In early February, Coronavirus was a muted, distant soundtrack for the weeks following my father’s fall and broken hip. COVID-19 was still largely foreign, and warnings from Wuhan, China, remained abstract.
That abstraction was partly due to geography, but also partly due to the tight schedule of daily activities in my efforts to keep my father happy in the nursing facility where he was living as he recovered from the surgery to stabilize his broken bone.
Dad bristled at nearly every aspect of being there, in a mix of passive aggressive muttering and sharp barbs. He couldn’t eat, he couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t read. Three times a day, he would declare his meal inedible, even before he had tried it. “I ate the fruit cup,” he would grumble. “The fruit cup was OK.”
But even in the constriction of the facility, Dad managed a routine.
Early mornings were occupied by the awakening of the hall outside his single room: aides arriving for work, nutrition experts passing out breakfast, nurses checking on blood pressure and orientation: “Do you know where you are? Do you know the date?”
Later mornings were given over to exercises to improve balance and strength, and some minor socializing with other patients, who were likewise set on becoming more independent so they could return home.
Afternoons and evenings were a succession of TV: golf reruns, mock court shows, news, Jeopardy, and Wheel of Fortune, which was an early call for bedtime.
Dad is home now, and to his surprise, he is living a routine very similar to the one he thought he would leave behind in the nursing facility. The size of his world has been reduced – by his fall and by the virus – to his home and a few dozen yards of driveway, where soon he will walk for exercise, and where he will sit when it’s warm enough to take some fresh air. He cannot navigate his home without a walker; he cannot carry his breakfast from the kitchen; he cannot head out on his own to retrieve the mail.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that I will be homebound for the rest of my life,” he announced two days ago from the comfort and captivity of his power recliner, slipping into hyperbole. I promised him car trips to the places he enjoys, where he could stretch his legs. He pushed back, and it was then that it dawned on me that even in the chaos of a pandemic, a man’s life can play out more or less just as it would have anyway. Despite our best efforts, and in the face of our our new lives under the spreading illness, our old lives are right on schedule.