It was the afternoon of October 13 when the husband left Miller Dwan for his new, but still temporary, bed a few miles away in Superior, WI. He’s had two full weeks and 3 days now to settle in. He’s met new people, gotten used to a new schedule, new practices and new surroundings. All of this newness would be hard for any of us if we were entirely dependent on others. Dennis has borne it well, maybe better than I have. He continues to do his best without complaint.
Because he wants to be done with the feeding tube and get on solid food again, the work he does with speech therapy to improve his swallowing is important. One of the first things the therapist did with him was to repeat swallow tests with observation through a fiber-optic camera. I got to watch and they reviewed the results with both of us. It is amazing to see vocal chords in action and all the different components of a swallow. We who swallow without giving it much thought have no idea what a marvelous design is involved. Think about it – a shared entryway into the body where both food and air have to be maneuvered and timed so as not to interfere with each other.
Unfortunately, the test showed that it still would not be safe for him to start eating any kind of food or drink, other than ice chips. It’s disappointing, but he is still working hard to strengthen those muscles with therapy four or five days a week.
The “swing bed” that he occupies is in a small hospital of about 20 beds. Surgical patients come and go. Because of that the therapists’ schedules vary from day to day. They spend roughly half the time with him that he was getting at Miller Dwan. He never knows when they are coming to him and whether he will have energy left to work with them. There is no concerted effort to get him dressed every day, or make sure that he is out of bed a certain number of hours. Staffing is often short – nurses are not sitting somewhere waiting for call lights to go on. They are quite occupied.
In spite of all this, the care is still good. The people are compassionate, kind and competent enough and, thankfully, Dennis does not need anything very complicated now.
He has had a number of new visitors in the last two weeks – friends from the past, from our church, and family members. These times are always emotional for him. His affinity for tears continues.
One day my friend Pam was visiting him while I was at home. I texted and asked her to tell Dennis that I would not be coming up the next day because I had made some appointments. He wanted to know what appointments. She had to relay to him that I was getting estimates for our funeral and burial plans. He then gave her one of his famous “deer in the headlights” looks, as if he did not know that needed to be done. But I will admit that it is a weird thing to attend to, even when you know it’s necessary.
In addition to his practiced looks, Dennis has taken to singing frequently to caregivers as lyrics come to mind. The last couple of days he’s been thinking about the song “My Grandfather’s Clock” . I don’t know why. He sang the first verse from memory
today while Mom, my brother Bob, his nurse and I were listening. He was crying but managed to get the words out. Truth, we were all crying, even the nurse. She kissed the top of his head and hugged him. All this to say that he is getting to people and they are seeing the gentle sweetness in him as he faces a seemingly sad and uncertain future. (It’s a sad song.)
And because he always tears up now when I leave, it is hard to walk out that door. As we were preparing to go today he said, “Oh I hate to tell you the song I just thought of, and I don’t like that it came to mind.” Of course, we had to know then, so, crying, he belted out “Hit the road Jack, and don’t you come back no more, no more, no more, no more.” On that note…