“Cinda!” a panic-stricken call emanated from the bathroom. I dashed to the doorway.
“What is it, Dad?”
“I’m deformed,” he moaned.
I’d seen the dark bluish ring forming under the thin skin around his right eye. Plus, fluid had settled into a bulging pocket. All of that visible above the wad of gauze perched at an off-angle on his nose and secured with four strips of first-aid tape reaching the middle of both cheeks. He looked like an aged boxer after a fight.
“In a day or two the swelling and discoloring will fade,” I promised.
“I sure as hell hope so.”
None of us anticipated dad’s surgery to be so invasive. Following my dad’s annual dermatologist visit he was referred to a plastic surgeon for more aggressive skin-cancer treatment. At first my sister said she could handle this, no need for me to travel from New York. I elected to come for the procedure, but more to handle the post-operative care. Thank goodness I did.
We had not left the apartment all day yesterday. Post-operative instructions appear so benign on paper.
Clean the incision area every 6 hours with soap and water. Blot the tape dry, but do not remove the beige tape.
My dad had three incisions. One on his arm, we virtually forgot about in a day or so; it was small and easy to care for. The second, a four and one-half inch incision on his head that required 12-15 stitches, but I never got a count on them because the blood dried and scabbed so much. Every time I cleaned it I had to have an out-of-body experience so I wouldn’t swoon. My poor dad winced as soon as a cloth touched his sore, sensitive stitched scalp. I tried not to tear-up as he emitted painful little cries while I daubed. He had already experienced the “worst pain in his life” during the procedure. The third incision was on his nose. I would swear he was slashed in a knife fight. I couldn’t believe any cosmetic surgeon hacked like that.
His nose bled so much for 36 hours that the beige tape (not to be removed) came off within 12. It was all I could do to keep enough gauze plastered to his nose to absorb blood. No cleaning of that incision while I was there. He kept asking if we couldn’t put something a bit smaller over the nose wound, a clue he was plotting an outing to the Elks or winery. I could not let that happen. No way could we risk an infection.
Do not lift or bend over for 3 days following surgery.
My dad is a fuss budget. He frets and paces over every little thing. That trait has only intensified. He walks to the recycling bin in his garage as soon as he has one plastic bottle or cardboard container. When the trash has one or two items he carries it out to the large can. He checks his calendar to confirm the day. He watches out the window for the mailman and the Meals-on-Wheels delivery. He repeats all of the aforementioned forgetting he’s already done that. He bends over to pick up any little piece of lint on the carpet. He is still six-feet tall, so just about every task besides walking requires him to bend over.
I follow him around the apartment attempting to halt those little jobs he has in his head. I keep reminding him, “No bending!”
“Oh Christ, I forgot.”
I put his shoes on an ottoman and show him how he can elevate his feet one at a time to tie them. But he still leans over to put on his socks. He bends down to reach for the Tide on a bottom shelf and I cry, “Don’t bend.”
“But I have things I need to get done around here,” he insists.
I feel I’ve been impatient and harsh. He truly has things to do. Since my mother’s death six years ago he has maintained an impeccable apartment. He does his own laundry, including bedding and towels every week without fail. Until recently, the creases in his pants outshone even those of a tailor. A dirty dish never rests in his sink.
“Tell me what needs done; I can do it just for today,” I say gently.
It is not unusual for some bleeding 24-48 hours. If the bleeding will not stop, apply firm pressure for 15 minutes. If the site continues to bleed go to an emergency room.
I finally convince him to sit down and we watch his now-favorite network, Hallmark. I can’t believe that people spend an entire morning hot-gluing paint stirs to embroidery hoops, painting the resulting basket, then filling it with dog treats. Hallmark viewers haven’t had cosmetic surgery. Or maybe that’s exactly the way to escape uncomfortable reality.
I sneak glances at the nose gauze, judging when it is so saturated that I have to ask him to sit under the kitchen light so I can reapply. I dread when I have to tell him his nose is still bleeding.
“Jesus Christ, will it ever stop?” he pleads.
Hi friend Ginny calls to check on him, but I don’t let him up from the chair. I fill her in. She says she’s been through a similar procedure. She’s sorry to tell me, but she had to have the procedure repeated when cancerous cells remained. Oh dread. That’s information I won’t pass on.
I text my sister who reassures me that he could bleed for 48 hours. But there’s no way I am going to apply pressure on that sore nose for 15 minutes. I know I made the right decision to avoid health care as a profession.
Shower as usual.
Dad now looks at his watch every five minutes. This is the time of the afternoon when he heads to the Elks Club. A Hallmark movie is now showing, another beautiful couple trying to save a winery by turning it into a wedding venue. The temperature in the apartment is 78 degrees, but dad is chilly. I suggest he take his shower. I remove the nose padding, hiding my squeamish shiver. Perhaps the shower will cleanse the nose a bit since I couldn’t.
While he showers I study a newspaper clipping a friend dropped off last week. The date is 1952. The picture shows a dozen slim, handsome young men around age 21 or 22 heading to enlist in the Korean War. My dad, looking like a young Tyrone Power, holds an envelope of the men’s enlistment papers. He is described as the group leader. I am saddened by the contrast of that moment in time with today.
Out of the shower, my dad sits under the kitchen light as I apply the thinnest two-by-two pillow of gauze and use beige tape to anchor it. He dresses in a button-up shirt. I suggest I drive him to the Elks and leave him there long enough for two drinks. He can call me when he’s ready or his gauze needs changed and I will pick him up. I tape another pad to his head and he covers it with his Korean War Veteran cap. He’s already earned a purple heart. He’s a survivor.
The Elks buddies are happy to see him. Later someone drops off chili, too spicy for my dad, but I eat it. He has a reheated dinner from Meals-on-Wheels. When we wake up the next day, his nose has begun to scab and the bleeding subsides. I stay until mid-day and he’s ready for his afternoon Elks visit. Tami calls me later to say he’s been spotted heading to the winery.
He’s officially out of house arrest.
Plus, the follow-up visit to the doctor assured us, no more surgery.