On the holidays… and change

christmasChristmas will never be like it was when I was a little girl. This is a post about how it used to be, and how things have changed. Lots go through it, and now it’s our turn.

When I was little, we didn’t have much — I will never forget one Navidad in particular in which my dad gave my brothers and I $3.00 each in a white letter-sized envelope. I wasn’t sad about the lack of toys for gifts, but felt awfully embarrassed for my father and told him it was OK. But it was awkward. I recall vividly that he handed us those envelopes on our way out to visit with family. We stuffed our stash in our rooms and piled into the car. The holidays were here and we were going to have a good time as we knew how!

Christmas time was filled with a jolly (yeah, that word describes things perfectly) times with our small, yet close, family.

My tio Raul (my father’s older brother and without question the uncle I was closest to) and tia Yolanda were always a part of it, as were my (distant? Not really, try super close!) cousins, Maria and Susy, whose mother, Mari, was my tio Raul’s sister-in-law. My aunts on my mother’s side (Mirta, Nina, Chiqui), their children/my cousins, and my maternal grandmother (abuela Esmeria) would get visits from us, as well. Gifts weren’t aplenty, but food was cooked with love, Colombian music—courtesy of my dad’s record player—filled the living room, and good times were had.

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The only way we can see my abuela now is by flying to Miami.

As we grew older, most of the family moved away to warmer climates. My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in the late 1990s and things haven’t been quite the same every since. My maternal grandmother, now in Miami, would go on to develop Alzheimer’s, and later, my tio Raul, also in Florida, would find out he, too, had Parkinson’s.

Somewhere in there, I was married, then dealing with the spouse’s alcoholism. Then I was separated, and divorced. Throughout it all, there were no tears on my part, only would’ve, could’ve, should’ves. It’s like I lost my ability to feel.

Cousins got married, some moved away, and, as happens, life gets in the way. There are work and parenting commitments, as the next generation of children have to be raised, and so, not surprisingly, intimate family gatherings hardly take place.

Today, Dec. 23, marks four years since my tio Raul passed away due to Parkinson’s disease related complications. I got to see him at a nursing home a few months before he passed, and, honestly, I know he’s in a better place today. I miss him terribly, but Parkinson’s can be an awful disease. I say can be, because I acknowledge there are other illnesses that are much, much worse.

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My Tio Raul (left in L photo, center in R photo)

But Parkinson’s eventually imprisons one in their own body. It starts with nerves and muscles, but eventually takes your voice. I remember when I visited him, I could hardly hear him. I kept a happy face and joked around, as I always do, but it is awful to see. I didn’t want him to feel that way.

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The last time I saw my uncle in 2011. With my cousin Maria (L) and my tia Yolanda (R.)

Meanwhile, back home, my father was still as stable as the Deep Brain Stimulation surgery he had in 2006 could keep him. He hadn’t had the Parkinson’s tremors in a long while, but his voice and ability to speak were eroding, and rigidity was taking away his independence via walker. He became wheelchair-bound, but he was home for every holiday.

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Dad at two different Christmases.

However, this will be the first Christmas without him in the home while we have Christmas dinner, for instance. Here are some tips on how to cope with grief and loss throughout the holidays, courtesy of Fordham professor Lisa Cataldo.

“People think they’re supposed to be happy during the holidays. This is supposed to be a time of sharing with your family, of positive relationships, of celebration and joy,” Cataldo said. “Many people feel alienated, because they’re not in that space, and that idealized image of the holidays only makes them feel the lack of those things more acutely.”

 

Two thousand fifteen has been a tough one for our little clan. My father fell and broke his hip on Jan. 21, 2015, and was in and out of hospitals, knocking on death’s door at least three times through March. Since then, he’s been in a nursing home, and it’s not easy. Sure, it’s a facility that can serve his needs 24/7, but this comes with much advocacy from us. You have to be there to make sure he’s not neglected. Any sign of a temperature or low blood pressure can spell trouble. A very bad bed sore he developed in February is only now showing signs of progress. (This after I had a very honest discussion with one of his nurses, who said he’s probably go to the grave with that wound. It wasn’t harsh; just real.)

