“Yes?” I say into my cell phone.
“Let me first say that everything is fine. Your dad is OK. But there’s been an accident.”
He burned himself in the kitchen. He cut himself trying to shave. He fell in the shower. He tripped and gashed his head. He had a heat stroke. He had a regular stroke. He punched someone. He got hit by a car.
“I’ve just burned through eight scenarios,” I say anxiously. “What happened?!? What?!? Spill it!”
The voice on the other end of the line, the head nurse, cleared her throat. “Your father managed to get out today. We found him, but he fell and scraped his knee.”
“He has a scrape. On his knee. That’s it?”
Relieved, I said, “Oh. OK. I’m on my way. Also, always lead with ‘your father only has a scrape on his knee’ from here on out.”
She sighs. “Well, I did lead with ‘everything is fine…your dad is OK,’ but I understand how ‘only a scrape’ is better.”
“Thank you. See you in a minute.”
I hung up and drove over to the assisted living residence in which my father was living. My father, after suffering two strokes, had the mindset of a five-year-old – a five-year-old who never learned his lesson. Ever. The assisted living residence we eventually moved him to also happened to be a secured facility because he was constantly looking for a way out. And he always found them. And when he wandered, he always picked the busiest street.
I punched in the code to the front door and was immediately met by Peggy, the Resident Executive Director.
“Can we talk in my office?”
Shit. This time he’s gone too far. They’re gonna kick him out.
We had a couple of issues. After his strokes, my father became a bit belligerent and had, on a couple of occasions, berated staff and other residents. He was also a pretty nimble guy who tried to leave the facility on numerous occasions. He had already been asked to leave a non-secured facility because of his tendency to wander and not take “no” for an answer.
“Sure,” I managed.
We went into her office. She closed the door.
“So, I know you know that your father got out today.”
Shit. Shit. Shit. Where am I gonna take him that has a neurologist on staff?
“Yes,” I said.
“We are desperately trying to finish upgrading the fence, but while the workers are working on it, there will be gaps…ways out.”
Shit. Shit. Shit. Will they let me keep him here a day or two until I find another place?
“Well, he’s looking for them because he’s not used to not being able to do as he pleases,” I tried as an excuse.
“Right. He is, however, not thinking with full faculty, and I have been very clear with the fence company that they need to monitor the gaps at all times because our residents suffer from dementia and are not even aware that they are ‘leaving’ the residence.”
Shit. Shit. Shit. They know my dad is aware he’s leaving. He just wants to go golfing, and he hates being told what to do…even without “full faculty.”
“Right,” I said, hoping she would sense my exhaustion. “It’s very hard.”
“I hold the fence company completely accountable for your father’s accident today.”
Alarm bells started going off in my head. “Wait. He just scraped his knee, right?”
“When we called to tell you about it, we didn’t give you the whole story,” she admitted.
Wait. What?!? Holy shit! He burned himself in the kitchen. He cut himself trying to shave. He fell in the shower. He tripped and gashed his head. He had a heat stroke. He had a regular stroke. He punched someone. He got hit by a car.
“Your father must have found a gap in the fence and wandered out to the field next to the facilities. There, he found one of the worker’s trucks with keys in it. It was parked on the lawn. Your father got in, started it, then pulled out onto the street, whereupon he paralleled parked it at the curb, took the keys out of the ignition, and came back.”
I was letting it sink in. Then, “What?”
“The brain is funny,” she explained. “I’m assuming he saw the truck, realized trucks don’t belong on lawns, and decided to parallel park it where it did belong…on the street.”
“My dad stole a truck? To parallel park it.”
“The brain is funny.”
I was letting it sink in further. Then, “What if he hadn’t parked it? What if he had just kept driving? What if….? I’m gonna need to speak to him.”
“Of course,” was all she said.
We went back to find my dad, who was sitting in the activity room, getting ready for dancing. He looked up and saw me from across the room. He smiled – beamed, really. He came directly over.
“Hello, Baby. Did you know I have a tree – ”
I cut him off. “Dad. Did you go somewhere today?”
I looked into his eyes. He wasn’t lying.
“Did you leave, get in a truck, and drive today?”
I stared into his eyes, again. He totally wasn’t lying.
Peggy touched my arm. “The brain is a funny thing,” she said softly.
I searched his face for signs that he knew what was going on – a clear indication that he was messing with me. Nothing. He just kept smiling at me. Then, “Did you know I have a tree in my room?”
We went to look at the tree in his room, then went for a Sonic iced tea – his favorite afternoon treat. As we left, he asked, “Are we taking my truck or yours?”
Curious. “We’re taking mine dad. You don’t have a truck, remember?”
“Oh, that’s right,” he said. “I sold it to that fencer.”
The brain is a funny thing.