Two Fathers, Two Sons

October 14, 2010

Joegodson and Paul (sons)

Our experiences with our fathers this week are exceptional for what they don’t have in common.

This summer, we wrote about Joegodson’s father, Deland, with his permission. We were anxious because he seemed to be falling into despair. His neighbours and friends were also concerned. We thought that perhaps he agreed to allow us to describe his private life precisely because he felt that he was losing control of it. He was asking for help.

Since he arrived in Cite Soleil as a young father, Deland has been known as a calm and dependable neighbour and friend. Deland has always been a peacemaker.

In the summer, we noted that his life came tumbling down after the earthquake. At first, he looked to rebuild his home and to care for his children. People continued to depend upon him as in the past, but his spring was running dry. His long history of kindness and caring has taken a cruel turn over the last two weeks. For lack of good medical care, it’s not at the moment clear what has happened.

The earthquake left his one-room home a shambles. He had no resources to rebuild it and was flung into a daily struggle for survival with everyone else. Since we last recounted the challenges Deland was facing, the burdens have grown unbearable for him. His nephew who had lost his wife decided to go to the Dominican Republic to look for work. He left his two toddlers with Deland who already had no way to provide for the five children that remained in what was left of his home. Two weeks ago, his teenage daughter gave birth to a healthy girl. Deland’s other teenage daughter will give birth any day. Now there will be two more mouths to feed. No one knows the identity of the fathers, including Deland’s daughters. Beyond the practical question of how to feed the growing household, Deland was disheartened that his daughters are now unwed mothers. Life will be tougher for them. And the addition of their children make things tougher for Deland in the present.

Deland began to develop a debilitating case of hypertension. People thought his body was beginning to crumble under the weight of his burdens. He lost his appetite and physical strength. Then came the return of the school year. Over the years, Deland, a tailor, has earned a living for his family by making school uniforms for the local children. However, his health deteriorated to the point that he was no longer able to work. The local families who would have hired him were required to find other tailors. Deland lost his only chance to provide for the many children that now depend upon him. In any case, a thief entered his home in September, whose walls had fallen in the earthquake, and stole his fabric and equipment.

Last month, Joegodson took his father to a hospital. A doctor prescribed several medications.

Over the last few days, Joegodson heard from neighbours in Cite Soleil that his father was not eating and seemed to be going crazy. Something had to be done. On Wednesday morning, Joegodson returned. The week before, Deland had eaten the soup that Joegodson brought. He brought the same soup and, like before, his father ate it. Then he took his medication. The pattern has been for Deland to fall into his obsessive behaviour after taking the medication prescribed for his hypertension.  Soon, he began to behave in the atypical, frightening way his neighbours had described.

Deland is soft-spoken and has always abhorred aggression. Soon, Joegodson understood why the neighbours had been calling him. Deland spoke incessantly in a horrendously loud voice. When his long-time friends from church came to comfort him, he called them demons and forbade them to approach him. His voice boomed out of his now frail body. His utterances were unbearable to everyone and not recognizable as Deland’s normally quiet compassionate voice. It was now an eerie, inhuman sound. The neighbours told Joegodson that he had behaved this way all through the nights since Monday. He kept the entire neighbourhood awake with his frightening babble.

Sitting on the stool next to him, Joegodson placed his hand on Deland’s knee in an attempt to comfort him. Deland bellowed that he had not received the order allowing him to be touched. Joegodson rose from his seat, but Deland said that that order had not been received either. Joegodson must remain seated until the order came for him to move.

Clearly, something had to be done. People feared for their own safety as well as for the health of Deland. He continued to bellow in his ungodly voice until he exhausted his now frail body to the point of collapse. Several of Deland’s friends from church, typically called ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ in Creole, offered to help Joegodson take him to see the Doctors Without Borders at Saint Catherine’s Hospital. But, with surprising force, Deland resisted Joegodson’s attempt to guide him to the taptap. It took several of the strong young men in the neighbourhood to restrain him until they all arrived at Saint Catherine’s.

Once at the hospital, the guards refused to allow him to enter. Deland was still hollering in a most unpleasant way with the raspy voice left to him. The security guards claimed that they were not accepting psychiatric cases. One of his church brothers finally convinced the guards that Deland needed medical attention. They allowed him to enter. A doctor sedated Deland while his church sisters went to find something for him to eat. When Joegodson left for the night, he was not coherent, but neither was he violent.

