My eyes burned and I focused harder on the small blue stitching in front of me to keep from breaking down.
“The strokes have caused vascular lesions in his brain,” the doctor went on.
“Can you treat him for that?” I asked.
“Unfortunately, the lesions, like your father’s dementia itself, are irreversible.”
My heart sunk so low I couldn’t feel its pulse in my ribcage anymore.
“But, preventative care in these situations is essential. While the damage has been done, we can monitor and treat your father in the hopes that we can help prevent any further strokes.”
“So, that’s a positive thing,” I whispered, trying to grasp onto any piece of good news I could get.
“Yes, it is,” my mother said.
She must be thinking the same thing I was. Preventative care, treatment and constant monitoring equaled expensive.
I shook my head. Whatever it took to make sure my father received the best medical care, I would do. Whatever the cost.
“Will he continue to get worse? With his memory?” I asked.
“I am sorry to say that he will likely continue down this path. However, with treatment, we can slow the process significantly. He will have good days where he is likely to understand everything, recognized everyone and nothing seems amiss. There will also be bad days where he can be extremely disoriented. Of course, there will also be many days where it is somewhere in between. The brain is a powerful, sensitive machine. But catching this now and starting treatment is the best thing for him.”
“Of course,” my mother whispered.
“Okay,” I agreed.
“Also, based on what your mother has been telling me, and the behavior of your father when he is at his worst, an in-house health care provider wouldn’t be a bad idea.”
My throat hurt. My mother had been keeping the details of my father’s progression from me if the doctor was thinking it was bad enough to have daily medical help.
“Thank you so much, Dr. Forman. I really appreciate you talking with me today.”
“Absolutely, Megan. I understand you’re living in New York so I will discuss the details of treatment with your mother, but don’t hesitate to call if you have questions.”
“Thank you,” I said again.
“I’ll hang up and let you ladies talk.”
A click sounded over the line. “You still there, Mom?”
“Yes, I’m here.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about Daddy?” I tried to keep the hurt out of my voice, but it was impossible.
“Like I said, we didn’t want to worry you.” My mother wasn’t a dishonest woman, she just omitted the truth when she didn’t want to speak about things. Whenever she was vague, it usually meant she was hiding something. And for the past few months, vague didn’t even begin to describe her.
My chest ached with guilt. I should have known that things were getting worse. Should have been more persistent in my questions, because after hearing Dr. Forman’s diagnosis, things were not fine.
“Well, I am beyond worried, so please tell me the truth. Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not, honey. I don’t like my daughter sending me money every month.” There was a slight sob laced on the last word and it broke my heart.
“Mom, don’t be upset. I want to help. It’s my fault you’re in the situation in the first place.”
“You stop that right now, Megan Marie. You did nothing wrong.”
“I convinced you to risk your house, your retirement in something that I should have known was too good to be true, and I lost it.”
“Oh, Megan,” her voice was so soft, so understanding, so worried. She had never blamed me. Never yelled. Not once. Not even when they lost everything. “Tim was the one who cheated us. You were trying to help. I don’t want to hear you say otherwise again.”
I lowered my head and pinched the bridge of my nose, trying to keep the tears behind my eyes where they belonged. She didn’t want to fight with me about this the same way I didn’t want her to fight with me about the money. I knew what I sent to her was just enough to keep the house out of foreclosure…barely.
Between the needed daily help with my dad and his new treatments, the mountain of needs was far outweighing the means. If we had to look into hiring a live-in nurse—because there was no way my dad would function in a nursing home where everything was new and unfamiliar—I had a feeling things were on the verge of changing for the worst.
“I love you, Mom.” It was the only way to end this conversation. Arguing with her right now wouldn’t do anything. Both of them were tired and scared and needed time to process everything they’d just been told.
“I love you too.”
“Can I talk to Daddy?”
“Of course.” There was a pause then my father came on the line.
“Who’s on the line?” he asked.
I heard my mother mumble something in the background. I didn’t hear it clearly, but it sounded like she was trying to explain who I was.
“What? No, there’s no Megan here.”
“No, Daddy. I’m Megan.”
“I think you have the wrong number.”
My skin surged tight and my chest suddenly felt like it was trying to support steel weights instead of my lungs.
“Daddy, it’s me, Megan. Your daughter”
“I’m sorry, honey. Your father is really tired right now.” My mother sounded flustered and upset.
“He doesn’t remember me, does he?” I tried to keep the words steady, but it was no use. The other day when he’d called me Fresca, he had rallied quickly. But it was different this time. There was no recognition in his voice.
“Of course he does. He just…he just has good and bad days. You heard what Dr. Forman said, some days this just happens.”
I nodded even though she couldn’t see me. My entire body hurt as though all my limbs had fallen asleep. My father was forgetting me.
“Tell him I love him,” was all I could choke out. “I’ll call you later.”
I hung up and bit the inside of my cheek hard enough to taste blood, clamped a palm over my forehead and let the pain of the truth sink in.
My father’s mind was dying and I couldn’t do anything to help.
My mother and the doctor would speak later this week about treatments and schedules and I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was sending her into a gun battle holding a knife. Money, insurance—we didn’t have either—would be questions I didn’t want her to face alone.