Small Movements

The subway and then the bus took me east to the hospital, through the neighborhoods of Los Angeles, to say what I know we should have said to each other years ago. Decades ago.

BY MARIA HSIN //
ART BY GETTY IMAGES

The subway and then the bus took me east to the hospital, through the neighborhoods of Los Angeles, to say what I know we should have said to each other years ago. Decades ago. He wouldn’t respond—he couldn’t—but at least I would have said it out loud.

“Stay With Me” played on my Pandora station. Fitting. I was headed there to plead that he stay. That he open his eyes and understand me.

My father and I had a long, rocky relationship, and in the past year he had suffered a major stroke. It rendered him speechless and unable to swallow or move the left side of his body. Because of the abnormal way his heart pumps blood—a separate condition—the doctors didn’t think that things were going to get better. The latest complication was pneumonia. If I was going to say anything, now was the time.

He was awake when I entered the room. I hadn’t seen him open his eyes since he was transferred back to the hospital with a fever of 101 a few days ago. Now his gaze was locked on something.

I cautiously stepped closer to him. When I spoke, he looked up at me.

I said hello in Mandarin. I held his hand. I wanted to see if he would squeeze it back when I asked him to. His strength had diminished. We went through our usual routine—I asked him to move his fingers, feet and toes—and the pistons began to fire, as the machine that was his nervous system seemed to warm up.

With puffy eyes and a red nose, I began my speech. I apologized, and said I knew we hadn’t gotten along for many years, and that there was a lot we had not said to each other. I started to cry and his face became red, and he shook. He was crying too. I felt bad, and then realized he had understood me, that he was acknowledging our difficult past. That it had hurt him too. I stopped crying and I told him it was okay. It was time to focus on his hands and his movement right now.

I remember the screaming and the crashing of plates from my childhood, all too many nights. I longed for my mother to leave him. I remember his betrayal and his verbal abuse. After the divorce, we erased all physical traces of him from the house. But his daring, his cooking and what I knew of his culture—they lingered in my psyche and in my heart.

Of course I had regrets about the years that followed. I could have spent more time with him, I could have done a better job documenting his journey from Hong Kong and Shanghai to America. I never learned enough of his native Mandarin to converse with him in his language.

Other attempts to confront the past, and all the hurt, had failed. As we shook, after my speech, I wondered if his tears and mine might be some way forward.

It has been a year since then, a year of watching my once commanding and independent father struggle, helpless, in his body’s rebellion. I have learned to see that he is just a man, flawed and broken, in many more ways than before. I see that I have an opportunity to talk to him, to share my life with him. One day, he may talk back. I now speak for him at his therapy appointments. I celebrate his progress, including the day he was able to say hao, or “good,” in Mandarin.

Some people have asked why I would do this. The answer, I now realize, is simple. Because I see that he has not given up. He is certainly not the man he was before, and he may not be able to do the things he did before—including cook or walk. Perhaps it is this transformation into someone else, someone we both are discovering, that will finally allow us both to be free of the past.

 

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“Small Movements” was published in Proto magazine.

 

Father’s Day Is Sometimes Complicated

The holiday has caused such confusion and questioning that for a long time it was easier to ignore it and its significance.

I never knew how to feel about Father’s Day. 

As a little girl, I probably was obligated to make a card for my father in school. As I grew older and sparred with him verbally, I chose not to celebrate Father’s Day. My father was not the “World’s Best Dad” or “No.1 Dad” — I knew this at a young age. Then as adult, I eventually understood that he knew he had made mistakes as a parent and father, and I had started to meet him for lunch or dinner and share my life with him.

My father was not the “World’s Best Dad” or “No.1 Dad” — I knew this at a young age.

Last year he had another stroke, and I became his caretaker.

And then Sunday was Father’s Day.

It had occurred to me to get him a card, or enlarge a photo that he indicated he liked, or do something to mark the occasion. After all, he is still alive, aware of his surroundings and continues to make progress during therapy.

But making the journey from Orange County to L.A. for his appointments (three or four a week, depending on his therapists’ and acupuncturist’s schedules) is not easy, and the physical and emotional strain is high.

