Dad moves again

They’re calling for snow so it’s a perfect day to load Dad up and cart him to another facility.

Dad’s last move, from nursing home to hospital, coincided with the biggest snowstorm on record. This time we’re only expecting a few inches and he’ll be transported by ambulance. Still, Mom has to see him off and tail the ambulance to the next medical facility.

Dad’s been in limbo for a while, ever since he dismantled the nursing home alarm system, hit a kindly maintenance worker, and chucked a nurse’s cell phone across the room.

Oddly enough, it was the less offensive act — the phone abuse — that landed him in a hospital pysche ward. And that’s where he’s been while nurses tinker with his meds to rein in his paranoia.

You’d never know about the psyche ward unless you visited someone there. It’s tucked away on the top floor, beyond the cheery labor-and-delivery wing and the somber ICU. On the elevator, fathers clutching new baby seats are too dazed to wonder what’s above. But the hospital staff know. When I illuminate the number 7 button, a nurse glances over and looks me up and down.

What sets this floor apart are the doors. They’re thick, steel-lined and double-bolted — designed for abuse. They’ve probably seen their share of it. Beyond the nurse’s station it looks a little like a community center — a really crappy, underfunded community center. There’s a magazine rack, boldly labeled “magazine rack” but the slots are empty. There’s a sign taped to it that says, “magazines have been discontinued; sorry for the inconvenience.” I can’t help but wonder what kind of threat periodicals pose.

Stark hospital rooms are standard fare but up on 7, they’re stripped down to just a bed and chair. No TV, no artwork, no wipe board with a bubbly note from the nurse on duty. Nothing that a patient can damage or arm themselves with. Just two stubby nozzles jutting out of the wall: one says “oxygen” and the other, “valium.” They look old and unused. Probably phased out by pills and shots.

The patients move up and down the halls with an odd freedom. They aren’t slowed by wheelchairs or grounded by IV stands. They look too healthy to be hospitalized. Until they say something. Initially, I couldn’t distinguish patient from visitor — some wear clothes instead of hospital gowns. I had check their wrists for hospital bands.

But sit around for 15 minutes and you can ID every patient. Even the band-less, pear-shaped man who talks with an affable smile and a conspiring tone — as if we’re the only sane people in a sea of crazies. It’s his eyes that give him away. While he talks he watches the door. And I know why: after it buzzes open, there’s a delay before the locks snaps home again. But he’s escaped before so the nurses make him stand back.

The real blow is that Dad is the troublemaker on the ward — resisting medication and fighting treatment — being “noncompliant” in nurse-speak. Using pens as weapons and striking out. It’s a bad scene when security is called and they knock him down with a shot. Though it’s not his fault. “We’re used to high functioning psyche patients,” a nurse says apologetically. And that really depresses me. Even on the psyche ward, Dad’s at the bottom of the pack.

But there is hope with the next hospital. It’s better staffed and more experienced with Dad’s kind of dementia. They’re even conducting some studies and research. They told Mom to expect Dad to stay for 19 days. Then maybe he can return to the nursing facility. Who knows. Limbo continues.