, Port Arthur, Texas


June 16, 2013

Father’s Day at Papa’s house

Editor's Notes

PORT ARTHUR — Father’s Day has always been recognized in my parents’ household with small get-togethers. Sometimes my dad would fire up the grill in the backyard and make burgers. Visitors could expect to find him slicing a cold watermelon on the warm June day to share the refreshing sweetness with anyone who is around.

Kids, grandkids and even great-grandkids would show up bearing gifts like coffee cups with “greatest dad” slogans or T-shirts, maybe with an Astros logo. We all affectionately call my dad Papa. I think that may have started with the oldest grandchild, but it caught on. A day with Papa would always be laid back and easy. Stories about his daddy’s sawmill or him seeing the legendary Y.A. Tittle play quarterback at his alma mater Marshall High School gave the family a connection to earlier days.

Last summer my dad’s world, my entire family’s world, changed. He had a serious stroke one morning in the pre-dawn hours. The doctors at Renaissance Hospital in Groves said the bleeding was continuing in his brain and he needed to be transferred to St. Elizabeth Hospital in Beaumont. I was already at work when my sister called me with the news. “You better hurry,” she told me, words I replayed over and over in my mind as I drove to Beaumont, then to the hospital, then taking the first parking place I could find no matter the consequences.

Both sisters and my mom were in the intensive care waiting area when I arrived. With grim faces they shared snippets of medical jargon and worry about how they couldn’t stop the bleeding. We waited without knowing. Imagining.

Then they rolled my dad into the room. He was flat on his back on a hospital bed but he didn’t look as worried as the rest of us did. While Papa didn’t know much more about what was going on than the rest of us, he did know that his entire left side was paralyzed. But that didn’t stop his personality from coming through. As medical personnel tested blood pressure or took his temperature, he would joke with them or make what my mother often calls “his smart little remarks.”

The next days are a blur of intensive care visits, blood pressure readings, a huge headache, tests and more tests. My dad made friends with everyone who came through his room. The nurses doing their rounds would come to check on Mr. Jack. The paralysis on the left side of his body remained and talk began to turn to physical therapy. My mother began learning about rehab centers and Medicare payments.

I began thinking then about how I would react if it were me dealing with the aftermath of a stroke and partial paralysis, and I don’t think I would have been a very pleasant patient.

That’s not to say that Pop didn’t have his struggles. Rehabilitation was exhausting and he put a lot of effort into it. He leaned hard on his faith and it helped hold him up.

From St. Elizabeth within a couple of weeks he moved to Health South in Beaumont, where the staff worked diligently with him to increase the use of his left hand and foot and to teach him techniques designed to get him back on his feet.

He must have had faith that the rehab would have a positive outcome because he worked at it like an athlete training for an event. He would tell me about the sessions in which he was re-learning to walk. The rehab technician, a strong man, would help hold Papa up from behind and give his left foot a kick when it was time to move it forward.

They made progress.

It was small progress but it was progress. Summer turned to fall and football season was upon us. We have been PN-G Indian fans all of my life and Pop has had season tickets since I was a toddler. We’ve gone to games win or lose, rain or shine. We bought the tickets without any idea whether they’d be used.

Eventually the funding for Health South ran out and Pop moved to a rehabilitation nursing home in Port Arthur. This place was much more convenient for my mother and they also had an excellent physical therapy program, but the nursing home aspect of the facility was difficult to deal with on a long-term basis.

My sisters learned lots of tips on how to continue rehab at home and both of them are regular on making sure Papa is taking his walks and clearing a path for him. He always seems ready to make the effort when it is time for his exercise. Again I wonder how I would react and I marvel at Papa’s determination and persistence.

His hard work has paid off.

Last weekend when we went by to visit, Mom was gone to the grocery store. Pop met us at the door. Because of his work ethic and his belief that it could be done, Papa can walk. The improvement is slow but constant. This year we might get to use those PN-G tickets.

Today Papa won’t be grilling, but somebody at the house might. And there might be watermelon, too, as kids and grandkids, and even great-grandkids drop by. Without intending to, Papa is modeling for his children and grandchildren the power of his faith and the strength of his attitude. We may not consciously remember the lesson he is teaching, but it will be there, deep in the back of our minds, if we need it.

There may be a present or two, just small things, perhaps a new coffee cup or a T-shirt (please no, not the Astros). Our Father’s Day cards will all have basically the same message: We love you Papa, thanks for being you.


Twitter: @RogerCowles

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