I accompanied him to acupuncture Saturday, and the coward in me thought it might be best to not acknowledge the holiday. If I did, I knew I would start crying, and then I would surely upset him. While I have told him that we both made mistakes and that I would prefer to have him in my life, there are so many little things we have not said.

As it turned out, I was in the area after all on Sunday.

My compromise with myself was to stop in on him at the skilled nursing facility, say hello, ask him how he was doing and let him know I’d be back in two days to accompany him to speech therapy. I told him my visit would be brief because I was on my scooter and wanted to get home before traffic became too heavy and the day became night.

He raised his arm and moved his hand in a way to indicate he felt so-so on this day, and after a few more questions I said goodbye.

The stroke has changed him, especially physically, but even before that, he had been humbled by other strokes and age. He was no longer the commanding and frightening authority figure. He became a man who waned to communicate with his children, although he lacked the tools to do so.  

The stroke has changed him, especially physically, but even before that, he had been humbled by other strokes and age. He was no longer the commanding and frightening authority figure. He became a man who wanted to communicate with his children, although he lacked the tools to do so.

I am certain I am not the only one who feels ambivalence or confusion on this holiday. Even the president of the United States has complicated feelings towards a father he hardly knew. It brought me some comfort to read the article about the trove of letters written by Barack Obama, Sr., preserved, sitting in a box, awaiting the day his son is ready to read them.

What a Wednesday – Rehab at USC

So it finally happened.

My father’s evaluations for speech and occupational therapy took place on Dec. 2 at USC’s Keck School of Medicine. My father will be visiting the outpatient rehabilitation center twice a week now.

Since his stroke in March he is unable to speak, although he understands everything going on around him. He cannot move the left side of his body. His right arm and hand are pretty active, but he lacks sufficient hand control to write.

He eats through a tube that connects to his stomach and is not able to swallow consistently. It led to him aspirating and catching pneumonia, and a 10-day hospital stay.

But that led to the discovery of the existence of VitalStim therapy, essentially electrical stimulation on his throat to help the muscles move and contract when swallowing.

Since October, I have pushed the skilled nursing facility to help me get my father to USC’s outpatient rehab center, where VitalStim is offered with speech therapy. The nursing facility does not offer VitalStim.

It only took four weeks for the nursing facility to get all the paperwork to USC.

Getting three pieces of paper to my father’s doctor’s office is apparently a team effort. It involved the social worker, billing manager, marketing manager, me and my sibling, and USC saying something similar to, “I told you, I haven’t received it yet.”

Then, getting the doctor’s signature on those three pieces of paper and making sure they were faxed to USC was the equivalent of walking uphill in a snowstorm, backwards. And barefoot. With your eyes sealed shut.

Then, getting the doctor’s signature on those three pieces of paper and making sure they were faxed to USC was the equivalent of walking uphill in a snowstorm, backwards. And barefoot. With your eyes sealed shut.

Yes, we’ve considered moving him to another skilled nursing facility.

We wonder how that might affect his care at USC and if the transportation to USC would be covered if the new nursing facility is further away. It currently takes less than 20 minutes to get to USC from the nursing facility. When the driver doesn’t get lost, that is.

I think the visits to USC will be a welcome break from the monotony of the nursing facility. It will also allow my father to see what is happening in the outside world.

Since his stroke in March, he has been confined to a bed in a hospital room. Now, at the nursing facility, he alternates from his bed to a wheelchair (with assistance), and watches movies in the main activity room.

A few times a week he is pushed down the long hall to the therapy room, on the opposite side of the facility from his room. There the staff stretches his limbs and has him participate in strengthening exercises.

The Wednesday morning we were scheduled for the evaluations was a chilly one, which in Los Angeles means it was hovering in the upper 40s. But the day began to warm up by the time we arrived at USC.

 

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The fountain on San Pablo Street, outside the buildings where my father is now receiving outpatient therapy on the USC Keck campus.

 

The occupational therapist who will now be working with him is an older woman with curly black hair and glasses, who spoke to my father in Mandarin.

I am not fluent in Mandarin and had to interrupt a few times to ask what was going on, especially when I saw the surprised look on her face each time he’d respond.

She asked my father in Mandarin where he was, and held up a piece of paper with three rows of Chinese characters.

