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.

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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.

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.

 

 

Do You Want to Talk?

Even before his stroke the words to apologize and explain often eluded him. And now, sitting in a bed, completely dependant on someone else, without the ability to say a word, my once fiercely independent, loud and commanding father has no control of his world.

My sister was in town for the holidays, which meant she was going to visit our father. She had not seen my father since he was hospitalized after his stroke in March.

She wanted someone to go with her. I told her my brothers, who were staying at my mom’s house for Christmas, would be happy to take her.

But she said she wanted someone with experience. A “veteran,” she said. And that veteran was me.

I knew and she knew it would be an emotional visit with my father.

Ours is a complicated relationship, and as he learns to swallow, talk and move his appendages all over again, his triumphs and difficulties seem to carry even more meaning.

We arrived at the nursing facility, and she walked with me from the back of the facility toward his room. His room is near the front of the facility, and his bed is near a window that faces a main street. It’s not a bad view. The passing cars can serve as a distraction and have a rhythm to their flow. There are sufficient trees to add some color and softness to the mix of concrete and asphalt.

I loudly announced my presence, but he seems to hear or sense when someone walks in the room because he had already turned his head to look in my direction as my words made their way out of my mouth.

He saw that my sister was somewhat behind me as I told him he had another guest.

I turn to look at her and move aside so she can have access to his bedside.

My father began to sob as she approached him.

She asked him how he was doing, and I heard her voice crack before I saw the tears well up in her eyes. She hugged him because my sister is a hugger.

She asked him how he was doing, and I heard her voice crack before I saw the tears well up in her eyes. She hugged him because my sister is a hugger.

There was silence.

I wondered what he would say to her if he could speak. Or if he would say anything at all. We were never good at talking about the obvious. And when you add hurt and a complicated past, it gets…complicated.

My sister wiped her tears away, and I told my father it was OK.

I transitioned into my usual routine of sharing the latest family news, current events, etc.

We practiced writing on his whiteboard, but it looked like he was either trying to write his full name in cursive or he was attempting to write Chinese characters. It’s possible he was too emotional to write and could not concentrate. So we practiced just writing the letter “F”, for Frank.

My sister stepped out of the room for a few minutes.

When she returned, my father and I were still working with the board.

I switched gears and asked if he’d like to see some photos.

He nodded, and we started going through the photos on my phone.

I checked the time and my sister and I told him we had to make a mad dash across town to LAX so she could catch a flight home.

Since their emotional greeting he had not looked at her, and the mix of joy, embarrassment and possibly guilt still hung in the air.

My sister asked me if I noticed, and of course I noticed, but I was not surprised.

Since their emotional greeting he had not looked at her, and the mix of joy, embarassment and possibly guilt still hung in the air… Even before his stroke the words to apologize and explain often eluded him. And now, sitting in a bed, completely dependant on someone else, without the ability to say a word, my once fiercely independent, loud and commanding father has no control of his world.

Even before his stroke the words to apologize and explain often eluded him. And now, sitting in a bed, completely dependant on someone else, without the ability to say a word, my once fiercely independent, loud and commanding father has no control of his world.

He has a Chinese calendar in his room now, and I showed him on the calendar that he had a week off before he begins his work with the USC therapists again.

The occupational therapist worked with him on straightening and extending his fingers, and she soon presented him with an opportunity to practice writing.

He immediately began to write his name when the therapist handed him the marker.

The letters appeared shaky, but it was clear enough to make out his name.

She asked if he could write my name, and then she wrote my name on the dry erase board and asked him if he could trace over it.

He looked at the board, studied the words and then wrote my name.

I was sitting across the table from my father and the therapist, fiddling with my phone, when I heard the therapist’s voice rise in delight. She congratulated him on writing my name so clearly. I looked up. I too was delighted. I walked over and snapped a quick photo and congratulated him.

My father started to shake and his face became red. His emotional reaction to writing my name made me emotional as well.

Especially because the word was written so clearly.

 

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My father was able to write my name during an occupational therapy session earlier this month at USC Keck Medical Center. The word in all caps was written by the therapist; he wrote the second “Maria.” He also sees a speech therapist at the outpatient rehab center there. After a stroke in March, he is learning to swallow, move his arms and legs and communicate. 

He continues to make progress with his ability to swallow, and it is not uncommon for him to be able to swallow after he coughs. It is also a littler easier for him to swallow, and he is now swallowing without the assistance of the VitalStim therapy (electrical stimulation for his throat muscles).

The speech therapist also began having him practice talking – mouthing responses in addition to nodding or shaking his head.

I often wonder if he wants to talk. Perhaps it’s easier for him not to since it allows him to continue avoiding the past. Perhaps he does not want to discuss what is happening to his body and his mind.

We came to an agreement that once he began eating, I would take him out to dumplings. I asked him one day if he missed eating and the taste of different foods. If he missed Chinese food. He laughed. Which I think means yes… I have not mustered the courage to ask if we wants to talk. 

We came to an agreement that once he began eating, I would take him out for dumplings. I asked him one day if he missed eating and the taste of different foods. If he missed Chinese food. He laughed. Which I think means yes.

I have not mustered the courage to ask if he wants to talk.

A few times in therapy we leaned in to hear him utter a very low, hoarse response.

Of greater importance is the opening and moving of the mouth, tongue and all the related muscles, the therapist said. Sounds, of course, are great, but she wants him to engage more.

Back at the skilled nursing facility, I practiced what he had done in speech therapy, encouraging my father to “talk” and mouth his responses.

Before leaving, I mentioned when our next appointment was, and asked if that was OK, or “good” with him, in Chinese.

Hao?” I said.

He nodded and opened his mouth.

Hao,” he responded, in a raspy, Darth Vader-like voice.