In late August, I had to put my best friend, my 14-year-old black lab mix, Skunky, down. A cancerous tumor forced me to put him down and I still can’t believe I live without a dog!

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Me and Skunky in Washington Heights.

Thanksgiving was sad, but no one talked about it. In addition to the fact that my older brother, wife, and nephew moved down to Orlando, the house was quiet. My mom and I visited my dad in the late afternoon/early evening. My younger brother stopped by as late as visiting hours would allow. Out by 8 p.m.

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Christmas 2014, my dad’s last one in his house!                                              With my nephew, RJ, and my mom, Maria. 

My younger brother’s girlfriend’s mom and brothers came over, which was nice, but it was very low-key. When the patriarch of the family isn’t around, and can’t even eat due to Parkinson’s related swallowing problems, it’s just sad.

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Happier times, despite the Parkinson’s.

To make things worse, we have not quite dealt with our feelings. In one of the bad hospital stays, where a very bad pneumonia caused ICU doctors to have to intubate him, and even insert an I.V. of antibiotics through his carotid artery, my mom and I cried a little, but something about our family of five prevents us from outwardly displaying our fears and general grief. Again, it’s like we’ve lost our ability to not be numb.

There are frequent spats between us, about who doesn’t visit, or visit enough, and the person who is doing the most, of course, is my mother. She is trying to live her life, joining a YMCA and attending classes, and doing better at not spending all day at the nursing home, which is draining.

It’s draining because my father tries to speak to us and we can’t understand him. It’s draining because there are so many residents who don’t get visitors and look to you for any little conversation. It’s draining because there’s a certain smell, a certain way the staff there is overworked and stressed, and, most of all, because we know he’ll be there for the rest of his life.

It’s also disheartening to recently read about nursing home employees sharing pictures of themselves mocking or abusing patients on social media. It just adds to my guilt that I need to be there more. Working in New York, living across the river in Jersey City, and having to drive further north to the home in which my dad now lives.

There’s a lot of wondering what life would be like had he not gotten sick, or remembering what he was like before he was diagnosed. It’s pointless, but it comes up in conversation a lot when we get visitors.

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With my brothers. I miss my sister-in-law (third from left), now in Florida.

I think a lot about possibly getting Parkinson’s myself. I dream vividly; I always have, but telling my mother about how it can signal Parkinson’s really upset her. But I’m just being realistic about the fact that it can very much be genetic. I spend a lot of the time at the gym because of this, since exercise has been shown to slow the progression of the disease, something we did not know when my dad was first diagnosed.

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My nephew, RJ, lives in Florida now, and I miss him so!

I was never really big on winter holidays. I always liked the Fourth of July and summer in general. I dislike the cold, the dark coming early, and having to stress out about gifts. But we’ll do it. Christmas will be fine, but figuring out how to be with my dad when the clock strikes midnight on Jan. 1 is another hurdle. (We’re not sure if visiting hours will be strictly enforced or whether we’ll disturb his three roommates.)

If I could have one wish for 2016, it’s that we deal with this better. It doesn’t seem like my younger brother and I have time for support groups or therapy with the full-time jobs and side gigs, and having to drive to visit mom and dad. But I’ll suggest it. We’ll see.

I am EMPHATICALLY grateful that my father is still with us. He doesn’t seem to be in pain many times, but as his nurses aide sometimes says when I’m in his room with her wonderful Haitian accent, “He seems miserable.” (I think it’s more aches that come with being bed-ridden most of the time.)

I pray 2016 brings us some better days.

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My dog is dying.

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Skunky & I went on a long, 2.5 hour walk the other day. Yes, I brought water with us. He’s not the quick walker he once was, but I think he enjoyed walking along the Hudson River from the other side. Some of his best years were spent walking along the Hudson from the Washington Heights/Harlem side.

My dog is ill. He is dying, and I think it might be time to let him go.