The words were house, hospital, park.

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My father pointed to the second set of characters, indicating he knew he was at a hospital.

 

He looked at the piece of paper, and quickly pointed to the middle row of characters for “hospital.”

The therapist then wrote down several rows of letters in English. She asked my father to spell out his name.

He quickly began to point to each of the letters in his name, Frank, sometimes before she asked.

Another part of her evaluation included three years: 1998, 2008 and 2015. She asked him to tell her what year it was.

He scanned the sheet of paper, and picked the correct year, without hesitation.

It is my custom when I see him to tell him the day and date, and now I show him the calendar on my phone so he can see his appointments.

 

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My father is aware we are still in 2015 after his stroke in March.

 

When she asked if the nursing facility staff respected him and treated him like he knew what was happening, he began to sob and shook his head no.

She became emotional as well.

It became evident through other questions that he would like to read, and because of his interest in writing, the therapist has recommended a dry erase board for him to practice writing.

I asked if he would like to read Chinese newspapers, and he immediately nodded.

When I came by to accompany him to his second speech therapy appointment, I told him I had something for him.

He quickly turned to look at me, saw that I was digging something out of a bag, and his eyes seem to light up when he saw that I was taking out newspapers.

I laid them out in his lap, since he was sitting in his wheelchair, and positioned them so he could see each one.

 

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My father, fidgeting with the newspaper, as he did countless times before the stroke, to get the paper to fold just right.

 

One of the papers was a recommendation from a cousin as his father reads that paper, and I shared this with my father.

He nodded.

I asked if he liked these newspapers.

He nodded.

I said I’d make sure we got him a subscription so he could read them in his room.

He nodded again.

Both papers had the high level of Beijing smog as the main story on the front page, and my father’s eyes darted to the photo of people with surgical masks amid a gray background.

I enjoyed seeing him with the newspaper. It reminded me of the countless times I watched him go through the paper when I was a child. It is likely the reason I gravitated toward journalism. I saw the effect it had on him — he scoffed or laughed, depending on what he was reading.

My grandfather and my father owned their own printing businesses, so it is not surprising he was, and apparently remains, such an avid reader of the news.

The speech therapist has seen my father three times now, and each time, there is some small step forward. I’ve told my father several times that each improvement is significant.

His speech therapist noted the improvements as well. She keeps a tally of the number of swallows, and he has gone from one to five. The next goal is seven swallows.

When I asked my father last week if he wanted to return to USC, he nodded.

You’re welcome USC, for the free advertising. It’s a been a pleasure thus far.

Cleaning Up After My Father

My godparents, who knew my parents before they were married, hopped on a train from San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles for the Thanksgiving weekend. I was excited to hear it, and excited I would be able to see them again after two years.

On Thanksgiving morning, my godparents and older brother drove from the LAX area to Highland Park to see my father. He has been a resident at a skilled nursing facility there since May, following a stroke in March.

By all accounts it was an emotional visit. At least a decade has gone by since my father and godparents last saw each other. It also marked the first time my godparents visited my father since his stroke.

Seeing them was the high point of the Thanksgiving weekend.

The next three days would be spent at my father’s house.

My siblings and I had agreed to sort through his belongings and clean out the house. Unable to rent it at a rate that would cover his mortgage payment, we decided to sell it.

While it saddens me to part ways with his 1910 Craftsman, it seems it is our only option.

While it saddens me to part ways with his 1910 Craftsman, it seems it is our only option.

My three brothers were in town for the holiday, and we made our way to Alhambra from my mom’s place in Inglewood.

We started the process by tackling the master bedroom.

The main closet contained his deceased wife’s belongings. (My father was married twice after he and my mother divorced.) His ex-wife passed away last year, but for whatever reason, he had not brought himself to remove her things from the house.

Another closet, a dresser and cabinet upstairs also contained her clothing, photos, legal documents and various mementos.

I had an uncomfortable feeling for most of the day Friday. I was clearly intruding, and while I knew there was no one else that could do this and that we didn’t have another option (we don’t know how to get in touch with her family), I still felt out of place.

