Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Let me tell you about my Dad.

Another column that's not about what I intended to write about.

I'm in the middle of researching West African cultures as I design the world for a series of original fantasy stories. Seemed a natural springboard for a column on the art and science of world building. (I've pretty well done writing outside your own ethnicity to death.)
Our youngest daughter and I have been having a lively ongoing debate on female detectives. Her thesis is that there are no good female private detectives that behave and think like women; the nature of the mystery genre is such that the female characters who are good PIs are good to the degree that they think and act like men. Not sure I agree with her, but her arguments are cogent and well-defended, and I considered cribbing them for a column of my own on the topic.
Seanan McGuire's recent LiveJournal entry on readers who confuse writers with their characters got me thinking about my friend Phaedra Weldon. In her first Zoe Martinique paranormal, her young, female lead says "There's nothing more vulnerable than a naked man." Phaedra's been identified as everything from a dominatrix to a lesbian since (yes, I know the two are not mutually exclusive). Her husband has been asked if he knows "the sort of things she writes." Seemed like fodder for a column of my own, but I lack authority on the topic, having never been victim of the practice. Not enough impressionable readers, I guess.
Jade Lee's column on sex in romance tempted me to write about the male perspective on such things. But I used up all my good ideas in my comment on her post.

So I decided to write about my father instead.
On Monday, October 4th, I dropped by my Dad's home and discovered he'd collapsed on Sunday afternoon. He was uninjured, but hadn't been able to get up for 19 hours.
On Tuesday I took him to his doctor, who ordered an MRI and other scans and tests. Without going into a lot of detail, it turned out that Dad was suffering from a combination of arthritis, a resurgence of his cancer, a bad liver, malnutrition, and dehydration. Malnutrition? Dehydration? Dad ate and drank. Not much, because he'd been a grazing snacker all his life, but enough to keep him fed and hydrated and at his fighting weight (welterweight). Except Dad was thirty pounds lighter than he'd been in May and his weakness was caused by his starving body digesting muscle to keep him alive.
I moved in with Dad, monitoring what he ate and giving him water every few hours. But despite my efforts – and his – he faded a bit more each day. On Sunday morning he did not have the strength to sit and at eighty-six years old agreed to go to a hospital for the first time in his life.
On Monday we were being counseled on hospice options and Dad was talking to a priest – something that hadn't happened since the '70s.
On Tuesday someone noticed that despite three liters of saline solution on IV drip for 48 hours, Dad was still dehydrated. They took him down for an ultrasound ("I'm pretty sure I'm not pregnant," Dad insisted.) and discovered where the water was going. His abdominal cavity was filling like a water balloon. No tears or holes, just a system made permeable though some combination of his cancer and bum liver that was explained to me three times and I still don't understand.
On Wednesday they went in and drained the wayward water – which tested non-septic. They made changes in how he got fluids – tiny sips all day long to avoid building up water pressure, put him on a salt-free diet to reduce osmosis and dosed him with hormones that stunned the cancer into immobility.
On Thursday he impressed the physical therapist.
On Friday he was transferred from the hospital to what's called a skilled nursing facility for three to six months of physical rehabilitation to rebuild as much muscle as he can. With what the cancer and arthritis have done to his pelvis and spine, it's unlikely he'll walk unaided – in fact, he'd pretty stupid to try. But he didn't blink at the idea of a light-weight manual wheelchair ("I drove a tank in combat. This is no problem.")
On Monday, today as I'm writing this, a week after the medicos were trying to prepare us for his loss, Dad was propelling himself (slowly) around the common areas charming dowagers and flirting shamelessly with nursing assistants one fourth his age. ("He's so cute I just want to put him in my pocket and take him home with me," one of the latter confided when she thought he was out of earshot.)

I could, if I wanted, turn my Dad's experience into some sort of metaphor on writing. Perseverance or applied serendipity or figuring out what's going on or some such insight into the craft. Not much of a stretch and it would wrap things up neatly. This is, after all, a blog about writing. But I'm not going to do that.
I just wanted to tell you about my Dad.


Carol Mitchell said...

Thanks for sharing, KeVin. I am so happy that your dad is on the mend. We had a similar experience recently with my mother-in-law. The human will to survive can overcome all kinds of physical challenges.

Liane Spicer said...

I'm glad you did, KeVin. Your dad's quite a guy. Here's wishing he continues to go from strength to strength. (())

Would like to see you explore your daughter's theory some time. Intriguing theory she has there.

Lynn Emery said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phyllis Bourne said...

Glad to hear your Dad's up and about!

Lynn Emery said...

Blessings to your strong father. As a caretaker for my mother, I understand and have been through something similar.

Female PIs- hmm, that's worthy of another post! I hope you and your daughter do a He Said/She Said article here soon :) I'd like to join in that discussion.

Charles Gramlich said...

Thanks for sharing. This brought a bit of wetness to the eye, not just sadness but a bit of pride too in the fact that another human can rise through his struggles. I wish you all the best.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Your dad is an awesome survivor! I'm happy he is doing much better. A good attitude is the first step in recovery. Your dad seems to be on his way.

Shauna Roberts said...

Your dad's one tough old guy! Let's hope we can follow his example when we're in his situation.

As for womanly female detectives, how about Precious Ramotswe in Alexander McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series?