Diana De Rosa has been with HorsesDaily since we went on-line in 1996. A fellow longtime member of the International Alliance of Equestrian Journalists, Diana and I have traveled the world, shared media room nightmares (crashed computers and internet access challenges) as well as the glories and excitement one only can experience for the sidelines reserved for the press. She is a true professional all the way, so much so that when she reported years ago at the Festival of Champions and met Christopher Reeve, who was then competing in the Celebrity Challenge, it was Diana who was hired to be his personal assistant after his accident up until his death. And now, up until she left for London to cover her seventh Olympic Games, she was caring for her ailing father, literally saving his life with love, wholistic healing, and patient advocacy. Diana begins her 2012 London Olympic Games coverage on a personal note, about her father’s journey, and her arrival in London, dedicating her Olympic coverage to her Dad. Mary Phelps
He Wasn’t Supposed to Make It, But We Got Lucky
I wrote this article on the plane headed out to Heathrow Airport in London. Once I land I’ll be sure to take the next couple of days to ensure I know the lay of the land so that by the time the Eventing starts on Friday, it will be ready, set, go. During these upcoming Olympic Games feel free to email me with you questions and comments. It’s always fun to hear from the HorsesDaily and DressageDaily readers. And I will be sure to tell you the hidden stories as they unfold. Diana De Rosa firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve been planning for these Olympic Games for a long time. It will be the seventh time I’ve covered the Equestrian Olympics and it’s an event I look forward to. I love covering the major equine events. The up close and personal makes the long hours worth it. This time while I savor the moments, I’m also going to make sure I also give my dad a chance to take this journey with me. Why? Because just a short time ago it looked like sharing this experience with dad was not going to be possible. You see, close to three months ago dad was given only two days to live. Now three months later he’s still here and continues to fight to get back a meaningful life.
The event that changed his life was a slip on some steps resulting in a fall that dad didn’t take seriously enough. Four days and a cat scan later and dad was rushed into surgery to remove the fluid that filled half his brain. For some reason when dad came out of the surgery he thought he was dying and so he decided to help death along. In no time he stopped eating and barely drank, but as hard as he tried to die was as hard as his heart kept pumping to keep him alive. As the days rolled by it became clear that God wasn’t quite ready to pull dad from this world just yet.
At the time all this was going on I was covering the So8ths/Nikon Three-Day Event in South Carolina while my brother kept me abreast of what dad was going through. After the surgery I recall him saying to me, “Nothing is going to kill this man.” Apparently he was so lucid that they were hoping for a speedy recovery. Unfortunately, dad had other plans for himself and the lack of food soon started to take its toll on his body as things slowly started shutting down, but not enough to say life was over.
Dad was sent to rehab but something was wrong and while they thought his refusal to exercise was stubbornness, after he collapsed and was rushed to St. Catherine’s from St. Johnland’s rehab facility, it was discovered that he had a blood clot and water in his lungs and an infection in his body. So, in his mind death seemed just days away.
He was wrong but his refusal to eat and little efforts at drinking caused so much damage that he was soon admitted into Hospice, a place where they look to only seek comfort to help the dying process. For dad that comfort was exactly what he needed to start to turn him around, along with the support of a health nut daughter who had decided to stay with him around the clock to ensure he was kept as comfortable as possible.
While at hospice I gave dad droppers of water when he requested them. He did that more and more because hospice was not as horrific as staying in a hospital where every hour on the hour they interrupt you for something – a blood test, respiratory therapy, taking your vitals. In hospice they pretty much leave you alone but are there when you call them.
There was a lot of alternative stuff that I did to make dad comfortable, from diffusing oils to using lifewave patches on this body, to giving him droppers and then small cups of water. The two days they gave dad to live suddenly became two weeks and during that time I watched dad get better inch by inch.
It was tough watching this Italian male feel so compromised knowing he didn’t even have the strength to get out of bed or do anything for himself. In those earlier days, dad couldn’t even move. The nurses and aides did the moving for him, putting him on his side to prevent bed sores and discomfort. In time, dad started moving his hands and ever so slightly his legs. On a regular basis I would range him so that he didn’t stiffen up.
The one thing dad had in his favor is that he was never in pain but he did have difficulty sleeping and so I would spend hours upon hours massaging him when he couldn’t sleep to keep him occupied. I will admit I had some run-ins with nurses who felt that despite the fact that dad said over and over that he was not in pain they insisted that the grimace on his face indicated he was and they always wanted to give dad more pain medication. When they would leave the room I’d talk to dad about that and he would tell me he was not in pain that he just wanted to sleep. But hospice deals with everything from a pain perspective and so it was hard to get some help from them for sleeping and as a result the medication they gave dad just didn’t work.
The morphine made him itchy and so they gave him Dilaudid, but that was for pain not sleeping. It would put him to sleep for an hour but then he’d be wide awake and totally unhappy. He also didn’t like the loopy feeling the medication gave him. He told me that in a mumble that was often hard to understand. And so I would talk to them about other things that could be done to help him sleep. They would use valium and Benadryl for sleep. While the Benadryl did work sometimes the valium would last ten minutes and then dad was wide awake. None of their medications did for dad what he needed, which was to get a good night’s sleep.