Her clothing was donated and we placed her photos and other mementos in a safe place. While I packed and sorted, I learned she loved to sew and knit. I saw photos of her life in China, and it looked like she visited with her son and his family in Australia.

Here we were, cleaning out and dismantling the life of a man (and woman) we clearly did not know well.

We may have taken three carloads of bags and small boxes to Salvation Army that first day.

His clothing, photos and paperwork are staying in there for now. There will be upgrades and construction before we sell, so it buys us some time.

I don’t know that we’ll ever solve the puzzle, and each visit to his house seems to complicate what we thought we knew.

Every now and then we’d find an old photo or letters that represented one more small piece of a large puzzle.

I don’t know that we’ll ever solve the puzzle, and each visit to his house seems to complicate what we thought we knew.

We found a Seaman’s Discharge Book, and it looks like my father worked on a ship in Hong Kong. At one point, he worked as a radio operator.

aredThis small red book shows my father worked on a ship in Hong Kong.

We also found letters my father and my mother wrote to each other, and I saw that he wrote to her in English and then translated it into Spanish.

They had their own language, as lovers often do. They sometimes borrowed the Spanish-sounding words my older brother made up as a toddler in their letters to each other.

It was the mid ’70s, and in one letter my mother mentions she heard on the news a large earthquake would hit California.

It made me laugh.

I recalled the countless earthquake drills in grammar school in the ’80s, and the constant talk of the “Big One”, and that California would fall into the ocean.

While sorting through his dishes and cookware, I found clay pots that looked like they were used often.

I wondered if I should set any aside for him. Would he be able to use them again? Would he miss them? I guess I could learn what to cook in them. But where I would I store them? The apartment I now share with my boyfriend is already a tight squeeze.

Should I keep them just to store them in the garage?

I did not like the idea of having to give things away that did not belong to me. To dismantle what he had created. But realistically, how much could I keep? And, again, I wondered, which ones?

I did not like the idea of having to give things away that did not belong to me. To dismantle what he had created. But realistically, how much could I keep? And, again, I wondered, which ones?

If he learns to speak again, will he ask me about his house? About his things? About hers?

Perhaps I should be grateful if he gets to the point where he can speak and eat again. But I am certainly not looking forward to that particular conversation.

2015-11-20 15.48.45A persimmon tree, full of fruit, and life, in my father’s backyard.

Cleaning up after my father has been a theme for two weeks now.

The week before Thanksgiving my youngest brother and I worked in my father’s back yard. A persimmon tree is full of fruit, and some of the persimmons had been picked at by birds and fallen to the ground.

I saw that my father had started small vegetable gardens. One still has the hoes he used.

In another area, it looked like he was growing tomatoes. A small tomato had dried up on the wood supports he created.

He is not gone, I am well aware of that.

And I am grateful.

I can see him, and talk to him and share what is happening with me. Perhaps one day he will be able to respond. Second chances are rare, and hopefully we both make the best of this one.

 

agreen2Photo of my father, circa 1976.

My father goes to acupuncture

A family member graciously allows me to crash on his couch when I plan to visit my father.

It is an extremely convenient arrangement, given that his apartment is a block or so from a train stop, and perhaps more importantly, only a 15-minute walk (or quick Lyft ride) to the nursing facility where my dad is currently a resident.

After an initial stay at a skilled nursing facility in Rosemead, which is ridiculously far from Los Angeles — officially 18 miles from my former Koreatown apartment and about 30 minutes without traffic — we found a better and closer place in Highland Park, northeast of downtown L.A.

My father has made progress after a stroke in March, but it seems he has hit a wall after so many initial gains. His mobility on the right side has increased, but he cannot move the left side of his body without assistance. He has difficulty swallowing, and does not speak.

He was refusing to participate with the speech therapist, perhaps because it is still very difficult for him to swallow, but I’m not sure. After the electro stimulation on his throat during speech therapy at the hospital, he was a more willing participant, but he coughed a lot after trying different substances.

When he refused to participate in some aspects of physical therapy, that therapist could talk him into it.

Something is clearly going on inside that head of his, but since he cannot talk, we have no way of knowing what it is.

Acupuncture after a stroke seemed like a good idea, but because he was dealing with so many complications, we waited to make arrangements for scheduling an appointment.