Last month, when I found out the tumor on the roof of Skunky’s mouth was malignant (with hemangiosarcoma, a cancer that most often affects dogs), I felt numb to the news, in part, because, aside from being a little less active (he is 14, after all), he seemed fine. He was still eating normally and happy as ever to get out of the house and go for a walk.

The vet, who told me he would advise his own mother against putting the dog through chemo, radiation, or cryosurgery, told me to spoil him rotten, make him comfortable, and to monitor his quality of life as I’d know when it was time to let him go.

As a kid, if a horse or dog had to be put down in a book I was reading or a movie I watched, I never understood it. Why couldn’t the doctor patch them up?

But in the vet’s office that day, I recalled a time when I took Skunky to Inwood Hill Park when we lived in northern Manhattan some years ago. It was late fall, an absolute beautiful time in that park, and during our walk, we passed by a man wheeling his German Shepherd-mix around the trail on a dolly as, presumably, his elderly dog could no longer walk. That was no life for the animal, I thought to myself. That’s selfish. That’s keeping the dog around for the owner, and I won’t ever do that, I thought.

And now, I find myself at that fork in the road. Yesterday, one side of his snout began to swell. Again, he is still eating and will go on a walk, but the swelling looks pretty bad. And he knows that I know something is up. When I look at him, or pet him gently, he starts to wag and gives me that look of shame he so often gave me as a pup if he thought he did something wrong.

I think it’s time to have him put to sleep. I know I will miss how he greets me when I get in. I will miss his extreme loyalty that ensures he never leaves my side. He’s part of the family, and that’s why my mom, brother, brother’s girlfriend, and the other pet living in the house (a shorkie!), don’t seem quite ready for him to go.  (This is partly why I feel guilty about having to make this decision.)

I spoke with a colleague about this a few weeks ago, as he worked at a veterinary technician many years ago, and he said, more often than not, owners wait too long. It’s not like a pet can tell us if they’re really suffering, right? He assured me the dog wouldn’t feel a thing when being euthanized. That gave me some comfort.

But it’s still tough.

You see, this is happening at a time when my own father is nearing the end of his life. A very strong man who never had any health problems aside from his Parkinson’s disease, he’s been living in a nursing home for the past seven months. My father is not suffering, per se, but I wouldn’t say he has a great quality of life.

He is incontinent. His limbs are contracting. He is fed through a peg tube. He relies on nurse’s aides to reposition him every two hours. His ability to speak is pretty much gone. He does attempt to let us know when he is in pain. Sometimes, it’s not that, but it’s tough to understand what he is trying to tell us.

The best we can all do is make sure he’s as comfortable as possible. I thank the staff at the nursing home for doing that as best they can.

In many ways, it feels like he is already gone. I always loved talking to my father (he’s a very jovial and funny man) and I haven’t been able to do that in a long while. But, he’s not gone, and this is why 2015 has been a limbo year for me. I am constantly waiting for a shoe to drop. I cannot, I will not, enjoy myself. Being social is the last thing on my mind because it doesn’t feel right.

I control that, and I know I can make a better effort to “live my life” while my dad is at the nursing home, and while Skunky lives his last doggie days. But right now, I can’t seem to find my footing.

On nursing homes, family visits … and resentment

Screen shot 2015-03-17 at 11.07.18 PMI should be happy (?) that my father is OUT of the hospital and back into a subacute unit of a long-term facility, aka a nursing home. But this, his third round back, is more depressing for me. He sleeps more, interacts with us less, and it seems to get thinner by the minute. There’s no other way to say it — it feels like I’m losing him.

I’m also slightly, ok maybe definitely, losing my [was it ever normal?] mind. I’m angry. A lot. It doesn’t make me want to punch anyone; it makes me want to check out and stop speaking to everyone (except my parents.)

Life goes on and, more and more, it’s only my mother and I who visit and spend hours with my father (my mother more than all of us, as she has been forced to retire as a result of my dad’s fall and hip fracture.)

My brothers, both who have children, visit less and less. Two and three days go by and no visit. And I resent more and more. I have to be there every day. Throughout this whole ordeal, I’ve missed two days. I can’t see this going any other way for me.

