Life with my father-in-law, Nelson, is going to be a challenge. I knew this going in. I hope I’m up to it. Nelson is 89 years old and has a host of medical issues. Principal among these is Parkinson’s Disease. Parkinson’s is not pretty. My dad had it and it finally killed him in 1993.
Most of us are familiar with the tremors and the mincing little steps associated with the disease, but many of us—myself included—are surprised to learn that it also causes depression and paranoia. It tied my dad up into knots. He was bed-ridden for the last two years of his life. I never noticed paranoia or depression in him, but I didn’t spend very much time with him after he got sick. I lived too far away and was too busy trying to carve a future out of my association with Henry at the time.
Nelson is a different story. He’s got paranoia to spare. He thinks all his doctors hate him and that they are deliberately trying to torture him. This doesn’t prevent him from saying ugly things to them whenever the opportunity presents itself. Then, when he’s had time to reflect on what he said, he’s convinced that the doctor he was ugly to hates him even more. In Nelson’s mind every test, every pill, every bit of unpleasantness associated with his diagnoses and treatments are the result of the assorted doctors he has offended exacting their revenge on his ancient body.
He sees a lot of doctors on a regular basis. There’s his regular doctor, a DO, who is managing the Parkinson’s. Then there’s a neurologist to assist in the Parkinson’s care, a urologist for his enlarged prostate, a cardiologist for his hypertension and congestive heart failure, an ophthalmologist who looks after his eyes since he had cataract surgery, a dermatologist, and the folks who made his last set of dentures that he refuses to wear because they don’t fit.
He also has a collection of nurses, therapists and caregivers who come by daily or weekly to help him re-stabilize after his last hospital visit. A visiting nurse comes by twice a week to draw blood and update his charts. A physical therapist comes twice a week to work on his strength and endurance issues. An occupational therapist comes by once a week to work on his balance and help him maintain essential skills for dressing himself etc. A caregiver comes 4 days a week to do his laundry, make his bed, clean his bathroom, iron his clothes, and feed him lunch. My sister-in-law, Anne, comes every Thursday to take him to his many appointments. She also stops by every night to see how he’s doing, and if he needs anything.
All this activity keeps him pretty busy, and generally speaking, mad as hell. He hates the physical therapist. He likes the occupational therapist and the nurse well enough because they are pleasant and attractive, but if they dare suggest anything new—anything he’s not already familiar with and already on the schedule—he doesn’t hesitate to go off on them. He doesn’t trust the caregiver. He loves Anne who has been taking care of him non-stop for years, but he will whine and cuss and heap abuse on her for the duration of every trip to a doctor’s office or lab or x-ray. Anne is a saint.
My wife and I are here to take some of the load off Anne. We’ll make sure he gets breakfast and dinner, do the grocery shopping, take him out during the week if he needs or wants to go somewhere, manage his many medications, and generally see to the things that are not being done now. In exchange we get a place to live rent free.
Nelson also intends to buy all the groceries, although I plan to split those with him. Between my wife's income and my unemployment checks we can surely afford to pay for our own food. I’ll do the cooking because I have been and I’m good at it.