Today I sit in awe of Dad while he takes a much deserved rest in his recliner. It’s been a busy day so far. After an early breakfast, he went out to feed his horses. I caught sight of him mucking the paddock, too. Then I drove him into town for a blood test that monitors levels for Warfarin, the med he takes for his heart rate. Afterward we drove to Dallas to pick up his new sign, “ANCHOR RANCH”, and to take some pretty pink flowers out to Mom’s grave.
You see, in June, Tom and I drove him to the hospital to have his aortic valve replaced. While at 87 years old the open heart surgery was not without risks, the valve was closing and it was just a matter of a short time before it could stop his life-flowing blood. Not much choice there.
As we drove toward the hospital, Dad watched as the scenery sped by. “I’m turning in my license when I turn ninety,” he told us. “Oh?” asked Tom. “What are you going to do? Ride your horse into town?” Dad laughed. “Maybe. I just don’t feel a ninety year-old should be out driving around.”
The valve replacement went beautifully, thanks to his terrific doctor, Dr. Taylor. I could picture Dad, back at the ranch in no time. Then, two days later he suffered a stroke, followed by a second one in the same area. Suddenly, the future was so unsure. All we had was each day God gave us. So, my sisters, brother and I became his advocates, one of us at his side 24/7 for six weeks at the hospital in ICU. Dr. Taylor was his advocate, too, when the peripheral hospital team thought the doc should give up, he never did. He saw to it that my Dad went straight to the Rehabilition Institute of Oregon, up in Portland, (no nursing home!)where he not only received amazing care, but empowerment to take charge of his own recovery. And that he did. In three short weeks he was discharged to his home, his ranch. Once again, my three sibs and I rallied to make it work. We worked out a schedule that would allow one of us to be here with him at all times. With all four of us still working (retirement? what’s that?), it wasn’t easy. Though he did not require 24 hour nursing care, he did require someone to be with him 24 hours as he regained strenth and balance. And regain it he did.
Next week we enter into another phase with his recupertion. We will each spend one weekend a month with him: visiting, catching up on any household things that need to be done, perhaps cooking up several days worth of meals. But Monday through Friday he will be on his own again with just my brother checking in on him daily. Today I’ve watched him all day. Maybe I’m a little worried that we are turning him loose too soon. The funny thing is, I think he’s missing his old routine. The one that didn’t involve all of his kids hanging around!
You see, there is one thing I’ve never been able to post about before. A routine he is anxious to return to and he’s finally let it out of the bag! Since last October he has been writing a novel. A Western Romance. A la Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey. For several years now I have taken Dad down to Southern California to visit his sister and brother. It started when he and I took my mother for her 84th birthday. She wanted to stay at the Highland Springs Resort because she remembered back in the 50′s it was a very popular spot for celebrities. Although in the process of being remodeled, it seemed a bit creepy and each year I thought, okay, this is the last! So last fall, when my Dad asked about going I thought, hmmm - maybe if we don’t have to stay at HSR. But, he was set on staying there. I told him, alright – it certainly has potential for being a setting in one of my future novels. After my historical series I can certainly see me switching genres to suspense. (Brandilyn look out!) So we went, but I made Tom come too. The year before, someone tried to break into my room. (It turned out the front desk had given a key to another guest – thank goodness for bolts!) I called Tom on my cell and he asked me what I thought he could do about it! Okay, he was in Washington, but . . . this time he’s coming with me!
My brother came with us. We all had a good visit. I did some research – Dad even helped! Tom took pictures and we returned home. Two weeks later I received an email from Dad. He told me he decided to write a novel. His setting? Highland Springs. He had his first chapter written. Would I like to read it? Would I? I couldn’t help grinning ear to ear. One caveat: I could tell no one. I explained it would be hard to keep from Tom. He thought about it and gave his blessing for Tom to read it, too. He printed it, put it in a folder and sent it by Priority Mail. At some point, I think about ten chapters later, he began to email me his chapters. Sometimes he would wait and give me a printed chapter when we visited. The neat thing was, it was good! Really good! We couldn’t wait for the next chapter to arrive!
He wrote through the long, cold winter – taking care of the horses in the morning and writing all afternoon. My sibs would call and say, “What did you do today?” My brother became alarmed when Dad would repeatedly say, “Oh, nothing.” Dad called to alert me. “I think I’m going to have to tell your brother.” ”Well, okay, Dad. Why do you think so?” “He’s worried I’m suffering from depression. I have never felt better. I’d better let him know that.”
Since my mother died, winters had always been pretty hard for Dad. And spring was worse, because after being cooped up all winter, now he had to face March, the month that she passed away, followed by April, her birthday. He told me all winter and into spring, that writing was his best therapy and it really was. It was the first spring that he was able to get through without mourning once again. He missed Mom, for sure, but he worked hard on his novel and kept his spirits high. She would have been so proud of him!
So all through spring his spirit soared, but his breath, his health, was slipping. In May he went to his doctor and immediately he was in the midst of myriad tests. His body was as fit as someone twenty years younger, his heart strong and arteries clear. Just this funky valve. In two weeks he would have surgery. Doctor’s orders were to do nothing until then. Rest. He turned in chapter twenty nine, telling me,”It’s the chapter before the black moment.” I read it with delight. In the last week before his surgery, he told me he could not write much, he was getting tired from even sitting up. Two days before he would go to the hospital, he told me he could not write anymore. I told him that was okay, soon he would be home and he could finish his book as he recuperated from his open heart surgery. Before the preliminary heart-cath, he asked for me to come to the prep room. He held my hand and asked me to listen while he told me the end of his story. I told him I didn’t think he needed to do that – he would soon be writing it himself and could surprise me. But he insisted. He told me the perfect ending to a great book.
And now I wait. It is the end of September and he moves on to the independence he cherishes. He moves on to write the end of the story. He has promised me he will work hard over the winter. It won’t be easy. The stroke has made it difficult for him to complete many of his sentences, even the ones he tries to put on paper. But he has worked hard from day one of recovery. He makes huge strides every week, even now. He had to tell my sisters, too, about his book – he needed them to know because they are such a big part of his recovery. We all now anticipate holding that book in our hands.
And driving? Yesterday he told my sister he needed to back the truck out of the garage and wash it. She did talk him out of it for the time being, suggesting our brother might be the best person to oversee that. But somehow I think we’ll see the day he drives again. After all, he isn’t ninety, yet!