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CARING FOR DAD

told by Ken Shaw


In the last two years of his life my Dad went deeper into states of consciousness associated with dementia and a blood disorder characterized by his body's failure to produce red cells. He slept a lot and his mood shifts sometimes brought with them unpredictable behaviors. Confusion and obsessions were common.

In October of 1996 we placed Daddy in a well respected nursing facility in Dallas, his hometown for most of his adult life. He did not resist. In fact, he made friends rapidly and was a favorite of the caretaking staff. It appeared to me that a long suppressed wish to be taken care of was now being granted. Another part of him was troubled, and he would cry easily and call out for his brothers and sisters. "HELP!" he would yell loudly. When I was there I would yell with him, trying to encourage his efforts to find relief from some unknown source of torment. On one of these occasions he went so far as to tell me that he 'owed apologies to some people'. I urged him to make these apologies now, but it seemed too much for him in that moment. He went back to a safer place. We ate ice cream and took a ride in his wheelchair.

I had read Arny Mindell's book on coma, plus Stan Tomandl's work. In addition I obtained a copy of Stan's manuscript regarding his Dad's encounters with dementia. These readings all helped me to understand more about what was going on. So did information from the nursing staff and the Hospice people.

During 1997 I visited from Colorado as often as time and money allowed. During these times I was able to teach caretakers to be more aware of Daddy's levels of awareness, e.g., that he heard and took in much of what was said in his presence; that he was very vulnerable to intrusions of sudden noises or lights or touching; and that his personal schedules for eating, shaving, dressing, etc. could be compassionately negotiated rather than rigidly imposed.

In spite of everyone's efforts he seemed more and more despondent over his body's failure to respond to frequent transfusions. His appetite waned and he spent more and more time 'under the surface'.

The call I expected came the second week in January, 1998. When I arrived he appeared not to recognize me in any way. Staff reported that he had not eaten nor taken any fluids for two days. His body functions were shutting down. At eleven o'clock my son David told me to go home and rest, and that he would stay until six AM. That morning he reported no movements during the night, that Daddy's eyes were open though not responsive, and that his breathing was shallow with long spaces in-between.

I sat beside his head with my left hand on his chest, my right hand on his forearm, compressing lightly on the slow intake of his breath, releasing on the exhale. I spoke quietly into his right ear, telling him it was me and that I was glad to be there with him. I thanked him for what he had given me over the years. I told him that I loved him and named others who did, and said that he did not have to stay around to take care of us any longer. He could go whenever he wanted. I noticed a small movement of his right hand. When I took hold of this hand I told him that I noticed his movement, and that I believed he had been listening to me. I asked him to make another movement if this was true. In two or three seconds his hand closed on mine. I told him I felt that, and said, 'Would you do that one more time so I can be sure?' He squeezed my hand firmly once more. Two more breaths and he left.

Ken Shaw
in memory of
Truxton Shaw

Copyright 2006 by Ken Shaw
Used with permission.

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For more information contact:

Stan Tomandl, MA, PWD & Ann Jacob, BA Ed
COMA COMMUNICATION THERAPY ~ PROCESS ORIENTED FACILITATION
#502--620 View Street, Victoria, BC, Canada V8W 1J6
Phone+1.250.383.5677  Email*annstan@islandnet.com*  URL*www.comacommunication.com*

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