My father celebrated his 80th birthday on June 7. And because he is suffering from metastatic colon cancer, I put him in a nursing home.
What a horrible birthday present on what should have been a wonderful milestone to celebrate.
Of course, what happened to me has happened to millions of people across the United States and throughout the world. We all have problems. I am no different. But what made this different was the education I received in the process.
Even as a professional journalist, doing research on health insurance, hospice care and skilled nursing facilities revealed things I did not know — things that could only come from experience that I did not have.
The truth, that cancer had now incapacitated the man who adopted me, was cold. The reality, that my father was about to die soon, was harsh. The emotions, which repeatedly brought forth a flood of tears, was overwhelming. The sticker shock of nursing home care, $7,170 a month, was stunning.
But nothing could compare with seeing a once-strong, vibrant, hard-working man reduced to a shell of his former self, his mind hopelessly lost in a maze of confusion.
As I sat and watched him lie in his hospital bed this week at Meadowood, a skilled nursing facility in Stockton, I marveled at his restless, calloused hands noiselessly moving through the air, retracing the precise mechanical movements of the sheet metal worker he once was.
His eyes vacant, yet the former U.S. Marine's rough hands moved gracefully, endlessly bending, shaping, pressing and stamping the invisible metal on the non-existent press.
My heart caught in my throat, and suddenly I was glad that I had told him that I loved him before he slipped away into the dark recesses of his mind.
We knew the end was coming since his oncologist, Dr. Ajithkumar Putthillath, stopped his chemotherapy in March and sent him home with three months to live. But it all happened so fast.
Just as recently as three weeks ago, he was still fairly lucid. I could carry on a conversation with him. Even after a year of taking care of him, however, I was still not prepared for his sudden decline and subsequent hospitalization.
I had read his sheetmetal worker's health insurance, and was under the impression it contained benefits for both skilled nursing facilities (nursing homes) and hospice care. After all, he had worked 40 years and paid generous sums into his health care plan for such possible eventualities.
So when his liver stopped functioning and the toxic levels of waste in his bloodstream reached a fever pitch on May 30 that resulted in his being admitted to St. Joseph's Medical Center, I found out that neither of his insurance plans covered room and board at either hospice or nursing home facilities.
Fortunately, we were lucky and had the ability to privately pay the cost of his care at Meadowood. It is an outstanding, first-rate facility widely considered the best in San Joaquin County.
So those of you with elderly parents, save your money and make sure there is enough to pay for end-of-life care for your loved ones. Medicare and private insurance do not pay room and board care. Check your health insurance booklet and get educated so there are no surprises when the time comes. Purchase supplemental insurance if necessary.
I had promised my dad that I would never put him in a skilled nursing facility. I broke that promise. I felt guilty about it and still do to some extent, in spite of everyone reassuring me I had done the right thing.
I also will probably have to break my other promise of taking him to see his beloved cabin in Bear Valley one last time. Now I know why he had tears in his eyes when I brought him home last fall after he spent three glorious weeks in Bear Valley alone with his dog, Sally. He knew he wasn't coming back alive.
But I will be taking him back to Bear Valley to bury his ashes so that he can forever be with the red firs and pine trees in the shadow of Mount Reba with Lake Alpine shimmering in the background that he loved so much.
I hope that someday my father forgives me for breaking those promises. I love you, Dad, and I am so very sorry. Godspeed to your Heavenly rest, and may the good Lord bless and keep you.
Richard Banas is a News-Sentinel sports writer. He may be reached at LodiSentnlSports@aol.com.