We are hoping acupuncture will help stimulate his nerves and remind his brain and body what they should be doing. If it helps with movement, swallowing, and/or his mood, those are all pluses. I have wondered if he is depressed, given he is now confined to a room, his movement determined by others, and limited to answering yes or no questions.

Full disclosure: I have used acupuncture regularly, most recently for a complicated ankle sprain involving stretched nerves and loss of control of my toes, and the subsequent pain. I turned to it when migraines were dictating my life. My father turned to it for his maladies and introduced our family to it. He took me to an acpuncturist in downtown L.A.’s Chinatown when I tweaked my thumb while playing volleyball in high school.

Now it appears I am returning the favor.

I arrived at the nursing facility about 15 minutes before our scheduled departure.

He was dressed and ready to be moved to a wheelchair when I arrived.

The driver arrived a few minutes later, and I walked with him as he wheeled my father to the back parking lot where a small, white van was waiting.

I watched the driver open the van doors, unfold and pull out the ramp. Seatbelts attached to the wheelchair and acted as pulleys to get my father up the ramp and into the back of the van.

The wheelchair was secured, and then a seatbelt was pulled across my father’s chest. He seemed at ease and nodded to indicate he was aware we were going to acupuncture.

Once we got on the road, my father took in the scenery, looking mostly to his right, at a world he had not visited in seven months.

He seemed to enjoy the view, and being away from the nursing facility.

From the front seat, I asked if he was OK. He turned away from the window and looked at me briefly, then nodded. It was almost like I had interrupted him, and he went back to looking out the window.

He was alert the entire ride over and watched the nurse practitioner intently as she took his blood pressure and jotted the information down in his file. He responded to the acupuncturist, who is also his primary care physician.

The doctor, who I met for the first time that day, asked him to hold his left hand with his right. It apparently helps the brain remember and acknowledge the other side of the body. (This reminded me of my physical therapy treatments for my ankle.) She asked him, in Mandarin, to raise both arms up to his face. He complied as much as he could.

Before she began to insert needles, she massaged his face, shoulders and head. She was a bit rough for my taste, but he didn’t seem to mind. He looked calm, and comfortable.

She and I chatted, and she looked me over before saying she thought I looked like him.

Once the needles were in for a bit, my father began to snore. He slept almost the entire way back. I plan to see him again this week, and will schedule another visit. I want to get a better idea of how often he can make the trip. He did better than I anticipated — I thought he might have difficulties with traveling, but it was quite the opposite.

download_20151023_133548 My father, in the back of the van, on our way to his first acupuncture treatment.

A Stroke, and Both Our Worlds Are Changed

My father still has difficulty holding his head up, among a laundry list of other ailments. While he has made progress, it is his continued inability to swallow, and speak, that has me worried. But I also wonder if seven months after the stroke, he has tired of fighting.

In March, my father had another stroke.

Stubborn by nature, he had not checked in with his primary care doctor for almost a year leading up to the stroke and had not been taking his heart and high blood pressure medication regularly. He had some difficulty walking, and a fall from late 2013 still affected him. But he lived independently.

I remember the day, it was last year, when he told me his ex-wife passed away. I later learned it was around the time he stopped taking his medication. Apparently, he knew her when they were young, in Shanghai, and I think she was the love of his life.

He was calm and clear about how it happened, he showed no emotion, but talked in a soft tone. I almost cried, and wanted to embrace him, but hugging is not something my father and I did regularly. That may sound harsh and cold. And he was.

For most of my life, until I graduated from college and began working my way into a jounalism career, I did not speak with my father often. It was easier not to. Eventually, the rage and disappointment gave way to acceptance and forgiveness. There were occasional lunches and dinners before the stroke. But ours is still a complicated relationship.

Since March, I have debated if I should share what has been happening with him, and by extension, with me, and my past. And my family’s past. There is much we have not said to each other about a difficult upbringing that included frequent fights between my parents and a divorce after he left our home to live with another woman.

I know we wasted an enormous amount of time blaming and ignoring him. Of course, I understand I cannot change the past, but I am keenly aware of the hurt that lingers. I feel as if I have been keeping a secret, and now, I am letting some of you in on it.

