This is a second blog post regarding my Caregiving Journey with Father Richard J. Orlando.
In most cases, people usually have the opportunity to make their own decisions about where they want to convalesce, where they want to live and where they would like to age in place. Of course, there is that moment when an unexpected fall happens, or some other health calamity occurs when all of a sudden…poof…life changes at a moment’s notice and you land in a place not of your choice.
Leading up to his broken hip in the spring of 2002, Father Orlando was seesawing back and forth between living in retirement in a rectory, verses the need for SOME assisted living. Once he broke his hip, (hoping to return to the rectory after his latest bout of internal bleeding, he fell while at the facility) he really did not have a choice in where he was going to live, and even if he had not broken the hip, the diocese was about to step in and make the decision for him. He refused to see the signs that his presence at the rectory was not as welcomed as it once was. (He outlived two pastors while he was in retirement) Nor was he as accepting of his latest health calamity (prior to breaking his hip), which was zapping his strength, internal bleeding.
Never easy to reason with, he often ‘dug his heals in” and barked loudly when confronted. While I am confident that the (new) pastor was concerned for his safety, the two of them were never on the same page personally or professionally. They simply did not know how to communicate with each other. The Pastor let the system do the work for him, while Father Orlando refused to recognize the warning sign that his days living at the rectory were numbered. It was a difficult way to end his life at the rectory and one he would not let go of until his arrival in Florida.
Prior to the broken hip and the issues surrounding the internal bleeding, we dealt with a heart attack and open-heart surgery in Florida in 1999, and a near death experience on the road in Wytheville, VA where Father Orlando was hit with a nasty bout of viral pneumonia in 1996. I will NEVER forget pulling off the exit on State Highway 52 in Virginia and calling the ambulance and waiting for them to arrive. (Remember this is 1996 before the age of GPS and Smart Phones) As his white blood cell count continued to rise, it became harder and harder for him to breathe. While waiting for the ambulance, we said our goodbye’s; I just held him until the ambulance arrived because there was nothing else I could do! When the ambulance arrived, EMS personnel worked on him in the parking lot for a good amount of time before we went for a half hour drive to the hospital in Wytheville, VA. Following in the car, that half hour ride to the hospital felt like eternity because I had no idea what was happening in the ambulance in front of me. Still struggling to breathe as he arrived at the hospital, he fought with the emergency room doctor. I could hear him screaming at the doctor …”Just Let Me Go!”… I requested the Chaplin so that he would be anointed; It was a scary experience!
It was quite a week in Wytheville, VA., four nights in Intensive Care, and then another 3 nights in the hospital. That was my first caregiving experience and we were both unprepared. Assured that he had all the proper documents in order and traveling with us in the car, I emptied the car frantically looking for these important documents, with no luck. I came to find out later that week that he had NO Power of Attorney, NO Advance Directives, NO Living Will…NOTHING! His only response to me was…” I never got around to doing this…” I never, ever traveled with him again unless I knew exactly where all of our important health care directives were located.
I share this little part of our 18-year story with you to help demonstrate that those last 18 beautiful and difficult months together at the condominium in Fort Lauderdale, just did not happen by chance.
During that final week in Rochester in July of 2004, he looked up to me one night while we were packing and said…”Do you think we are doing the right thing?”…I stopped for a moment and said…”I do not know, but what I do know is that if you do nothing, you are going to live the rest of your life a very unhappy man. You either have to change your attitude and stick it out here, or take a leap of faith and go to Florida. I do not know what lies ahead for us, but what I do know is that you cannot continue to live the rest of your life in such despair. Sure, there will be hard days ahead of us, (as history proved, that was an understatement), but at least you are making a decision that gives you a chance for change. What would you prefer, live 10 days in Florida or 3 more years here? You have always wanted to live in Florida, now is your chance, and now it is YOUR choice! On paper, his health issues were enormous, but I knew that he had the ability to do more than he demonstrated to the staff at the facility. Breaking a sweat was never his forte’! For him, it was mind over matter. With some additional encouragement from his attorney and his primary care physician, his mind was made up. He was ready to go.
Most people make a decision to go into a facility; he made a decision to leave a facility, while still alive!
Going to Florida was his way of proving that he could make a decision on where he wanted to spend the rest of his life. He had a home in Florida, why not use it? Wake up when you want, go to bed when you want! When we have the opportunity to make a decision, we take ownership of the decision. He did exactly that in Florida and flourished for an extended time in the Sunshine State. His silent ‘departure’ from Rochester ruffled many feathers. While I did not agree with the way he went about the decision, I.e., who he decided to tell and who he decided not to tell; the decision to move to Florida was the first time that he was in a position to make a decision on where he wanted to live since his retirement in the mid 1990’s.
During those 18 months in Florida, there were many memorable moments. I will never forget the look on his face when he uttered to me that final week we spent together in our condominium, “You’ve made me very happy, thank you for all that you have done.” We both knew that he was failing, we both knew that the next trip to the hospital could be his last, but that did not detour us from enjoying the moment; enjoying the decision that we made to celebrate life in all its troubles, and in all its beauty! Come to think about it, we both made meaningful decisions by going to Florida together!
Every Tuesday at 1:00 pm
Can’t listen live, NO Worries! All our episodes are archived for your convenience by clicking here!
- Caregiving and Those Silly Hats (thepurplejacket.com)
- A Conversation on Home Health Care (thepurplejacket.com)
- Exercise May Help People With Alzheimer’s Avoid Nursing Homes (news.health.com)
- ‘Be A Healthy Caregiver’ Every Tuesday on Blog Talk Radio (thepurplejacket.com)
- Book Your Caregiving Cruise with a chance to win $100. Restaurant.com Gift Card (thepurplejacket.com)
- What To Expect When Caring For A Loved One (seniorhealthmemos.com)
- Tonight: What’s Your Caregiving Rule? (caregiving.com)