27 March 2015

You Can Lead a Horse to Water...But You Can't Make Him Wear a Hearing Aid

This has been an extremely frustrating week. I've been battling through bronchitis and seasonal allergies and I don't take kindly to inactivity. It's also been emotionally frustrating because my 90 and 91 year old parents, who I take care of full-time 24/7/365/ad infinitum (or so it seems), have been completely oblivious to my not feeling well. I freely admit that I have wished and dreamed of what it might be like to just go to bed for a few days and not have to remember that in three hours I have to give the afternoon meds, or that I've had to listen for the clatter of my Mom's walker as it heads for the kitchen and intercept any attempt by her to play with the coffeemaker, because she has no clue whatsoever how it works and cleaning up her attempts is not a fun way to spend a half hour. I've still had to ensure their dinners and snacks were made and spent a couple of hours each night hearing my Dad "check" each door a gazillion times to see if it's locked; they are all locked, but he makes several rounds in a circuitous route which never fails to cause an outbreak of barking as Sailor and Cleo wonder if someone is trying to come into the house. This usually doesn't stop until I go downstairs and physically interrupt my Dad's path and tell him he's checked everything enough and it's all locked up tighter than a drum. It's compulsive behavior and some evenings it drives me completely nuts. I mean raving crazy lunatic nuts. I shake my head. A lot.

Last Friday a package arrived that I'd been waiting for with a great deal of hope. My cousins, who take 24/7/365 care of their mother, my Dad's sister, told me about a hearing amplifier that had made a positive and dramatic difference in their mother's hearing. They suggested I check it out and see if my Dad would benefit from it, so I stopped by Radio Shack and inquired if they carried it. Turns out they did, though it was out of stock but could be ordered and delivered to my home. It was only a 39.95 purchase so even though I had my doubts, I felt it would be worth a try. I also picked up a good set of pair of ear buds and a head set so that he would have a choice.

I went downstairs, opened up the package, inserted the batteries and popped in the ear buds and loudly explained (his hearing is probably 95% shot) how this would enable him to hear better. He sat at his desk and I went about setting it up for him and inserted the ear buds in his ears. Then, I did some tests - standing across the room I asked him in a normal voice if he could hear me? "Yes, I hear you fine.".  Great! With the television broadcasting at a normal volume I asked if he could hear and understand the TV? "Oh yes, I hear it just fine.". I was really happy!! I thought we may have had a break through. 

About fifteen minutes later I went back into his room and found the hearing amplifier and the ear buds neatly placed on his desk. "Why did you take it off? Did it stop working?" I asked in the loud voice required to communicate with him. "No, it worked fine, but those ear things hurt."

I quickly pulled out the small, lightweight headset I'd purchased and said, "I've got you covered - try this.". I put the device back around his neck and placed the headphones gently over his head. "Can you hear me? Does that feel better?". "Yes, I can hear you just fine."

I can understand where the ear buds may have been annoying and uncomfortable so the headset was the ticket. Except that it wasn't. I went back into his room about an hour later and there again was the hearing amplifier and headset neatly stacked side by side. 

"What happened? Why aren't you wearing this?"  He shook his head and swept his hands in a horizontal side-to-side motion as one might make if asked if they would care for another helping of a dish at dinner; you know, the one that says, "I've had enough of this - please take the plate away.". 

So that was that. Exasperated, I walked over to him and asked, "You don't want to hear what's going on around you? Don't you miss that? Do you know how loudly we must speak in order for you to hear us?" He looked up at me as if to say, "Not my problem."

Sometimes it is your circus, and these are your monkeys.

I left the gadget where he placed it and hoped he might reconsider and try it again, but it never happened. And it never will happen. Ever. It was a $40 experiment and it was a worth a try, but I could have predicted the outcome and it made me angry, frustrated, sad and tired.  There were moments in the next few days when, after having to yell and wildly gesticulate for him to understand that he needed to get up and come to the dinner table, I would feel so mad that he refused to do something small which would make a big difference in our daily life. Yes, it made me fume. I kept it to myself - well, no I didn't. My closest friends and my daughter patiently allowed me to vent and curse and vent some more. Not to mention I was still battling bronchitis and not feeling my best which can make anyone's fuse a little shorter than usual. 

I wanted to scream, but that would do no good at all except to make my throat feel worse than it did. The thing of it is, there have been so few times in my entire life where I can honestly say I've been mad or even annoyed with my Dad because he's been a pretty wonderful father and I couldn't have imagined a better one both as a child and as an adult. Barbe Cook has nearly always been patient, kind, funny, amusingly wry and reasonable. My dad's decision to pass on wearing a device which would save our voices and allow him to hear everything around him is not reasonable, but it's his decision. Have you ever tried to argue with a deaf 90 year old? It's a pointless exercise and I promise, you're not going to win.

That's not to say that I haven't wished I could superglue those ear buds into his ear but it wouldn't work and he'd figure a way to remove them. I'm so tired of playing charades.

I really wrestled with this and it still annoys me, but I took a step back (and for you BB followers, I remembered page 417 in the AA BB 4th Edition which reminded me that "acceptance is the answer to all of my problems...") and I had to let go of it. That doesn't mean I have to like it or that's it's easy and there aren't moments that I resent the holy living crap out of it, but I can't, in all fairness, judge my Dad's decision and action in this one case to color his entire stellar performance as my father.

Grappling with my disappointment and yes, my anger, I made a conscious decision: I needed to remember that this was still the guy who spent hours treading water in the Holiday Inn Wrightsville Beach swimming pool when I was 12 years old, waiting for me to summon the courage to dive off the board; the man who made me believe I could pass college chemistry when I was staying up all night worrying myself sick that I would fail miserably; the man who took me to the airport numerous times assuring me I would have a great flight and that I would be fine flying across the Atlantic Ocean all by myself; the man who embraced me with so much love after hitting the lowest point in my life courtesy of my drinking and took me home and loved and supported my journey into sobriety, never once allowing me to feel that I could fail or that I would be anything but successful.

I went searching for a photograph taken at that Holiday Inn way back in 1972 - me standing beside my Dad after triumphantly diving off the board and popping up in the water right beside him, where he promised me he would be when I surfaced. I put that photo right beside my bed and I've looked at it several times since the day he declined to wear a hearing device.

When put into perspective, declining to use a hearing aid is a mere blip in an otherwise amazingly warm, loving and precious relationship. Oh yes, I still get miffed, pissed and profoundly irritated that I have to yell in order for him to know that his dinner is ready or that it's time for him to take his meds and I imagine I'll need to remind myself many more times that my dad's current actions aren't a true depiction of who he is. He's 90 years old. He's tired. His abilities are waning at an accelerated rate and it's got to be intensely painful and difficult to accept. It's hard for me to accept, too. I miss my Daddy. He's still here, but he's not really the Daddy I've known and enjoyed and derived so many benefits from through so many years. I've managed to reassure myself that when this is all over, this whole "hearing device debacle" will barely register in my memory.

Until then, we do the best we can, and we continue with our game of charades.