Never Goodbye

Navigating the Journey through Dementia

I always look forward to seeing the house on the lake, my dad and my son, Brad. My son is a wonderful guy. He swept up all the leaves; turned on the water, lights, and heat; and in general got things ready for my arrival to Alabama. A cold front sent temperatures down to 22 degrees the night I arrived, quite the shock from the 75 degree, sunny weather I left behind in L.A. Unbeknownst to my son Brad and I, the heating blower in the house had broken. The central heating in Dad’s house takes forever to warm the house because there is no duct work system. Warm air is blown into the crawl space requiring the large area underneath the house to get warm before air rises into the house. I turned on a space heater and climbed under a pile of blankets, hoping the house would be warm by morning.

However, the thermostat registered 50 degrees, which was the lowest temperature it could register, probably a more generous indication than the actual temperature. There was no heat. I had heating company representatives come out, and they quickly found and fixed the source of the heating problem.

Even with the heating problem, overall, the trip went smoothly. Plane flights came in early. Traffic was not congested. And as I drove down the freeway and the sun was setting, a tinge of pastel blue and pink framed the most beautiful rising white moon I had ever seen. The full moon was as large as a setting sun, and its pearly white glow was  stunning–other worldly.

Dad recognized me and was happy to see me, greeting me with a big smile. Mind you, I spent the prior 10 days mentioning in my daily phone calls that I was arriving for a visit. I figured with enough repetition, he might know me this time.

The planned highlight of my visit was taking dad to the dentist for teeth cleaning. I teased him about going to the dentist. In the past, he enjoyed his dental visits because one of the dental hygienists just loved my dad. Her affection was reciprocated by him calling her “his girlfriend.” She said that dad was her favorite patient, and he would kid her that he was working on cavities so he could see her more often.

Because past dental visits always added a little spice to otherwise dull times, I was not concerned about dad’s forthcoming adventure at the dentist. He liked to get out for a drive, and the actual teeth cleaning procedures had always taken a backseat to the fun he had with the dental staff.

So, I wheeled him into the dentist’s office. Our first intimation that this dental visit would be different was when his regular hygienist had been replaced. The replacement hygienist’s demeanor was very professional, and courteous; however, she wasn’t admiring my dad and joking with him. We helped him shift from the wheel chair to the dental chair. He complained about the paper towel she fastened with clips around his neck. When she wanted him to open his mouth, he refused, pulling his lips tight so she had to pry them open. You would have thought she was giving a four-year-old his first teeth cleaning. About two scrapes of the teeth was all he would tolerate, so she skipped straight into the polishing stage.

He kept pushing her hand away from his mouth and asking her, “Are you done yet?” He told me several times, “I don’t like this,” and that it was time to go home. She gave him water to rinse his mouth from a cup and tried to use the suction device to remove water. But he would have none of that and spit the water onto the floor.

When she tried to floss between his teeth to get rid of the cleaning grit, he resumed pushing her hand away, asking if she was done yet, and informing her that he was leaving now.

I started laughing. Soon the dental hygienist was laughing too. My dad had a little smirk on his face, and at last we were done with his teeth cleaning episode.

Not much of anything was accomplished as far as getting his teeth cleaned. When the gal at the front desk asked if we would re-schedule another cleaning in 6 months, I told her I did not think my dad would stand for it. My dad, who is hard of hearing and had turned deafness to his advantage, suddenly asked what we had both said. I spoke loudly repeating, “I don’t think he would stand for it.” He smiled approvingly with a slight twinkle in his eye.

There is a saying in Alabama, “Once a man, twice a boy.” This dental visit brought new meaning to the saying. We can both applaud the fact that unless he is in dire pain, my dad–and the few teeth he has left in his mouth–will escape future dental excursions.