My story began when I was 21 Years old. I married my high school sweetheart, Brian, on December 16, 1989. We had a beautiful wedding with lots of family and friends. I will never forget my father walking me down the aisle with tears in his eyes, and in mine too. I was a daddy’s girl growing up and I still am at the age of 50. Of course, I loved my mom just as much and still do, but I went everywhere with my dad. He took me to run errands, to the store to pick up items that mom needed (and always bought me something extra), and mom and I would even go on business trips with him. I remember sitting in the car and or hotel room and playing Candy Land while daddy was out working. Those were such special times that I will always treasure; unfortunately, 5 months after I was married our lives were forever changed.
My father was a food salesman for Tyson Chicken. He oversaw setting up Tyson products in grocery stores. At the time, Food Lion was opening stores in Florida so my dad, who lived in North Carolina (N.C.), came to Florida to put their products in the Food Lion Stores. He was working in Tampa and would drive to Lakeland after work to spend the night with me and my husband. I had come home from work and was cooking dinner. Brian was at the ballpark playing in his weekly league. I will never forget getting a phone call from someone at the store saying these words, “Your father has collapsed, and we think he had a heat stroke.” I remember rushing to the ballpark to get Brian (we didn’t have cell phones) and we drove to the hospital in Lutz to be with my dad. We saw my dad and the doctor told us that my father had a brain aneurysm rupture and is not expected to make it through the night. However, if he does make it, he will need surgery as soon as the swelling goes down— even then he only has a 50/50 chance of making it through surgery or if he doesn’t have surgery he only has 2 weeks to live.
So, the doctor called my mom because I could not, and she flew in the next morning to stay with my dad. Daddy had surgery and during surgery he had a stroke that paralyzed his entire left side. He had to learn how to talk again, walk again, feed himself, re-learn everything. Daddy was in the hospital and rehab from May until October. My mom lived with us during that time so her and I could go to the hospital and be with him every day. Finally, Daddy was able to go back to NC that October. I went for a little while to try and help them get settled, but mainly to ease my mind. Returning to Florida and leaving my parents in N.C. was very hard, but I had a younger brother and sister who he was very excited to see not to mention the rest of his family.
My dad lived at home for about a year with my grandmother living there and taking care of him while mom worked. My sister was 8 and my brother was 15. Granny got to the point where she could not take care of him anymore, mainly because of her age and failing health so that’s when I received another phone call I will never forget. My mom called me at work telling me she was having to put my dad in a nursing home. For me that was devastating, considering my father was only 46 years old. I remember leaving work early that day and crying myself to sleep that night. Back then, there were no Assisted Livings in N.C. where he lived, so I convinced mom to move to Florida and move daddy into an Assisted Living Facility (ALFs). Daddy unfortunately did not get enough disability to pay for it, so mom and I split the balance. Soon after, my mom filed for a divorce and that’s when I became my father’s primary caregiver— I was only 22.
It broke my heart to see my dad living in an Assisted Living with all those “old” people. So twice a week after I got off work, I drove to Winter Haven and spent the evening with him and then on Saturdays or Sundays my dad spent the whole day with me and Brian. He went everywhere with us – from shopping, going out to eat, to playing games at our friend’s house. Brian, my husband, was so good about everything. Never complaining about any of it. He did tell me I was not going to be able to keep up this pace forever, but I was stubborn and had to figure it out for myself. I sort of felt like I had to somehow replace mom. Daddy basically lost everything, his ability to walk and drive, his job which he loved, his wife of 26 years. It all broke my heart. I wanted everything to be perfect and it was not.
Over the past thirty years, my dad has endured so many obstacles. Everything from living in so many different ALF’s, being in and out of the hospital for seizures, falls and pneumonia, being put on puree diets, and even fracturing his non-paralyzed shoulder and going into a rehab hospital 2 hours from me. Even during that time, I remember driving there almost every day to see him.
Since June of 2017, things have been especially hard for my dad. He was in the hospital with pneumonia because the Assisted Living was not giving him breathing treatments for over a week. Then in September of 2017, he had a grand mal seizure which led him being admitted into the ICU because the Assisted Living let his seizure medicine run out. Daddy was soon discharged into rehab, and 4 days into rehab, the rehab facility gave him the wrong medication and almost killed him. He was readmitted into the ICU and the doctors did not think he was going to make it. But my dad is a fighter and he did make it! He has pulled through so many times. It shows that God has him here for a reason.
Until you must deal with something like this personally, you cannot fully understand what all goes into it. Physically and mentally, it can be so draining and can put a strain on the entire family, but it can be so rewarding. I am my dad’s voice. So, if I’m not there at the hospital, at therapy, at the rehab, or at the assisted living, many times he is not taken care of properly. Anything from not getting him out of bed all day, giving him the wrong diet, making him go to bed at night before he is ready, to letting his medications run out.
A perfect example of this is his last stay at the hospital. The medication list is never correct. His allergy list is never correct. Even though I was there every day, he was still given a medication on his allergy list and slept for 3 days. Everyone thought he had a major decline, but it took my sister and I to figure out what was going on. Just last month in rehab, the doctor wrote his pain med script wrong and had doubled the dosage which again made him sleepy and lethargic. Again, it took us figuring it out. Nothing anywhere is safe.
I am blessed to have a job that allows me to take off to care for my dad and a husband who is patient, understanding and always willing to help. Just like this past weekend, someone offered to watch our daughter, so we could have date night. Guess where we ended up? Yes, at my dad’s for 3 hours. It’s not easy nor always convenient, and I am far from the perfect daughter. I look back over the years and beat myself up sometimes because I could have done so much more, but trying to juggle babies, work, being a wife and other commitments.
Thirty years is a long time. It has been all but 6 months of my married life and it is all my children have ever known. They never had a chance to know my dad like I did. The happy go lucky, never met a stranger, liked everyone and was such a people person guy that he was. My dad would love to be playing with our daughter and taking her shopping. He loved to shop! She would have had him wrapped around her finger. He would have also loved to go on an airplane ride with our son, Layton. I so wish I could take him on trips with me when I’m working. Yes, I am very much like my dad. And even now, with all he has endured, he still says he’s going to get better. He has 3 things helping him: a sweet loving family, Jesus Christ and never giving up. He truly has a positive attitude and good outlook on life. I am so happy to say that in these thirty years my father has had the entire support of my family. He has never spent a holiday or birthday alone.
Hi, my name is Pamela Bracey. I am 50 years old, mother of 3 beautiful children. Easton, age 22 and in pharmacy school studying to be a critical care pharmacist. Layton, age 19 and studying to become a commercial pilot. Brila, age 11 and busy being a little girl. I am a wife of 30 years to Brian, a flight attendant for a commercial airline, and this is my story.
We can’t abandon our parents just because they are old or disabled, they took care of us. Now it is our time to take care of them.