|My father, Christmas Eve 1996.|
He couldn’t speak anymore, but he could mouth words enough to be understood.
“Worried,” he said.
I stood by his bedside, looking down into his face. He stared back up at me.
“What are you worried about?” I asked.
“No food in . . . “ and he held up the fingers and thumb on one hand and one finger on the other hand to signify six. “. . . weeks.”
My father had gone into the hospital in May 1997, through the emergency room. He had uncontrollable vomiting. Nothing would stay down.
Tests showed that a flap in his stomach that was supposed to close after eating was remaining open. The food wasn’t processing through his intestines. It was coming back up.
The doctors thought it was likely caused by continued damage by strokes.
Some medication had worked for a short time in helping him keep food down. But eventually, it didn’t work. To get him some nourishment, the doctors had surgically inserted a feeding tube that bypassed his stomach.
He was in a nursing home because the level of care he needed just couldn’t be given to him at home.
But now in late June, he was back in the hospital because he was dehydrated. And he was looking to me for answers.
He never took his eyes off my face.
“Yes, it has been a long time. But we’re hoping that this feeding tube is temporary,” I said. “We’re hoping that you’ll be able to eat again, and you’ll be able to go home.”
I can hear my voice now, 16 years later. Cheery. Bright. Hopeful.
And I did have hope. I wasn’t trying to pass along false hope.
Daddy nodded his head and didn’t say anything else about it.
Back at the nursing home, his health continued to deteriorate.
He died on July 9, 1997.
I struggled with that conversation in the hospital for years.
Plain old-fashioned guilt would have carried me along just fine. But my OCD made it worse.
I obsessed over my words to him. What could I have said differently? How could I have said it differently? What could I have done differently? Had I not done enough?
After almost a lifetime of OCD compulsions to try to protect my family, had I ultimately failed and let my father die?
OCD wants you to feel guilty. It wants you to question yourself about things over which you have no control, over things about which there is no certainty.
It had an easy target in me.
But I outwitted OCD. I was already on medication to help it, but I did more. I learned much more about OCD than I ever thought there was to know, and I learned ways to work with it, to work around it. I followed self-help guidelines. I got therapy that targeted OCD.
I know now that I did the best I could. I shared with Daddy the hope I had. He was a smart man. He knew what was happening to his body. He wasn’t looking for me to give him a definitive answer. He wanted to talk with me and share his concerns.
And he wouldn’t want me to feel guilty.