Remembering All the Things I’m Supposed to Worry About

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I received a disquieting call at work about a month ago while I was finishing up my shift at the hospital. When I saw the area code of the incoming number, I knew it was about my father. 

“Don’t worry,” the caregiver at his assisted living facility assured me, “your dad is fine.” I sank into a chair at the nurse’s station while the caller explained that there had been some concern earlier in the day when my dad was found walking alone, “quite a ways from the facility,” by an off-duty employee who graciously returned him in one piece. 

While he is technically free to come and go as long as he signs in and out, the employee’s concern for my father’s safety was justifiable. 

“It’s just that the road is so busy,” she said, “and there’s no sidewalk…” Then she cleared her throat and gently reiterated the part about his dementia. 

When I got home from work that evening, I called my dad and got his version of the story. As he saw it, he had gone for a walk to enjoy the sunshine, then out of the blue, he was picked up by “a very kind police officer” who brought him back to what he referred to as his hotel room.

 “Apparently it’s against the law to walk on that road to McDonalds,” he said. I could almost hear him shrug, then the rattling sound of him shaking Reese’s Pieces from a box into his mouth. “First, no driving, now a guy can’t even go for a walk without being arrested,” I could hear him crunching through a mouthful of colorful candy shells.

When my dad’s longtime doctor told him several months ago it was time to give up driving, he obliged out of professional respect, and some degree of fear. Later, however, he boldly reconsidered. He mused that if he were going to be expected to adhere to such a stipulation, he wanted the order to come down from a “city official,” suggesting that a police officer or a judge would be a more appropriate authority figure to deliver the mandate than the kindly doctor.

“I’ve been driving for 66 years,” my dad protested. This is true. He came of age in rural North Dakota where any fourteen-year-old tall enough to reach the foot pedals could get a provisional license in order to drive to school, basketball practice, and back home in time for farm chores. “I’ve never had an accident,” he continued, which is also true. However, this statement came on the same day when, instead of reaching for the cell phone ringing in his pocket, he put the car key fob to his ear and pleasantly said, “Hello?”

These days, most things pass quickly through my dad’s mind. Thankfully, this includes his frustrations. He no longer mentions the unfairness of the driving restriction, and quickly left last month’s walking episode behind, too. But shortly after the reprimand, his need to be in motion propelled him to start taking walks again. At first, the cold temperatures kept him cruising the hallways indoors, but as the spring weather warmed, he ventured outdoors, using the sidewalks surrounding the facility, always keeping the building in sight as he had been instructed to do. 

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