Since March, I have debated if I should share what has been happening with him, and by extension, with me, and my past. And my family’s past. There is much we have not said to each other about a difficult upbringing that included frequent fights between my parents and a divorce after he left our home to live with another woman.

Writing is usually therapeutic, but it also means experiencing the hurt all over again. I have started and stopped various drafts about my experience with hospital and nursing facility staff; about researching different types of strokes, nursing homes and about recovery from a stroke; and possible places for him to receive electrical stimulation on his throat to help him swallow and possibly, speak again.

He has not uttered a word since March. It is ironic, given how much he yelled and enforced his will verbally when we were growing up.

My father is Chinese, hence my last name, which means “heart” and has a silent “H”; my mother is Mexican. They came to the U.S. in the late 60s, if I’m not mistaken, met in Los Angeles and married in the early 70s.

It was made clear to me by both parents that my gender meant there were certain things I could and could not do, despite having really good grades and being a pretty responsible kid. My father was stern and demanding, and he was the undisputed head of the household. Unlike many of my Latino friends’ fathers growing up, he cooked, often.

He also constantly tinkered with the old cars that sat in our driveway. I like driving through the city and enjoy road trips, probably because of the many Sundays we spent travelling to what seemed like distant cities in his 1963, banged up, white Chevy Impala.

I enjoy shopping for groceries in downtown L.A.’s Chinatown because we spent so much time dining and buying the proper ingredients for dinner there. I am independent and stubborn, like him. But he did not teach us his language, and I will likely forever be an outsider in that world. I do speak Spanish, quite well, and can still have a simple conversation in French.

All of this played in my head as there was a point after the stroke when the doctors did not think my father would make it. I decided to traverse the city to see him, and thought about the countless times we drove down Wilshire Boulevard.

I now lived walking distance from this major street. It was my route to the subway, and the first part of my journey to his bedside. I hopped on the subway from my Koreatown apartment and transferred to a bus that would take me from downtown L.A. to the hospital in Alhambra.

Driving there, without traffic, would take about 30 minutes.

But that was not a drive I wanted to make on my scooter.

I now lived walking distance from this major street. It was my route to the subway, and the first part of my journey to his bedside. I hopped on the subway from my Koreatown apartment and transferred to a bus that would take me from downtown L.A. to the hospital in Alhambra.

I felt I needed to tell him that I forgave him, and that I would help him if he wanted me to. I started writing a story on the bus, on my phone, and I remember passing one of his favorite restaurants at Garvey Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard in Monterey Park.

By the time I got to the hospital, my nose was puffy and my eyes were red. My father opened his eyes when I called to him, and once the nurse left the room, I began to say what I wanted to say. He began to shake, and his face contorted, but I don’t think he made any noise. Tears began to stream down his face. He was crying.

I was relieved he could understand, but then I felt badly for upsetting him. I took him by the hand and told him it was OK, that there was still time, including time for him to teach me Mandarin. (I studied Mandarin for a semester and I barely passed. My pronunciation is apparently horrible. When I called my dad one day to tell him I was taking the class, I said something to him in Mandarin and he asked me to repeat it. After a few more attempts and he still couldn’t understand what I was saying, he said I should just tell him in English.) I also told him that it was up to him, and how much effort he was willing to put into his recovery.

The last week has been pretty difficult, for me and for him, as he had just returned from an 11-day hospital stay due to pneumonia. It’s likely his own saliva went down the wrong pipe and into his lungs. He was receiving great care at Glendale Adventist Hospital, and the speech therapist there was using electrical stimulation on his throat.

After some initial frustration, and a visit by me during a session with his therapist, my father began to swallow various types of liquids and gooey substances. He would need several months of this before we would see real progress, but because his pneumonia was on the mend and his lungs were clear, he was discharged back to the nursing facility.

I don’t have any real complaints about the care at the nursing facility, but unfortunately, they do not offer vital stimulation for his throat during speech therapy.

I’ve spent almost a week looking into how to make this happen for him off site. Insurance is never easy, but I was able to speak with a live person after several messages and being routed to various departments, and she will let me know how and if therapy away from the nursing facility will happen. (If you’re curious, this is the link for what I’m looking into).

