I've been putting off posting an update about my father, and it just struck me that it's because he's between destinations--"out of the woods," but far from well. Positively, I was able to see progress in his cognition, speech, and arm movement while I was visiting; but he has a new blood infection and the wound at the base of his back will take, I was told, 1-2 years to heal. I am glad now that I did not see it; I doubt I would be able to get it out of my mind.
Two images/memories are most prominent. When I first came to visit on my own (after a previous visit with family), I looked into the room and saw that he was mostly naked, his gown fallen away, only covering his genitals and little more. It was strange to see him like that, especially with his skin slack from the lack of exercise. Because of his wound, he always has to be positioned (and moved every couple hours) off his back, to one side, and he was facing away from me. I stood there, not wanting to embarrass him by walking in, but not knowing what else to do. After a minute, to my surprise, he called to me--he'd seen me after all, and as I came into the room, he apologised and tried to cover himself. The tension of the moment dissipated quickly once we began talking, but I can still see myself poised in the doorway, looking, waiting.
The other memory I return to is of cutting his nails. His finger- and toenails had grown unchecked for months; his fingernails were about a centimetre or so past the fingertip, and his toenails were so long they were curling over, back into the skin. He kept scratching his forehead, and I thought with his difficulty moving and the length of those nails he could scratch himself quite badly. So I cut and cleaned his nails, over two days. I skimmed away the dead skin and trimmed the nails down, having to cut them back two or three times before I reached the right length. I suppose it seems a little "gross," but there was something about the physicality of it, and the fact that I could actually do something palpable for my father, that was very satisfying. In retrospect it seems so feeble, when I think of the pain he's in (if I call at a time when the pain meds are wearing off, I'll hear him groan in wincing pain), but at the time, I took pride in doing something for him that others would not want to do, that would take from him just one sign of what he's been through.
He sounded a bit depressed when I called earlier and admitted his spirits were low. I remind him how much progress he's made, but while he's confined to that hospital bed and in so much pain, it must seem insufficient and slow to him. I hope he perceives some improvement soon.