I spent yesterday finding a wheelchair for my dad. It was Saturday and the only medical supply place that was open is located about a 30 minute drive north of where I live. The owner asked my husband and I what width we wanted. I asked, “What are the pros and cons of each width?” She basically said that the wider one would allow him to set things next to him on the seat. He is traveling with a bit of medical equipment these days so I thought a wider seat might be better.  We drove back home. John needed to be dropped off to get some errands done. Then I drove the 30 minutes south to my parents house.

The wheelchair was slightly too wide to fit through the doorway from the kitchen to the rest of the house. It was 2:30 pm. The medical supply place closed at 4pm. I could get there in time if the traffic gods were with me. I loaded up the car and arrived at the store an hour later. The owner already had the smaller chair ready, because I had called her before I left. We made the exchange. Before I left the store, I called my husband to ask for his help. I knew that my dad would need help getting out of his lounge chair to sit in the wheelchair. Due to my SCAD induced heart attacks, I am not supposed to do heavy lifting. John agreed to come with me to help. So I drove home and picked him up. Then he drove us the rest of the way to Mom and Dad’s.

Dad was thrilled with the new wheelchair. One, he can now move himself around the house. Independence! He proclaimed it to be “the perfect wheelchair”. Although tired of driving, I was so happy to have made a meaningful positive change in his life just by driving around all day and getting stuff.

Right before Thanksgiving, Dad experienced an acute urological issue that landed him in the hospital. He was quickly stabilized but Physical Therapy services was concerned about his balance and general difficulties with mobility. Short-term rehab services were recommended and Dad finished a three-week-long stay last Thursday.

3-4 years ago, my dad was still camping and hiking with my mom. They are both nature lovers and active people. The first thing we noticed was that he started stooping over to walk. Then we noticed the shuffling. Over the years, he got weaker and weaker. His balance got terrible. Afraid that he had Parkinson’s Disease, he refused to follow-up on his primary care physician’s referral to a neurologist. We all talked to him. He refused. What started out as fear turned into habitual avoidance. Once he was admitted to the hospital, he became a very cooperative patient. For one, by stabilizing the acute issue, he was freed from excruciating pain. After that, what’s not to like about healthcare professionals? It didn’t hurt that they were very kind both at the hospital and at the rehab facility. The M.D. at the rehab facility diagnosed him with Parkinson’s Disease and put him on medication. He is showing slight but noticeable improvement on it. The diagnosis was really something the family has had to make big adjustments to because we knew something has been very wrong and we are happy for him to have treatment.

My parents are doing an amazing job adjusting to accepting help and relying more on other people. They are open to finding the right balance between independence and support. I am relieved. I was afraid that my dad was going to fall down the stairs before he got medical attention and that further, he would have been placed in assisted living, away from my mom, his beloved wife of 63 years. They are getting home-based services and my brothers and I have worked to make the main floor of the house accessible.

We are also trying to get our daughter into a smaller wheelchair or perhaps take up crutches. We are trying to help her be more independent, little by little, as she works her way from her teens to her 20’s. She just started living away at college. We are paying for nearly all of her expenses. She told me recently that she wanted to get a job. I told her that was fine but that also meant that this would mean a decrease in her financial support from us because it would mean that she is getting more independent. Let’s just say that’s not the way she sees it. There’s a big life lesson occurring. She is not suffering in silence. I am persona non grata. I may stay that way until the holiday break is over and she returns to Bellingham. Or perhaps not. In the meantime, she has been staying with friends. I’d be lying if I said this doesn’t hurt. It is difficult to work so hard on parenting and so often find myself wondering if I am going to be the next subject of a tell-all “my mother was the worst” autobiography. I also know that this is part of growing up, which has not been an easy process for my daughter.

As for me, I am also looking for the perfect wheelchair. It is the structure that allows me mobility and strength to fit through the outlines of my responsibilities. None of us are in this life alone, ever. We give and receive through our human connection.