Thursday, May 18, 2006

A job I am completely unprepared for...

This post has nothing to do with adventure, cool gadgets or unbridled capitalism. In fact, it's not very funny, so you might just want to skip it. Later this week I'll post about my new(ish) lawnmower and a mp3 player that holds one audio book (In this case its Al Frankens 'The Truth, with jokes) but for now I will be focusing on a matter of some seriousness.

This post does involve travel. Rossana and I flew to Philadelphia on Monday. With luck, it will be the last time we ever go there. It would take a really great Con, lost pirate gold or other major event to lure her back to a place she left as soon as she was able. We have been to Philly many times over the past 10 or so years. The reason was Rossana's father, Roy.

Roy is an old school Sicilian. He worked hard all his life. He worked the shipyards during WWII. He eventually got a job at Boeing and retired after something like 30 years with them. The job permanently damaged his hearing. He retired with a decent pension, some savings, his health and great healthcare coverage. We planned on taking him with us to Italy and Sicily. We bought the ticket, helped him get his passport and then watched as he fell apart.

He didn't fall ill. He was in great shape at the time, going to the gym several times a week. No, his mind crumbled. And it has never fully recovered. There was a time when a relatives mental health was something that was not discussed. It was a dirty secret to be swept under the rug. But we live in a more open society now and there is no shame in stating facts. Roy had developed clinical depression.

A lot of people I know talk about their 'fight with depression' and like to discuss at length the various medications they are on and their relative merits. It may seem insensitive of me to belittle their experience, but I have often felt that some of these people didn't need drugs, they just needed to get their head out of their ass and do something about the problems they were facing. We took this approach at first with Roy. He just needed something to fill the huge gap in his life after working non-stop for 50+ years. But that wasn't it. His depression had him incapable of seeing ANY options, he was paralyzed by fear. He had to be hospitalized several times. He had an extremely bad reaction to the first anti-depression medication he was prescribed, and even after this was corrected he was still barely functioning. He underwent electroshock treatment. He threatened suicide. His health deteriorated. He became isolated.

Being an only child Rossana had to step up to try and make the right decisions. She traveled to Philly several times. Each time Roy would seem to improve a little. Rossana would return exhausted. She would talk with him, argue with him. Plead with him. Eventually Rossana found new doctors and new drug treatments that brought about upswings. Roy was in such an upswing when he came to Pennsic to attend our wedding. But his fear, anxiety and depression were always there, chipping away at him. By this time I was going with Rossana to Philly to help out as best I could. Mostly I was there to help Rossana keep her sanity. To reassure her that she was in fact doing the right things and that she was a good person. Rossana was eating herself up inside because she kept thinking that either she wasn't doing enough, or the right thing, or that her father was deliberately acting difficult.

But this wasn't the case. The depression he suffers from makes it almost impossible for him to see any up side. He cannot see solutions, he cannot reason things out. He hears, he responds. But he can do almost nothing to help himself. Everything terrifies him. Living alone was one of the big causes of his anxiety but an attempt to move him to an assisted living facility failed miserably. We eventually had to hire on not one but two different women to help take care of him. This wasn't easy, as he maintains a bigoted streak. But eventually he did balance out a bit. Careful adjustment of his medication kept him from being completely incapacitated by his fears, but he was still living alone. His upswings were shorter if they occurred at all.

We went to Philly last Christmas and let me say that spending time with a clinically depressed person at Christmas is not an experience I would wish on anyone. We returned a while later and told him that were going to find him a new place to live. By now we knew we couldn't ask him what he wanted. So we had to make the choice for him. We looked at several Assisted Living places in Philly, some great, some horrifying. We found a fantastic place that I would be happy to live at myself, but it was too expensive.

Right now you might be asking."Why didn't you move to Philly?" and "Why didn't you have him move in with you?". As to the first Question; Rossana told me in no uncertain terms that she would never move back. Period. Philly did not hold fond memories for her. She had traveled the world and had decided to make her life with me where I was. I did not try to talk her out of this position. I've lived here most of my life and although I love to travel I still consider Ohio my home.

Why didn't we have him move in with us? To be truthful this was always an option. But if you have ever had to help take care of a sick relative you know the toll it can take on you. His constant presence would surely leads to violence.

In the end, we developed a sort of compromise. We researched Assisted Living and Retirement Living facilities in Ohio. And tomorrow, we will be moving him into one in Westlake, not far from where I grew up. This isn't short term or a trial stay. We have packed up all his belongings, driven them here and will be putting his house up for sale soon. We wanted him to know that this is a big and permanent change that he has to make if he wants to improve his life.

He is afraid. He is apprehensive. But so far he has handled the situation pretty damn well.

But let us not forget the title of this post; 'A job I am completely unprepared for...' All that has happened so far, all the frantic trips to Philly, trips to doctors and psychiatrists, long tearful conversations, fights with the insurance company and doctors and Roy himself. All of that was easy...Compared to what is to come. Roy is in fair health. And with him living nearby he will certainly be more active than he has been. We're praying he will meet and form friendships with the other people at the retirement community, but I am not betting the farm on it. I am faced with the likelihood that Rossana and I will be responsible for the care of her father for years to come. This possibility scares the crap out of me. It is a situationIi am completely unqualified for. Most relatives in my family just die at some point. They remain pretty active mentally and physically, and then...poof. The thought that I will have front row seats to the inevitable decline and fall of Roy is something I dread more than anything I can think of. I am now 38 and as such I am not immune to thoughts of my own mortality. In the wake of the Terri Schiavo fiasco and with travel to the Middle East Rossana and I committed our basic last wishes to paper. Nothing puts death on the map like saying 'this is what to do if I snuff it'.

I will not beat around the bush here. I am a selfish person. It is the reason neither Rossana or I ever want to have children. We understand and accept that were are entirely too self centered and selfish to dedicate a huge chunk of our life to procreating, birthing and raising another person. This is not to say that we cannot think of others. If you've read my posts about volunteering in Biloxi and New Orleans you know that disaster relief is not a vacation at a four star hotel. Although I am told it is am immensely rewarding experience, the awesome responsibility of parenthood and long term caregiving is something I don't think is in my makeup. I'm a Cat person, not a dog person. I don't want to have to run home so I can let the dog out so he can poop and get some exercise. The cat needs no such attention. Also, I was a children's puppeteer for 8 years, so.. I've dealt with thousands of kids thank you very much.

But now I am faced with a situation I cannot avoid. I cannot pawn it off on someone else. I have friends who have dealt with similar situation or have had to deal with worse ones with regards to family. But that gives me little comfort. Dealing with Roy can literally suck the life from you, and life is a precious commodity. The worst part is that even at his very best he is a pessimist. A fatalist, which is one of the things that drove Rossana crazy. I am not ready, but I guess that doesn't matter anymore.