Aging Warrior

Yesterday I checked Jack into a nursing home. For the first time in the twenty-five years, I cannot care for him and keep him safe.
Through all of our adventures together – scuba diving, backpack travel around Asia, dragging a trailer the length of Mexico and parking it under a grass-roofed palapa on the beach, moving to the Republic of Panama with two giant service dogs strapped to our wrists, riding out a hurricane in a cement block room in the Yucatan – through it all, Jack has bulled and laughed and maneuvered his way through some damn tough spots.
This time is different.
He can no longer bull his way past the effects of the stroke he had four years ago.
Laughing in the face of tremors and dizziness and chronic falls does not save him from the pain of the impact.
His maneuvering cannot stop the creep of dementia.
Six months ago he fell for the thirteenth time in a few months, banged up his entire right side, bruised his knee, ankle, and ribs, and tore his rotator cuff. Everything healed, more or less, except the shoulder.
Finally overcome by the constant pain, he agreed to go in and allow the surgeon to stitch and bind and do his best to repair the damage to the tendon and joint.
At 320 pounds, Jack is almost twice my size. His left side never recovered fully from the stroke and he has limited use of his hand and arm. The stroke took his gag reflex causing him to cough and aspirate liquid and requiring him to eat slowly and carefully. His legs, which were the most affected by that landmine he stepped on outside Danang in ’65, can no longer lift him from a sitting or reclining position. He uses his right arm to get up and down from a chair or bed.
All of these challenges meant that, after the rotator cuff surgery, with his right arm strapped to his chest, there was no way I could care for him at home. It took a very long time to convince the VA that this was true. But with the help of several good people within the Fayetteville VA system, those in charge finally looked away from their computer screens and saw Jack. Bureaucrats and social workers agreed that he could not possibly go home to be cared for during recovery by one crazy-assed woman who loves him madly but is still, only one woman.
So, yesterday, after his surgery, the nurses helped me get him loaded in the car and I drove him thirty minutes up the mountain and checked him into the VA approved nursing home. He will be there about five weeks – until he regains the use of his right hand and arm.

I found the home to be a perfectly nice place. As long as I didn’t allow myself empathy for the old folks sleeping in wheelchairs with their mouths hanging open, or staring blankly at walls, or calling out to me as I hurried past with a sleep apnea machine under my arm, medical paraphernalia slung over my shoulder, and the five sets of clothing marked with the name of the man who is my husband dragging behind me in the suitcase that has seen better adventures.
I have had a few moments of grief in my life. Few people get to be my age without knowing the pain of losing someone or something dear to them. Kissing Jack good-bye and leaving him in the care of strangers is certainly right up there in the top two or three. It was all I could do not to go back in and load him up and bring him home. Even knowing I could not care for him the way he needs while recovering, even understanding that trying to do so would be dangerous to him and to me – still it was difficult to drive away.
I got a call from him this morning saying they tried to put him on a liquid diet. He managed to get himself to the administrator and she arranged for him to have sausage and eggs for breakfast. The old guy in the bed next to him keeps the room too hot so they are moving Jack to another room. And my dear husband has bribed one of the nurses to bring him a milkshake when she comes back from lunch.
I think he’s going to weather this latest adventure just fine.

About Author and Speaker Pamela Foster

Pamela Foster is a speaker and author. Her first book, Redneck Goddess, is available at local bookstores and on Amazon. Her second book, Bigfoot Blues, will be available in August 2012.
This entry was posted in aging, grief, marriage, nursing home and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to Aging Warrior

  1. Oh, Pam, I’m sorry. This has to be so hard. My thoughts are with Jack and you. At least he’s good at getting yummy food and milkshakes! He will definitely warrior through. *hugs*

  2. gilmiller says:

    I’m not gonna insult you by pretending to know what this feels like for you, but rest assured you have lots of friends and tons of moral support. Or is that tons of friends and lots of moral support? I’m so confused 😖.

  3. Jan Morrill says:

    I could feel your pain as you left Jack. Once again, a beautifully, painfully told event in the life of a warrior and his warrior wife. Love you.

  4. Sylvia Forbes says:

    Pam, it is so brave of you to write about this. I understand completely – several years ago, I had to put my mother in a nursing home for three months while she recovered from a broken leg. I just could not care for her alone. I practically lived at the nursing home for those three months. I’m hoping that Jack will heal quickly, and that things will get easier for both you and Jack. You are doing the best that you possibly can – don’t be hard on yourself for this decision. Keep your spirits up! I admire you for all that you do, and are amazingly able to do with a smile.

  5. laurewaytek says:

    Life can be so hard sometimes. My heart is with you, Pam.

  6. kdmccrite2 says:

    Bless you, dear Pam. I know this is a tough time. I surround you with thoughts of love and peace, and my prayer is for a full recovery for Jack. You are loved, my friend.

  7. John Biggs says:

    I never meant Jack, but you’ve written about him so often and so well, I felt a sense of personal loss when I read this post. Not anywhere near what you feel I know. My thought are with you. Doing the right thing is never easy.

  8. Sandra says:

    By being strong you are still taking care of your loved one he may not admit it but that is what he needs from you right now.

    • Thanks, Sandra. That’s what I tell myself and I am trying to use the time to renew a bit. The main challenge is to not let the worry, which can’t help Jack, rob me of the time to rest. Life is just one lesson after another sometimes. Still, life is good.

  9. nancyhartney says:

    Well, it’s good to know he’s up to his old mischief – bribing for milkshakes indeed. Take heart in his rascal adventures despite the hurt and lonesome feelings. Hugs. Great kisses to Jack.

  10. Fritz says:

    Careful what you wish for Pam, if Jack gets kicked out for insubordination he’ll be home before you know it!

  11. Joyce Zeller says:

    As usual Pam, your remarkable talent with words speaks out to the rest of us, telling us that someone out there knows and can verbalize what many of us go through, as patient and care giver. Thank you for that wonderful post.

  12. flo murry says:

    My daughter can certainly empathize with you on this! She is right in the middle of a terrible bout of some, as yet undiagnosed, neurological problem which comes at a very inopportune time (is there ever one?). Her husband’s father passed away from cancer 8 years ago, and his mother passed away from cancer also, 4 years ago, leaving him as Executor of the estate for himself and a brother and a sister. The sister has been less than helpful and more trouble than you can imagine, and to top it off, a younger brother disappeared 8 years ago, with no trace….. until around Thanksgiving of last year they got word that the case was opening again and they had arraigned two ex-housemates of his brother on murder charges. About a month ago his body was found and the remains were exhumed. And in the process, this crippling, devastating neurological problem has come up and he fell from the tractor, breaking ribs and puncturing his lung. Yeah, that has truly been fun. Things are looking up for them, but it has been a long haul for our daughter. Thanks for this article. I am passing it on to her.

  13. pamelavmason says:

    Five weeks. I’ll count with you.

  14. Herb Hawn - stormy says:

    I’m hoping that Veronica has the courage to take care of me, when the need is apparent, like you have shown with Jack. If we loose the care giver too, then all is lost. Prayers are including you and Jack and I hope that he recovers enough to come home for a while longer. Please do use this time to rebuild your strength and spirit.
    – stormy

  15. Lori Ericson says:

    It does sound like he’s taking it Jack-Style and will do just fine. It’s probably going to be harder on you. I’ll be thinking of you.

  16. Linda Apple says:

    That Jack! He will be running the place, entertaining everyone as he does. He has new ears to hear his stories, so he will be fine. Turning the page into a new chapter of life is frightening, but the story finds its way into your lives. Rest, take care of yourself now that you can, and watch this new chapter unfold. I love you.

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