My emotional state was already shaky, and I was looking forward to attending the first-ever Laguna Film Festival in Orange County. The first short documentary, called “Alzheimer’s: A Love Story,” broke my heart into even more pieces. The film opens with two men, one sitting in a wheelchair with a homemade birthday cake in his lap that the other man is holding. The man’s head droops forward as he sits in the wheelchair. The other man is trying to get him to sing or blow out the candle. We later learn the man in the wheelchair is in a special treatment facility for Alzheimer’s Disease and the other man is his partner of more than 40 years.

The man in the wheelchair immediately reminded me of my father.

My father still has difficulty holding his head up, among a laundry list of other ailments. A tube connects to his stomach from a machine that feeds him liquid nutrients. I was told early on that one of the most important things in recovery is a person’s ability to eat solid food again.

While he has made progress, it is his continued inability to swallow, and speak, that has me worried. He remains at a high risk for pneumonia because he still cannot swallow. I also wonder if seven months after the stroke, he has tired of fighting.

While he has made progress, it is his continued inability to swallow, and speak, that has me worried. He remains at a high risk for pneumonia because he still cannot swallow. I also wonder if seven months after the stroke, he has tired of fighting.

I can only wonder what thoughts are locked inside his head. While he can nod or blink his eyes for “yes,” and shake his head for “no,” he often refuses to answer. He will simply stare back when you ask him a question or look away. I have attempted to have him spell out words to me, but most of the time he has refused.

At the hospital, he did hold a pen and attempt to spell “yes,” but he lacks control. I was going to see if he could touch the screen on my tablet to spell during my last visit, but he was too tired to wake from his sleep. Apparently, he had been rather active the day before, and it was the same week he returned from the hospital.

Tomorrow my father has an acupuncture appointment, and electrical stimulation is now part of his physical therapy. That therapist will be using electrical stimulation on his shoulders and neck, to help him with head control, and by extension, possibly with swallowing. Cross your fingers.

The couple on the left in the photo are my godparents. My parents stand next to them, and my father is on the right.

Jack in the Box – the Last Stop Before Crossing the Border

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For the first time in six months, I walked down the stairs of the corporate office, and out to the dirty sidewalk. Waiting for me across the street is a Jack in the Box. Not exactly a gourmet lunch, but delivery to my office is tough (there’s usually a minimum and I was taking a very late lunch, solo) and Jack is quick and easy.

In this particular part of L.A., north of the I-10 and south of downtown, homeless people often yell at each other — or at no one in particular — so loudly, I can hear them from the second floor of the office. There are more empty buildings here than downtown, and the area is sometimes lonely, with the exception of UPS drivers, bus riders and workers from the nearby garment shops. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s have been spotted arresting people here. The noise of bus brakes and the announcements for each stop, along with the occasional screeching of car tires comprise the background music of my day.

The stench of urine, the man in the ratty clothes and the woman pushing her belongings in a shopping cart don’t sway me. I am celebrating another milestone. I can walk. After six months on crutches I can go up and down stairs. On this warm, fall day, I walked in sandals. More importantly, I can now go outside. Even if outside is dirty, noisy and dominated by asphalt and oil spots. 

Once inside I grab a seat and unwrap my lunch. 

I suddenly remember one of our drives down to Tijuana to see my mother’s relatives. My mom is Mexican, and her family moved to TJ in Baja California from Chihuahua in Northwestern Mexico. Ever since I can remember, our family made the two hour or so drive down. Sometimes we were lucky enough to get pulled out of school early. And since we were good students and my dad charmed the teachers, there was a never an issue. 

My dad used to tease me about whether or not I could actually finish one taco. Back then, Jack in the Crack called them Super Tacos, and they were bigger than the tacos that are now offered as a two for $.99 deal. 

Jack was usually our last stop on the U.S. side before we crossed the border. More substantial fare was usually had on the way back to L.A. 

I smiled to myself. He and my mom put up with three kids competing to see who could read the most signs along the freeway. Then a fight over which sign “counted” and who read it first would prompt my dad to glare and raise his voice, which immediately created silence. 

He might be the reason I like road trips. I should call that man. 

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