West Nile or Not?

Since I started this blog, I have wanted to encapsulate my summer but it still feels too close to put into a “capsule.” This blog may be shorter than I anticipate or it may be long and torturous, where it will only serve as therapy for me while my readers click away, or I may try to report in a few stories… like a news feature series. All I know is I need to write about it.

When school let out for the summer, I had big plans for our family… and for me. One of the plans for self included a backpacking trip with some friends. Ten days away from Mommy duties. Two days driving to the San Juans in Colorado and two days to drive back home. Six nights on the trail with five friends, two pairs of underwear, two shirts, two shorts, one fleece, one good pair of hiking boots, twenty pieces of moleskin to put on the blisters of my feet even with those good boots, one backpack, one sleeping bag, one shovel for a “toilet”, and a whole lot of peanut butter. I was excited to commune with God in the mountains, our favorite meeting place.

But a couple weeks before we were to leave, a different mountain appeared right here in the Midwest. I know the whole mountain metaphor is overused, but it certainly fit into my life at the time. The irony of this mountain was that it involved climbing with my dad. In 1985, my dad and I joined several other dads and their sons and daughters at the same base camp, where I was to go this summer, for a week in the mountains. Some of my greatest lifetime memories are being with my dad that week, struggling to make another climb, eating ramen noodles like they were cuts of prime beef and discussing ways to serve and love God and our family more. Truly priceless.

My dad gave me a great gift that week because it was not an easy task to take time off work at that particular time. He has always had a great work ethic (even when he worked at the gas station as a kid and accidently drove a car into a gas pump which, as I understand it, was not a pretty sight. He had to work a few extra hours with no pay for that one).

When he retired he didn’t slow down one iota. Every time our family and my brothers’ families would gather at the lake, we would play in the water or ski or read our novels while my dad slaved away at the garden or powerwashed the deck or fixed the Sea Doo lift. The man doesn’t stop. But this summer as we were stripping wallpaper from the master bathroom at the lakehouse, he threw out his back. That slowed him down. After an epidural, he rebounded slowly… until he was hit with some sort of virus. Another couple days went by, and instead of a work horse he became a nap cat. He complained of a headache, and one doctor thought it might be related to the epidural, although highly unlikely that it would happen so many days later.

He and my mom headed home from the lake, and it was more of the same. Headaches and sleepiness. He even sounded a little slower on the phone when Bret, my husband, spoke to him one Thursday night. The next day my dad’s doctor called to check in and after speaking with him, asked to talk to my mom. He told her that my dad wasn’t making any sense and that she needed to get him to the hospital right away. He would say things like: “Where is the milk from the …..(pause)… grass that I had sitting on the….(pause)… water.” Wacky.

Within the next few hours, my husband, my two older brothers and I gathered in the ER with my mom at a local hospital. By then my dad didn’t know where he was or what his name was, although he hadn’t lost his sense of humor. When the fifth doctor or nurse came into to ask his name, he responded weakly, “Puddin’ Tame.” Since it is a teaching hospital, many doctors, residents and nurses were coming in and asking the same questions. All the history stuff like:

When did this start…what are the symptoms…have you been out of the country…can you hear me…can you lift your left hand and touch your nose with your thumb…have you had hot dogs or ice cream lately (that was my favorite one from a resident)…what is your name…where are  you…what year is it…how old are you…

Then looking at my mom they would ask if he was always this confused…has he had a stroke…does he normally know his name…do you know if he was bitten by a mosquito…has he been itching in one spot…

SERIOUSLY! Are you kidding me. Look at the man’s legs. He’s got champion, runner legs. He’s like a machine. He’s muscular and strong and he’s not stupid. And he’s not deaf… I wanted to yell (at the doctors, of course, not my dad because he is NOT deaf). I wanted to say, he is not just your latest case. He is an intelligent, healthy, strong, creative, loving person, so don’t treat him like some old man who is about to meet his maker.

Whew… this is going to have to be continued later. I am all shaky now in this little bit of my therapy. It’s time for a break. I’ll continue later so stay tuned for West nile or not… and be prepared for one of the longest words ever created.

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