“I could hear that!” I said. “That’s good – hun hao (very good).”

He began to shake and cry.

These are small steps, but steps nonetheless, I told him.

Hun hao,” I repeated, with tears in my eyes.

Very good indeed.

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.

The Road to USC (and Speech Therapy) After a Stroke

For almost a week, I called different departments at USC Keck School of Medicine, wanting to speak to someone about how to get speech therapy with vital stimulation for my father.

I kept getting an answering service and had left a few messages, but was not getting a call back. 

My father has been a resident of a nursing facility since his stroke in March, and it is not possible for doctors or therapists from other organizations to come on site and treat him, with the exception of his primary care doctor.

After my father was hospitalized in October for a fever and what turned out to be a less severe form of pneumonia, he had the opportunity to get NMES, or neuro muscular electrical stimulation, also called vital stimulation, on his throat during speech therapy there.

It helped him to swallow, something he still cannot do regularly on his own. He eats through a G-tube and because he cannot swallow well, his saliva went the wrong way and caused him to aspirate. He was coughing and eventually became ill.

To avoid this, and provide him with every opportunity to get better, especially for something as important as swallowing and eating, I began calling USC as their speech therapists are trained in vital stim. The speech therapist at the nursing facility is not.

For some reason, each time I called the number for outpatient therapy at USC given to me by the operator, I would get an answering service.

Then I decided to have USC call me through a feature on the speech therapy page of their website.

The heavens opened, and a live person came on the line.

I explained the situation and the woman said it sounded like her supervisor would need to speak with me, but unfortunately, her supervisor was out of the office. The receptionist took down my information and said she would have her supervisor call me.

In the meantime…

I asked the administrator at the nursing facility about how I could get my father to USC for speech therapy and vital stim, since they did not offer it, and I was told he did not know because they do not normally send their patients off site. They employ therapists at the facility, and usually residents are seen by their on-site therapists.

If an outside therapist is not allowed on site, then how do I get my father to a place where speech therapy with vital stim is offered?

The administrator at the nursing facility said he wanted to help, and I said that was great, because I was trying to reach USC, but had no idea what I needed to get the process started.

I was referred to the nursing facility’s social worker who seemed very confused about what I wanted to do.

“We haven’t done this before,” she said.

“OK, well neither have I,” I said.

She suggested I call USC and ask what they needed, and that I call his insurance for information about whether it would be covered if he was being seen in an outpatient setting.

I was referred to the nursing facility’s social worker who seemed very confused about what I wanted to do. 

“We haven’t done this before,” she said.

“OK, well neither have I,” I said.

“Shouldn’t you call his insurance and USC Keck’s speech therapy to inquire about costs and insurance?” I asked. “After all, he is a resident at your facility. Why do I feel like I am the one doing all the research?”

Probably because I was.

To the credit of the insurance customer service rep, she did explain the process for the paperwork that was needed. She could tell me speech, occupational and physical therapy were covered. But she could not see his Medicare information, and in terms of whether my father could have just one therapy, such as speech, off site, was a question for the nursing facility.

As to what was needed to make off site therapy happen, and the cost, the facility knows, the customer service rep informed me. They should be the ones contacting the provider, she said.

Funny, I was thinking the same thing.

“Shouldn’t you call his insurance and USC Keck’s speech therapy to inquire about costs and insurance?” I asked.

“Why do I feel like I am the one doing all the research?”

Probably because I was.

I put my writing skills to use, and drafted a detailed email to the administrator of the nursing facility. I laid out all my questions, and shared that both USC and the insurance company said the nursing facility (as in he and his staff) needed to answer several questions and provide the paperwork needed to begin the process of outpatient therapy.

At least two weeks had gone by before the staff at the nursing facility offered to sit down and discuss this to see how we could make it happen.

The green light, after so many reds…

I drafted my email to the nursing facility’s administrator after I spoke with the USC rehab supervisor. She was sympathetic and helpful, and is the second wonderful person I have spoken to over the phone at USC Keck. (The first person was extremely kind and helpful when I was looking for nursing facilities shortly after my father’s stroke.)

She asked me many of the questions I ended up asking the administrator. She made it clear that she was there to help, adding she could hear the frustration in my voice and that I should not stop advocating for my father.

It was evident I had come across a series of road blocks, she said, and she would be a green light.

I was so thrilled someone seemed to understand the language I was speaking that I thought I was going to cry.

The staff at the nursing facility seemed miffed I had put them to work. And defensive at the thought that I would seek therapy elsewhere. Some of them, anyway. The speech therapist would later tell me she was glad my father would be getting vital stim and continuing with acupuncture.

Which brings me to some good news: acupuncture helped my father swallow.

The Monday after his acupuncture treatment, in which fine needles were inserted mostly on his head and in his ears, he was a much more willing participant during speech therapy at the nursing facility. The speech therapist informed me that she tallied 14 swallows, and that he ate most of the gooey substance in the small cup.

By the end of the week, when I visited with him, it was difficult for him to manage a handful of swallows.

I’m impressed and overjoyed. I knew acupuncture would help him in some way, but I was not sure how. I had hoped it would help with his ability to swallow, but I did not expect this.

More acupuncture appointments are on the calendar, and I just received confirmation from the nursing facility that his transportation is scheduled.

Now, I just need to make sure all the paperwork is in and that we — because I will be going as well — are ready for evaluations at USC for speech, occupational and physical therapy. Each evaluation will be about an hour, and once I know where on the USC Keck campus each evaluation will take place, we can schedule transportation.

Progress. Finally.

Dad_little My father, when he was much younger. Taken in or near Shanghai, in the early 1940s.

The people in the top photo are my parents, circa 1970.

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.