying to scare more of you off. Suffice it to say that when an incontinent man falls while getting dressed and then crawls across the floor in extreme pain, it is not pretty. He looked up at me and said, “Peter, I need your help getting up.” I gently let him know that this was not going to happen and that an ambulance was on its way. It was obvious that he had a broken bone. The only question was how many, and how seriously.
A short time later, the Framingham firefighters and an ambulance arrived. (Brief rant: why do the firefighters need to come? There is no fire. The EMTs are trained paramedics. It feels like marketing.) Almost instantly my father ceased existing a human being with a story, a background and a soul. Instead he became “elderly-male-who-fell-and-probably-has-dementia-and-so-many-other-problems.” It happened almost immediately. As soon as the EMTs tried to ask him questions to gauge his mental acuity, but asked them into the ear where he doesn’t hear well, I knew what I would be spending the rest of my night, and probably October at least, guarding against. He had been transformed.
I too had been transformed. Usually I am a sandwich generation father and son, straddling the fine line between caring for an elderly parent and trying to be the best parent for my children I can be. Sometimes though, I need to be one or the other. This was one of those moments.
As they wheeled him out, I packed the belongings I thought he would need. iPad. Charger. Worn-out Sony headphones he likes so much. Clean pajamas. His favorite slippers (in hospitals you get those anti-slippery socks). Both pairs of glasses. Hearing aid and batteries. A few pictures. Then I followed the EMTs out, and to the hospital. Luckily, I’d had my first post Yom Kippur cup of coffee and was fueled up for a long night.