It’s difficult for me to write about Jack these days. As his wife of almost thirty years and as an author who’s written three books about this scarred and glorious warrior, that’s an odd statement, an unsettling realization, a bit of a shock. Nonetheless, to write without hitting as close to the truth as I am able, is a waste of time – both mine and the readers – so today, with this post, I expose to you a difficult personal truth.
I have moved on from Jack emotionally, begun the journey of reinventing, or perhaps rediscovering, myself as an individual rather than as half of a partnership.
Over three months ago, Jack was transported by ambulance from our local hospital, three hundred miles down the coast, to the San Francisco VA medical center. Progressive Supranuclear Palsy is a bitch of disease, one that attacks the body, mind, and personality of the afflicted. For Jack’s safety and for mine, it was time for him to be provided more care than I could give in our home. Because of the level of care he needed, and due to the cruel way that skilled nursing placements are accomplished, a bed could not be found for him while he was in the home. The VA social worker and I tried this route for over six months, as Jack fell more and more frequently, as both his health and mine declined, as our relationship split apart with the demands being made upon it – no facility would accept him. We went further and further afield. Again and again his application was denied because the nursing home could not provide the level of care he needed.
And, no, the irony of that was not lost on me – the person attempting to care for him.
In the end, he fell eight times in seven days. The final fall was a dozy. His lower back and ankle both battered and bruised to match his previously injured side, shoulders, right thigh, and the back of his head. When the EMTs came to get him up, I insisted they take him to the hospital. At the hospital, I refused to bring him home.
That felt like a betrayal of unfathomable proportions. And yet, it was necessary for his safety, and for mine. Love is tough, as is the will to survive. I stuck to my decision. That placed Jack in an entirely new category for the VA. Suddenly, he was their problem. Fifteen days later, the community living center attached to the San Francisco VA agreed to accept him as a resident. It’s where I had been trying to get him for six months, it’s the only place he will get the continuing care that he needs.
I was relieved.
Jack was angry.
He screamed down the halls, “Help, I’m being held naked against my will. Call the police.”
The mere sound of my voice sent him into a rage that required he be medicated. He wanted to come home. He threw whatever he could lay his hands on at the nurses, ranted at friends, instructed every visitor to go to our house and retrieve his passport. His plan was to fly to Danang where he still believes he can lead a life of luxury cared for by a half-dozen young Vietnamese women. The hospital handled this by overmedicating him, which made the situation worse.
I continued to refuse to bring to him home. I learned to visit when his combat vet buddies were also visiting. These guys provided him the grounding he needed to allow me into the room with him without screaming. Still, his fifteen days in the hospital were rough, on both of us. On the day he left he asked the discharge nurse for a kiss.
She said, “Now Mr. Jones, your wife is right here, she’ll give you a kiss.”
“Fuck her. Don’t let her touch me.”
And that was our goodbye.
Once at the San Francisco VA hospital for evaluation before being moved next door to the skilled nursing facility, he refused to speak with me on the phone. Screamed obscenities when I left the message that I loved him. I comforted myself with humor. At least he remembered who I was.
A week later he was transferred to the Community Living Center. He promptly escaped. Three times. Police were called. Mental health professionals were alerted. He was returned to the CLC. The third time the doctor told me if he escaped again, he would be sent back to the hospital for further evaluation and sent to a locked ward.
I asked the social worker to explain to Jack the consequences of his next attempted escape. I insisted on talking to him and explained to him how the system would handle him if he continued to sneak out the door in an attempt to get to Danang and his harem of young caregivers.
He settled down. Settled into life at the CLC.
He called and hung up several times. I called him.
He said, “Why are you calling me. I don’t want to talk to you. I’m mad.”
“So am I,”I said. “But I love you.”
He hung up.
But, over the next few weeks, he called more often. At first, he just barked orders. Send me this, or box up that and get it to me today. But slowly he began to tell me about his days. What he was eating. That he won at bocce ball, or balloon volley ball, or black jack. Or that he lost because the other guy cheated. He called the afternoon he got back from AT&T park and a Giants game, the day he made pies in occupational therapy, the morning he had grits with his eggs.
He asked for me to come and visit. The social worker and psychiatrist agreed that I could come down. I made reservations and told him the date. He called every hour with a list of places I was going to take him. Each time I explained that I was coming to spend time with him, to visit him, that we were not going to be going into the city. He called and asked if we were going to have sex when I came down. I said no, we would not be having sex. He hung up. Called back.
“There’s no reason for you to come. It’s too much money. Don’t waste your time.” Hung up.
I waited, figured I’d see how things went between then and the time I was schedule to visit. The social worker called to say he demanded to see an attorney so he could file for a divorce. Of course, I knew he could not go through with the threat, and that he was truly not in his right mind. Nonetheless, I canceled the reservations.
That was several weeks ago.
He has given up the idea of divorce, or at least has topped mentioning it to me or the social worker. He calls six to ten times a day, says he is looking forward to seeing me the first week in September when I am now scheduled to drive down and spend the day with him. He still thinks he is going to Danang, everyone involved in his care is wary that he is playing all of us, biding his time, and waiting for his chance to make his big escape. In his situation, I think a plan B of escape is not a terrible coping tool, as long as he doesn’t follow through and end up harming himself or getting himself moved to a locked ward.
As for me, I make whatever arrangements I can to give him the highest quality of life available– set up a laundry service, get him a new phone and have his contact list transferred, speak with doctors and social workers and other care providers. But, I have moved on. And by that I mean I have accepted that I am no longer responsible for his every need, the tone of my day is no longer dictated by his mood, I am beginning to see what the remainder of my life might look like.
At the time of Jack’s death I will need to find a fulltime job if I am to keep my house. While I have both a bachelor’s degree and a two year high school teaching credential, it has been twenty years since I held a job. At sixty-seven I need training if I am to remain in pricey Humboldt County. So, I am taking a summer-long class in medical billing and coding. The class is horrendously complex, tedious, and demanding, but I am doing well in it, learning what I need to know to find a full time job at its conclusion. I hope. I am also turning my en suite bedroom and bath into a privately accessed AirB&B room.
I am cultivating friendships with individuals who are not combat veterans or their significant others. That sounds peculiar, I know, but for thirty years, every friend I’ve had, other than my writing buddies, has fit that narrow description. Of course, I still love combat vets, but, honestly, I am so done with the challenges PTSD. I need a break. I want some friends whose challenges are not related to something that happened in a steamy jungle fifty years ago.
Hell, I want challenges that don’t originate in a freaking war zone.
I’m moving on.