Connecting with Connect Four

It was Sunday, and I thought I’d pay my father a visit at the skilled nursing facility. A caretaker who accompanied him to acupuncture the day before said his left arm was very active and that the acupuncturist was working to awaken his throat muscles and improve his ability to swallow.

I was curious if I’d notice a difference in his appearance or demeanor after my 10-day trip to Chicago.

He was awake when I came in, not quite laying down and leaning to his left. He didn’t look very comfortable. Despite knowing how to call for the nurse, he does not use his call button. I snagged two nurses from the hallway and asked that they kindly sit him up.

His most recent stroke was in March 2015, and he has been living at a skilled nursing facility in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles (northeast of downtown) since last May.

The stroke left him paralyzed on the left side of his body and he cannot yet speak. A few times he’s managed to say a word loud enough for me to hear. He swallows more than before, but it is still not enough and he remains at risk for pneumonia if his saliva goes to his lungs.

It’s not all bad: my father recently moved his left arm, and indicated he’d like to walk. He is aware he must strengthen his upper body, and has been an active participant in physical and occupational therapy since we confirmed he was indeed moving his left arm at will. At a recent occupational therapy visit he sat with zero to minimal support for several minutes. When asked, he nodded that he wanted to try and stand. Assisted, of course.

We reviewed my Chicago photos, which included food, and various buildings around the city that were part of the “L” train tour I created (I have a fascination with architecture and building design) and the gorgeous views from my boyfriend’s family’s cottage near a lake in Hastings, Michigan. The photos also included the murals that dot the area around Chicago’s Columbia College and Wabash Arts Corridor.

I noticed he was very alert and he seemed curious about what I would show him. He was happy to view the photos on my tablet and when we were done, he watched carefully as I closed the tablet and set it aside.

To transition to physical activity, I asked about his right hand and how much he is able to open it. I then asked about his arm, and more questions led to a mini physical therapy session, where he had to touch the top of his head or his left shoulder. A few more minutes of this continued with head, mouth and leg exercises. I reminded him how important it is for him to move, even while he is in bed.

I asked if he wanted to play Connect Four. He did not say no, so I walked over to the closet and pulled out the box. I showed it to him and asked if he remembered playing with his therapist at USC Keck Medical Center. He quickly nodded.

For those of you born after 1974 when the game was first sold, small, round, plastic discs are inserted into a frame and the first person with four discs in a row, either horizontally, vertically or diagonally, wins the game. Think Tic-Tac-Toe, but instead of an “X” or “O”, each person picks a round, colored disc.

Our game features yellow and red discs.

While he cannot speak yet, my father is completely aware of what is going on. His addition and subtraction skills are still intact, although multiplication is giving him problems and he usually has homework that involves reviewing multiplication tables (he’s on the 4’s at the moment).

He also still likes to read. Like my grandfather who had his own printing company in China, my father had his own printing business. He greatly enjoyed or was greatly intrigued by a recent story about meat turning fluorescent blue in China. It was under investigation the last time I checked, but government officials warned people not to eat any blue meat.

I set up the game, and on this day I was red, he was yellow.

I knew I had to pay attention during our game, and I had no intention of letting him win. Now, before you start to feel that I am a cold-hearted daughter, you should keep reading. Yes, I blocked his moves a few times and to my surprise, he got a BIG kick out of blocking me.

I knew I had to pay attention during our game, and I had no intention of letting him win. Now, before you start to feel that I am a cold-hearted daughter, you should keep reading.

You can see from the photo below that I was making my way across diagonally, and his yellow disc stopped me from winning the game.

“Hey, you just blocked me!” I said in surprise. He started laughing and I started laughing. We laughed for a while. Sometimes his laughter is silent, and I only see his mouth open and his body shake. But on this day, I could actually hear noise as he laughed.

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During a game of Connect Four, I attempted to win the game with a horizontal line of four red pieces. My father blocked my move with his yellow disc. We both laughed after I was surprised by his move.

We carried on with our game. At one point I asked if he wanted to continue playing because it didn’t seem anyone was going to win.

He ignored me, so we continued to play.

I thought I might have some luck on the right side of the board, and wasn’t really paying attention to what he was doing.

On his next move, I saw he was more eager than usual to get a disc in to the frame.

I saw where he might be placing it.

“Where are you putting that piece?” I asked, hoping he was not doing what I thought he was doing.

He focused on what he was doing, ignoring me again, and finally dropped the disc in.

I didn’t say anything.

Then he raised his arm again, and motioned to the four yellow discs that appeared horizontally on the frame.

In case I wasn’t paying attention, he was letting me know the obvious: he just won the game.

Then he raised his arm again, and motioned to the four yellow discs that appeared horizontally on the frame. In case I wasn’t paying attention, he was letting me know the obvious: he just won the game.

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My father recently beat me at a game of Connect Four, and made sure to point to the four yellow discs making a horizontal line across the center of the board.

 

 

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