I’m not going to lie; I’m pissed about their lack of devotion. I do not understand how you could not visit your father, the sole reason we were even born into this country, and became the people we are today. And checking in with my mother? Not so much.

Am I going crazy?

I actually met with a friend recently (something I hadn’t really done since my dad fell and became very ill) who also has a father in a nursing home. The situation is different. This person isn’t close to death, but immobile, and being in a nursing home is because the person’s spouse simply cannot handle the complicated care.

But this friend, one of five, told me that only one other sibling visits their father. “What can you do? You can’t get mad at it. And you can’t keep asking them to visit.” That’s true, I guess.

It’s hard to accept. I feel like I have anger, acid, or vomit, hanging at bay at the pit of my throat lately. I’m so disgusted. How can people be like this? Why are people like this? How dare they live their own lives? How dare they go out and have fun? Get a haircut even? Anything, all while my dad is stuck in a room. He can barely talk. He’ll probably never feel the outdoor air or direct sunlight again? How can you not just want to sit there with me!!! Aaaarrrrghhhh.

The anger and resentment affects so many other things. It’s like a bad domino effect. (Only I’m not reacting. As per usual, I’m bottling it all in.)

For instance, I posted a story on Facebook about a guy who walks 21-miles to and from work in the suburbs of Detroit every day because he doesn’t have a car. An old friend (Let’s go with acquaintance. If we were once friends in high school but haven’t spoken since then, don’t hang out in person, are we friends, really?) comments that the man is stupid for walking that far for a job that pays $10 per hour. -__-

I want to de-friend and block this person FOREVER. But not before insulting the person’s ignorance, of course.

A nurse’s aide at the nursing home gives me a look when I nicely ask her to do something. Nothing monumental. Just, oh, I DON’T KNOW, turning and positioning my father — something that should be done so he doesn’t develop another pneumonia and worsen his bed ulcer. She then s-l-o-w-l-y obliges. I want to throw a shoe at her.

A tourist slows down and then stops short in front of me when I’m on my power walk to work in the morning? Yeah. I lied. I maybe want to punch this person.

I need a break.

I know what I need to do is just live MY own life the way I want to (which is visiting my father as much as I can) and realize that maybe my brothers are experiencing my dad’s demise differently than I do. Maybe visiting is hard for them. Maybe.

But being angry about it, which I am not saying this blog post absolves me of, isn’t the way to go. I WILL TRY to let it go. I can’t promise I will, but at least it’s out here on the record, right?

“It was not so good.”

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My parents and I with my nephew at his preschool graduation in June 2014.

Earlier this evening, my very tired mom and I walked through the hallways of Hackensack Medical Center so we could meet my dad, who was being transported by paramedics, to a long term rehab facility in Fair Lawn, NJ: Maple Glen Center, a Genesis Healthcare facility.

On our way to the elevator, we encountered a super cute older gentleman who looked a lot like Fred Mertz (a character from 1950s sitcom, ‘I Love Lucy.’) He asked us who our patient was. I explained. He asked what rehab center my dad was being moved to, because his mother was in the hospital, and the facility she was in previous to her hospital admission, was “not so good.” Turns out it Care One Teaneck, which is a sister facility to Care One Wellington, where my dad was a patient in for about two and a half days before his blood pressure dropped due to dehydration and he was rushed back to the hospital. (Turns out the same happened with the cute little old man’s mom.)

This is our new reality.

This is what we have to deal with from now until my dad is well enough to come home, or goes to a place that is not home. People who have gone through the nursing home/rehab facility experience advise us to be there “at all times,” a near impossibility for my immediate family; we all work. (Today I filled out paperwork for my mother to take a leave of absence from her main part-time job, but it’s important for one of us kids to be by her side to provide her some respite.)

It’s really hard to swallow, but I have to be the stronger person. I have brothers, but I can see how this is harder for them. Two sons that always saw our dad as an active, strong, and funny guy, and how he’s a shell of the person he once was. I’m daddy’s little girl. I tell it like it is. I am there and am handling more of the being there, and paperwork of healthcare, because I must.