Throughout this process dad kept telling all six siblings that he wanted to die. I think what he meant was that he thought he was dying and so he wanted to die faster. But unfortunately for dad’s way of thinking, he wasn’t dying and I think he finally realized that trying to live would be easier than trying to die.
One day after repeatedly saying he wanted to die, dad said he wanted to live. I was shocked as were my brothers. My one brother said “dad if you want to live I’ll do everything in my power to help you but you have to start drinking protein drinks.” When my other brother heard dad say “save me” his response was confusion and surprise and I recall him saying, “It may be too late.”
Dad had convinced us all he wanted to die despite the anguish it caused us but suddenly this window of hope appeared. And so dad started to drink. Each day he drank a bit more and each day he got a tiny bit stronger. He couldn’t see it but we could. Then he started moving more in the bed from side to side and helping with the ranging. It wasn’t much but it was there. And best of all, he started talking in sentences we could actually understand. We started to be able to have conversations with him.
In between dad would often revert back and forth. One day he would want to die because he felt he could never get to where he wanted to be to make living worthwhile, and so for a day or two he’d stop eating and drinking thinking he would try to die again. But soon reality would set in and his strong heart and he’d try again.
Those times when he no longer wanted to live were and continue to be crushing blows to a family that has worked so hard to help him live.
A family that has watched him get better and better with each day. A family that also can’t understand why dad looks at everything with the glass half empty. No matter what progress he makes, dad can never seem to say the words that his family needs to hear. Instead, there’s always a negative spin and each time a new person comes to visit, he still can’t muster up the words that would mean so much to everyone around him.
“It’s not easy but I’m getting better.”
But despite his negative attitude we all continue to do what we can to help dad and the proof came when The Hospice Inn told dad he was too healthy to stay there, but instead would have to go to home hospice.
As the days to head home grew closer all those naysayers at hospice started telling dad how great he looked and asked me what I had done to help make such a dramatic change. While I never said it all, what I’d done was listened to dad. I didn’t let them over medicate him when he didn’t need it. I gave him liquids when he wanted them. I constantly did whatever I could to make him comfortable with what I referred to as his “comfort patches.” I encouraged him to eat and I used alternative methods to help heal his body.
Going home proved to be the best thing that we could have done. Within days dad was able to stand and then a few days later he started to walk just a couple of steps on a walker with a person on each side of him. His desire to get to the bathroom soon gave him the strength to walk there on a walker with help. Once a day turned to multiple times and with encouragement, drinking to survive soon turned to eating again.
One day my brother Peter said to dad. I don’t get it. What is stopping you from eating? After Peter left dad said he wanted to try to eat something and so I gave him a soup with noodles that Peter had made. He ate about half a cup. The next morning he tried eating cereal and ended up eating a small bowl of Organic Corn Flakes. To support that and help get nutrients in his body I ordered whole milk and colostrum that gets delivered from the Pennsylvania farms every Saturday.
Then someone told me to add coconut milk and oil and even cream to his shakes daily to get some high density nutrients in his body while he was still toying with eating.
Just five days before I left for the Olympics dad started to eat full time. It began with cereal or eggs for breakfast. And then his mind would think about what he wanted. There were hotdogs and Pasta Fasul, but dad wouldn’t eat much because he confessed to me that while it sounded good when he thought about it nothing seemed to taste good.
Then one day he noticed things were tasting better and he decided to try other things. He sent me off to get an 18” pie for just $9.95 and ate almost a whole slice. The day I left for the Olympics dad had been eating real food every day for almost a week and I started noticing that he was getting a little stronger standing. With the guidance of an aide the hyperventilation he was enduring when he walked improved when we told him to breathe and walk more slowly.
The other things I noticed are that while he doesn’t have the strength to get himself out of bed he is getting closer and closer to that possibility.
After staying with dad around the clock for almost three months leaving him at this crucial stage was tough for both of us. He’d gotten used to me working so hard to keep him comfortable albeit pushing him beyond what he often wanted to do. And I have gotten a chance to get to spend quality time with my dad and, best of all, a sense that dad might actually make this journey back to where he was before the accident.
He doesn’t believe that but one day when he’s walking I’m going to remind him about how he didn’t have the wherewithal to believe in himself. God willing we are going to take a walk back to The Hospice Inn to show them that dad made that 1% that gets out of Hospice.
Before I left I asked dad to promise me two things: that he would continue to eat enough food to fuel his body and that he would get up and walk every three to four hours. I told him he could toss all the other things out the window that we did to strengthen him because it is my belief that now if he just does these two things he is going to continue to improve and be there when I get home.
I Want My Dad to Share this Olympic Journey With Me
I plan to email him updates and call him every day to tell him about how our American equestrians are doing. And I hope in return instead of looking at things in a negative light that he will tell me about the food he ate that day, the little bit of improvement he felt and how he is going to continue to fight to get his life back again.
So while the next articles I write will be all about the Olympic Games I wanted this one to be dedicated to my dad. It’s been a tough road but two days has turned into three months. My dad is still alive and getting stronger every day. It’s truly a miracle.
So, Dad, this one was for you. I’m so proud of how hard you are fighting to win back your life.