(One of Deland’s church sisters agreed to spend the night with him at Saint Catherine’s. When Joegodson arrived home in Delmas 33, she called him to say that Deland needed a sheet to keep warm. Joegodson arranged for his brother Jhony and Deland’s brother Rico to take some bedding to the hospital for Deland since they were closer to Saint Catherine’s and it was now late. Meanwhile, the church sister heard gunfire outside of the hospital. She saw two men fall from bullets just outside the hospital. Jhony and Rico were accosted by the same ‘bandits’ (as they are generally described in Creole) after they had delivered the sheets for Deland. They had nothing whatever to give the thieves, which would not in itself have assured their safe passage. Fortunately, the thieves were interrupted as they were trying to shake down Jhony and Rico. They escaped home.)

Joegodson was shaken. His father is forty-seven years old. After the earthquake, Deland remained calm and rational as always. However, as things around him deteriorated, he began to fall into despair. His house was badly damaged. Most of his neighbours were living on the streets and eventually under tarps. No other help arrived in Cite Soleil. Then his daughters became pregnant with no partners and no way to independently care for their babies. His nephew dropped off a couple of young toddlers and disappeared into the Dominican Republic. Then Deland’s health deteriorated to the point that he could not work. Now Joegodson was terrified to find that communication with his father was completely closed. The very sounds coming from Deland were barely human; let alone those of his gentle father.

Several thousand kilometres north, Paul travelled to Toronto to visit his parents, Norman and Joan. Several years ago, when Paul was in Haiti, Norman showed the definitive signs of Alzheimer’s, on top of vascular dementia resulting from a series of small strokes. Joan cared for her husband at home until it was no longer possible. At the right moment, a place opened up at a publicly run long-term care facility in Etobicoke, Wesburn Manor. It is bright and clean. He has the constant care that he needs from a variety of health workers. Over the last months, everyone recognizes that Norman has “gone downhill.” He no longer can walk or eat on his own. He can at best string two or three words together. On his good days, he demonstrates awareness of his surroundings.

Normally, Joan visits regularly. Her daughter comes up from the United States to visit Norman and help in other ways. This time, Paul spent a couple of weeks. After the first day, it was clear that there was little use in both Joan and Paul being there at the same time. Norman is no longer able to converse. However, since he needs help eating, they decided it was most logical that someone be there to help him with his meals. Otherwise, the health care workers have to feed him, and they are required to attend to a number of other patients with similar needs.

Since the hospital was about four kilometres from Joan’s home, it was most logical for Paul to incorporate his visit with his daily exercise routine. Paul ran to Wesburn to arrive in time for Norman’s lunch. There he fed his father, wheeled him to the courtyard so that the sun might shine on his skin for fifteen minutes and then ran back home to return to work (a contract to write a university’s fourth-year international relations course). And so, the midday break served several functions.

It was not clear that Norman identified Paul as his son. It is difficult to gage his level of consciousness. Until the final day, Paul controlled the spoon. The food is now all mashed so that Norm can swallow it without incident. He has lost his coordination and often falls unconscious (asleep?) between mouthfuls. So, you need to nudge him to open his eyes to see that it is time to prepare for another bite.

On the final day, Norman was more alert than usual. “Me,” he said as Paul prepared to begin the feeding ritual. It was somehow clear that “me” meant that he wanted to feed himself. It was not clear that he was able. But Paul clocked himself in for the time it might take for Norman to take over the control of the utensils. Could he do it?

Paul fit the spoon into Norman’s hand. It took time, since Norman initially grasped at it in a way that would never have permitted it to serve its function. Then Paul guided his hand to the dish and through the trajectory to Norman’s mouth. He opened it just in time and managed to complete the eating action alone. Slowly – very slowly – Norman continued to perform the same motion, often misfiring and needing a gentle guidance to find the plate. Normally, he found his mouth with much of the food still on the spoon. He finished his meal.

In the circumstances, it was a monumental communication. While he would not have been able to find the words, his actions said, “I can feed myself.”

At the end, he did say, “I feel great.”

Alone, Norman would be completely helpless. Many of the daily tasks demand strength and agility beyond the ability of his wife, Joan, who is nevertheless young and vital at eighty-one. And so there is help.

Norman is eighty-two years old. From deep inside his rapidly deteriorating brain, he found a way to communicate to his son. He showed that he had the will to independence.

Deland is forty-seven. He lost his wife long ago to cancer. Everyone around him is confronting crises in their lives. Everyone took Deland for granted until recently. Joegodson noticed that the weight was becoming unbearable. Now, he has lost his ability to communicate coherently even to son.

There is little medical help available. What exists comes from a few foreign voluntary organizations.

Let the market decide? Well, the market has decided. This is the result of the market’s decision. Health workers are not motivated to locate in the parts of Haiti where they are needed. How can Deland compete as a ‘consumer’ of health care with wealthy Haitians or any Canadian who still benefits from what is left of our public system? This is the result of allowing the market to determine who lives and who dies.

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