I cannot seem to form tears about my dad’s condition. I hold it in, save for every fourth day, when I can no longer hold it and something makes me angry to set me off. Yesterday, it was an argument with my brother about giving my aunt a ride somewhere.

I aspire to be like my mother.

I’ve always been used to her being a super strong woman who doesn’t scare easy. When I was 19, I feel asleep while I was driving and got into a terrible accident, dislocating my hip, breaking my wrist, cutting my forehead pretty deeply, and bruising my knees. I remember my dad crying in the intensive care unit, setting off my own waterworks, and my mom telling him to stop, that I’d be fine. She then grabbed by hand, gripped it, and told me to stop crying; that I’d be back to normal in no time. She was right. I was walking in less than eight weeks.

I really wish I could revert back to age 19, and my mom can once again be that warrior woman who, to this day, at age 69, works a couple of part-time jobs. It’s so hard to have a dad who looks scared and confused because we leave him at night, and a mom who is teary about her partner of 45 years (this Feb. 22!) not sleep with her at night.

It’s obvious I need to be that warrior woman. But it is tough. I may have a white collar job, and a master’s degree, but I feel I’ll never be their caliber of tough.

 

Celebrating my dad: ‘a tough guy, a smooth talker, a brave man and an undeniable natural comic.’

My dad, Virgilio Vergel.
My dad, Virgilio Vergel.

Having an illness or being close to death is not a competition, but as my father’s Parkinson’s disease progresses to a point where he can no longer safely swallow food or drink, I can’t help but think of people who have definitely had it tougher:

Children with cancer. Young people whose lives were taken by horrible accidents, senseless violence, or grave illnesses. Mothers who have died after difficult childbirths, and so on.

This is not to say that my father’s illness isn’t a big deal. At this very moment, it pains me to see him going through bouts of discomfort (but no pain, thank goodness). But knowing that, save for the past two weeks since he suffered a fall and hip fracture, it’s important for me to recall, and remind others, that he has lived a pretty wonderful and full 71 years, and he may continue to do so, albeit with some changes (such as a feeding tube).

My dad with me and my brother, Rich, in Wildwood, NJ.
My dad with me and my brother, Rich, in Wildwood, NJ.
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Thanksgiving eve in 2011 (?) with my cousin, Maria, her husband, Gonzalo, and my brother, Richard.
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Baseball? I learned that from my dad. (After my brother, Richard, took an interest in the Yankees, my dad bought us some Yankees hats, and took us to some games. Yet he preferred the Mets a bit more, because they had more Latinos on the team. Ha!)
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Hanging out with my brother, Richard, and my dad, as usual!
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Mom and dad by the Christmas tree at their first home in Paterson, NJ. This was a big accomplishment for them. They wanted us to grow up in a house they owned.

Don’t get me wrong, this is, without a doubt, the most incredibly difficult thing I’ve ever experienced in my life. But this isn’t about me. This is about the man who raised me and how I choose to remember, celebrate, and even laugh, about the way he was.

Such as:

  • The time he taught me how to ride a bike, and later, how to drive a stick shift. (There was lots of yelling by him, whining by me [I can’t do this! I don’t get it!], and finally, victory.)
  • The countless time he played music from his beloved Colombian coast. It taught us such an appreciation for our parents’ home country.
  • The times he taught me to dance salsa and shimmy my shoulders along to various Colombian songs.
  • The jovial attitude he had with my friends, from making Kimberly laugh on our way to school (he often drove us), the joking around with Judy and Sibila after church, to actually going to happy hour (!!!) with Ysa, Barbara, and Melinda when they all worked part-time at Home Depot.
  • The jokes he always told among his and my mother’s family and friends. He consistently had his audience in stitches!
  • The time he and my ex-husband, Dave, grabbed pineapples off of the swim-up bar in Cancun and posed for a silly picture.
  • The way he enlisted my little brother, David, for various fixer-up projects around the house. It made David very good at carpentry and things.
  • The way he and my mom proudly bought his first home for us in Paterson, NJ, and later, their second home in Clifton, NJ.
  • The way he made sure to take us on a vacation on more than a few summers, even though it was right in state, since it was all we could afford: a full week in Wildwood, NJ. It was heaven! My dad loved to swim and he spent hours in the ocean with us.
  • The way he and my mom tried so many ‘firsts’ with their first-born, Richard. From karate classes to Boy Scouts, Richard was their first-generation dream realized.
  • The way he always talked a mile a minute in between his full and part-time job, or on his lunch break, going over his never ending to-do list.
  • The way he preferred to drive home for lunch, because he always preferred my mother’s cooking to anything else.
  • The way he had sheer pride in my mother. He always bragged about how beautiful she was when he met her on a bus in Barranquilla, Colombia, and how beautiful she was every day.
  • The way he loved his two sisters, “as elegant as they are beautiful,” he’d say, and he felt the same way about all of his nieces.
  • The way he was very proud of his younger brothers, as they were able to attend colleges and go on to stable careers.
  • The way he preferred soccer to baseball (who wouldn’t?) but because he had so much pride in having children born in the United States, he’d take us to Yankee games, and wanted us to speak to him in English as much as possible, so he could learn.
  • The way he and my uncles would take us to the park on spring and summer Sundays for pick-up games of soccer and softball, keeping my brothers and cousins entertained for hours on end. (And, again, despite not liking baseball, he was awesome at hitting [what we thought were] the biggest home runs, ever!)
  • The way he bought us puppies from the pound to have as pets in order for us to have the full ‘American’ experience (even though he didn’t exactly love dogs.)
  • The way he picked up slang from his co-workers at the General Electric plant in Paterson. (He’d come home saying phrases like, ‘What it is?’)
  • The way he initiated conversations with strangers and quickly won them over with a sense of humor, or genuine interest in where they were from. It’s something I inherited.
  • The way he never compared me to other girls or women, respected my choices (from my decision to get separated, and later divorce, to my more than one career changes), or pressured me to have children.
  • The way he encouraged my love of travel. After all, it’s what he and my mother came to this country for: for us to do the things they couldn’t.
  • The way he loved to dance at parties. This wasn’t limited to salsa, merengue, and I’ll never forget him asking me and my friend Marisol to get on the dance floor when they played a dance pop song at a Sweet 16 (I was mortified, at first; there was no one else on the dance floor!) and instantly having us laughing with his ‘pop’ dance moves. Mortification over.
  • They way he was passionate when arguing. (To put it bluntly, his quick and fiery temper, which I inherited!)
  • The way he adored cinema, especially Westerns. (Steve McQueen was one of his favorite actors.)
  • The way he bragged about my writing, and later, my journalism career. (It meant a lot to me.)
  • The way he’d lift weights at home, and cycling with his Peugeot 10-speed was always his favorite form of exercise. Getting us used bikes was a priority, and he always encouraged us to go for bike rides.
My dad and my nephew, RJ, at a birthday dinner we had in 2012.
My dad and my nephew, RJ, at a birthday dinner we had in 2012.

These are just a fraction of memories of my father and I love that writing the list brought many smiles to my face.

As a reporter for the Home News Tribune, I wrote a column about my dad (read it below), when he was about to get Deep Brain Stimulation surgery in 2007. This excerpt encapsulates why I always knew this disease, while not as terrible as some others, would become progressively difficult for him to accept, and for his loved ones to see:

I’ll always remember the day dad told me he thought something was “off” with him physically. He and I were eating breakfast at the kitchen table, and he actually looked scared — something rare for him, at least in my eyes.

This is a man whom, ever since I was little girl, I’ve looked at as a larger-than-life personality with an appetite for hard work. He is a tough guy, a smooth talker, a brave man and an undeniable natural comic.

