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My Amazing Dad

Phyllis Dwyer | ElderThink | 03.29.10


Gordon Brunson with great grandchildren

Gordon Brunson with great grandchildren

Photo by Phyllis Dwyer

My Dad, Gordon Brunson, is 97. He lives in his own home in Denver, about forty miles from me and a few blocks from my brother, Gary. Dad's eyesight is fading due to macular degeneration so he doesn't drive any more. Gary takes him wherever he needs to go. I talk to Dad on the phone just about every day and I visit often. He loves to come to visit his me too – a very special outing for him.


We have tried to talk him into getting an HD TV thinking that would make a pretty big difference for him with his vision problems. He finally decided to get one right after Christmas and has really enjoyed watching the football games. We all watched the Super Bowl with him on his new TV. He can actually see the ball now and it is a delight to see him so pleased.


Dad has always kept up with the news and can discuss just about any topic with anyone. He has a magnifying machine that allows him to read the paper, pay his bills, and read whatever interests him.


He manages everything himself. He does his own laundry and goes up and down the basement stairs to do it. He helps with getting meals and doing the dishes and enjoys visits with friends and family. He keeps up with his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren and he is very proud of all of them. His brother, who is 91, lives nearby. Gordon is single now. Our mother died five years ago after sixty-nine years of marriage to Dad. We all love him and it's easy to say that he is supported by a close and loving family that has shared marriages, births, changes, and death.


Just before our mother died, Dad complained that his heart was racing at night and keeping him awake. He saw a cardiologist who told Dad that his normal heart rate was too low for the settings on a pacemaker. The cardiologist explained that Dad had an incurable disease of the heart muscle but he would probably get another two years out of it beating on his own. Dad went home with some new medication and understanding about the problems he’d been having.


Six years have gone by, certainly more than the cardiologist predicted. Dad told us that he thought things were changing and he was slowing down and couldn't do some things that were his normal routine. But other than a few sleepless nights with his hear pounding, or not having quite as much energy, things seemed to be normal. He was feeling depressed occasionally but it was nothing he couldn't work out of on his own.


A few weeks ago he called Gary in the morning and said he wasn’t doing very well and wanted Gary to come over. This is a very unusual request so Gary called me and then went straight to Dad’s. When Gary got there he called again and said Dad was experiencing intense jaw pain and his teeth were clenched. I told Gary to give him his nitro pills and some aspirin. That seemed to calm things down pretty quickly and life seemed to return to normal.


It wasn’t long though, just a few days, before he had another episode with numbness and tingling down his left arm. He has let us know that he doesn’t want us to call 911 or go to the emergency room. He’s been there enough times!  Gary and I started staying with him 24/7 and were preparing our family and ourselves for what appeared to be the end of Dad’s life. On one occasion, I had spent the night and just gotten up to see how he was doing when he came to me in tears, saying he felt horrible and thought it was time to end this. His heart was really pounding and nothing was helping. I helped him back into bed, gave him a big hug and kiss and fought back the tears. Am I going to be strong enough to deal with this I wondered.


As I was debating what to do, I heard him get up, his heart had stopped pounding so hard and he figured he might as well get up. He didn’t get dressed that day, this was very unusual for him, but he was up and eating normally. I was grateful to see him doing better and I thought then how amazing he was at this age to really not have any other medical problems. Everything else seemed to be functioning normally.  If we could just find something to help with the heart disease.  He commented that perhaps he had been too selfish in his desire to die at home.  We assured him that wasn’t the case and that we would do everything possible to make that possible.


When Gary arrived, the three of us began talking about what to do, how we could keep Dad more comfortable, and what kind of help we might need.  Dad suggested we contact Hospice.


We had a wonderful experience with the Boulder-Broomfield Hospice when Mom passed away, I thought I’d try my friend and fellow Rotarian, Pat Mehnert, to see if she thought there was anything they could do for us.


Pat was very helpful and told me how Hospice could, indeed, help us. During the conversation she suggested we contact his regular physician to get a referral for Hospice Care. With that in mind I told Dad I thought we should make an appointment with his doctor to see if there was anything she could do or prescribe to make him more comfortable.


We were able to get an appointment very quickly and Dad agreed to go. During our visit, Dr. Spies did an electrocardiogram, among other things, and suggested the possibility of getting a pacemaker. She contacted the cardiologist herself to get the ball rolling.


We made arrangements with the cardiologists officeto pick up a heart monitor on that Wednesday afternoon. Dad was instructed to wear it for 24 hours and take it back on Friday. Unfortunately, the cardiologists office was closed so he didn’t return it until Monday.


On Tuesday morning, Dad got an urgent phone call from the cardiologist's office telling him needed to get to the emergency room immediately, that the monitor showed that his heart was indeed stopping during the night which Dad had suspected for some time. He tried to talk them into letting him come to the office at a more convenient time, (since it had already been 5 days since he wore the monitor) but they persisted until he grudgingly agreed. They told him a physician would be there ready to help him


So that is when I got a call during our Rotary meeting. Dad was on his way to the emergency room and didn’t know what the outcome might be. My husband, Jim, and I rushed to Denver to be with them at the hospital. We met the staff and finally the cardiologist on duty.


After several tests, the cardiologist told Dad he had two options. He could do nothing, after all he made it to age 97! If that was Dad’s wish, he was O.K. with that. The second option was a pacemaker and after he described the procedure and told Dad that he could set it low enough to match his normal heart rate, then Dad said, "Well, let’s do it! I’ve got a lot of livin’ to do!"


The cardiologist could have done it that afternoon but Dad had eaten lunch before they went to the emergency room so they had to wait until the next day.  Everything went perfectly, they kept him another night to make sure everything was working properly and then sent him home.


He’s feeling so much better, has more energy and is back to having his nightly “light” martini or glass of wine. He even made the trip up to see me last Saturday, something he didn’t think he’d ever be able to do again. When I talked with him yesterday, he and Gary were making lasagna and looking forward to a great meal.


The past few weeks have been an emotional rollercoaster, but we are enjoying the high points right now. How much longer will we have Dad no one knows. But we all do know that we have been given something very special and every day with him will be cherished even more than before.