Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Different Type of Rehab

Therapy and Rehabilitation comes in many forms.

It could mean physical therapy/rehab.

It could mean seeking a psychiatrist.

It could mean writing/drawing/creating.

Know your audience.

Lately, I've tried several ways to help my dad rehabilitate from all the medical procedures he's had from his cancer treatments. He's 81. Five years ago, his doctor told him he had the health/body of a 55 y/o. He was active, socially, physically, and mentally. And then came the diagnosis. Since then, he's adapted to the role of cancer patient. Lots of rest, stress (self-induced, as he is a natural worrier), and stubborn as hell (well, that's normal for him).

Over the course of the last 3 years, his health has declined more than I could have ever imagined. He could no longer rotate any part of his body (he looked like Batman when he wanted to turn to look at something). During my infrequent trips back home in the past year, I tried various ways of helping him regain his physical strength and mobility, and mental health. Short walks, sit-to-stands and general strengthening, getting him to get out of bed in general. I was met with, at best, extremely short-lived attempts (usually one or two days at the most). The most that happened was my mom being successful in bribing him to watch tv shows in the living room (got him out of bed), and between shows to get up and walk around and drink some water before she put the next show on (ended up being about once every 2-3 shows).

A few weeks ago, we got some even more devastating news that his oncologist was lying to us since the beginning, and his prognosis was worse than she'd been telling us (We fired her after that, by the way).

Since then, I made the decision to move back to California, to help my dad live the rest of his life as happy and capable as he can, and to prevent my mom from letting her health go from inactivity due to being a sole caretaker (which had happened for over 7 months since last May, after my dad's last surgery).

I had a deep talk with my dad shortly after the terrible news. He'd been stuck in the mentality of needing help, needing to be taken care of, needing to not do anything because he's fragile. He was afraid of dying. Understandable. I explained to him again the details and severity of what had happened with the oncologist, and what that meant for him. I acknowledged his fear of dying, but raised the question of what he wants to do with the rest of his life. How did he want to live?

I encouraged him to start incorporating small, menial tasks into his daily life. Things that he didn't consider "exercise," but they involved functions that he was either quickly losing, or had already lost. Making his bed in the morning, opening his pill and water bottles by himself, washing and preparing fruit he wanted to eat, dressing himself, opening doors, getting in and out of the car by himself. I refuse(d) to help him with anything less than lifting something over 10 pounds.

He wants to be the patient because he doesn't feel well. He wants to be taken care of. But he now also understands the importance of doing little things every day to regain/maintain normal function. He knows he doesn't want to be an invalid laying on a bed for the remainder of his life. He now makes more of an attempt to be a normal person, including accompanying my mom to the senior center while she plays ping pong with their friends. He socializes while she plays. He leaves the house and breathes the fresh air and gets more sun now. He washes some dishes (no knives). He kind of cleans up after himself. He does and folds his own laundry. He's now playing mahjong with friends on a weekly basis. His spirit is much more alive.

I don't know much time my dad will have left on this earth, but I do know that he's trying to make it the best time that he can.

Rehabilitation can happen at any age, at almost any condition. You just have to find the thing that will light the fire in them.

And then, baby steps. Consistency is the most important. If the steps are too big, it is not sustainable. Baby steps. It will take trial, error, patience, encouragement, and stern love.

Most importantly, it will take actionable love.

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