It seemed his Parkinson’s progressed slowly at first. We have had such great laughs, and he’s enjoyed time with us, and with his grandson, RJ, who made him light up so many times. But as the years passed, he has became more of a prisoner in his own body. The way Parkinson’s affected his vocal chords is especially tough, as this is a man who loves to express himself.

Nearly 17 years after he was diagnosed, this fall that fractured his hip, this one acute trauma—a common one for the elderly in this country—was enough to alter his status. This is not going to be easy for us, but, again, my main concern is that he is not in pain, and above all, comfortable.

I’ve always heard the following advice from people who have lost parents: spend as much time with your parents as you can, because you will miss them when they are gone. It is true. I’m grateful that we have had so many good quality years with our father (and, of course, that my mother is as healthy as she is hardworking). But for those of you who live in other states or countries from you parents, this doesn’t mean you can’t do the same. Though I’ve always lived in close proximity to my parents, I feel that simply keeping them informed about your achievements, your adventures, or your travails, is important. This is the kind of thing that brings joy to my immigrant parents. And I know this from the many conversations I had with my dad early on in his Parkinson’s diagnosis. Parents want to know they’ve raised happy children. So tell your parents how much you love them, yes, but just tell them about your life. They’ll appreciate it.

Home News Tribune Online 03/17/07

GINA VERGEL
gvergel@thnt.com

As my father was wheeled away into the surgery wing at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital earlier this week, my mother, brother and his girlfriend and I all looked at each other as if to say, “What do we do now?”

The answer was simple. All we could do was wait.

On Tuesday, my 63-year-old father — the superhero of our family — underwent nearly seven and a half hours of Deep Brian Stimulation, or DBS, surgery in an attempt to slow down the progression of Parkinson’sdisease that he’s been living with for the past nine years.

Parkinson’s is a neurodegenerative disease whose primary symptoms are tremor, rigidity, and postural instability. The tremors that once plagued my father have long passed. It’s the rigidity and postural instability that severely interfere with my parent’s quality of life — dad wakes mom nearly every two hours at night so that she can help him adjust himself in bed or take a trip to the bathroom.

It’s tiring.

Almost one year ago, I dragged my parents to a support-group meeting for patients who have had DBS at Robert Wood Johnson. While the surgery does not cure the disease (there is no cure), it can help manage some of its symptoms and, hopefully, cut down on the amount of pills (25) that dad pops every day.

My father, stubborn as always, wasn’t exactly thrilled to go to a support meeting an hour’s drive away from my parents’ home in Clifton. What he saw there, however, led us to that waiting room this week.

People he thought were relatives of Parkinson’s sufferers began speaking about their recovery after the surgery, flooring my father with their varying degrees of composure. He was sold.

I’ll always remember the day dad told me he thought something was “off” with him physically. He and I were eating breakfast at the kitchen table, and he actually looked scared — something rare for him, at least in my eyes.

This is a man whom, ever since I was little girl, I’ve looked at as a larger-than-life personality with an appetite for hard work. He is a tough guy, a smooth talker, a brave man and an undeniable natural comic.

That day, however, something was wrong. A slight but frequent tremor in his right arm, he said, scared him into avoiding the doctor. Eventually he went and found it was the beginning of Parkinson’s disease.

So began a long and hard journey that included him having to retire early and, even worse, having to give up driving. A difficult part for me was how the natural charismatic expression on his face was replaced by a gaunt look — another symptom.

On Tuesday, as my mother and I took a seat in one of Robert Wood Johnson’s waiting rooms, mom turned to me and said something that I’ve never given much thought to.

“Isn’t it something that in the 37 years we’ve in this country, we’ve never had a hospital stay, much less a surgery,” she said. “We’ve been lucky, thank God.”

And yet here we were, stuck waiting as surgeons performed a crainiotomy on my father.

While the wait was tough, chatting with relatives of others in surgery was a positive experience.

Surgeons said the operation was a success but that my father would have to work hard when he got home.

And so with our help, he’ll work hard. Anything for our superhero.

Gina Vergel can be reached at (732) 565-7228 or at gvergel@thnt.com

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With my parents, Virgilio and Maria.