Jack is in Vietnam anniversary dates. He landed near China beach on July 4th of ’65. His best buddy, Lemual, was hit on August 31st. The medivac chopper was shot down as it tried to take off. Jack believed Lem had been killed. From that moment until Jack himself stepped on a landmine on December 14th, Jack, until very recently, had no memory of what happened. Since his PSP has mucked with his central brain, Jack is recovering patches of memories from that lost period in his life.
This is not a blessing.
This week been especially difficult. I do not know if we are dealing with post-traumatic stress exacerbated by these anniversary dates, or if this is more deterioration of Jack’s cognitive function. I strongly suspect there is no way to separate the two.
On Wednesday the supervisor at the pool where Jack goes for physical therapy called me. I should tell you that at this point my number is on every form. Jack blocks people apparently on accident. He turns off his ringer and forgets to turn it back on for days at a time. He got himself in a little trouble with some gold-diggers who mistakenly thought he still had access to cash. So, while the supervisor may have preferred to talk directly to Jack, the number he had on the form was mine and it was me he called.
We had a house full of company when my phone rang. I stepped into my room when I realized the nature of the call. Any conversation that begins with, “We all enjoy Jack. We want him to continue coming to the pool for his therapy,” is headed for a but that’s going to need privacy.
Jack’s young female physical therapist reported him to her boss for making inappropriate sexual comments. I did not dispute this claim. This was not my first time to field this type of call. Jack and I have had endless and quite pointless conversations about what constitutes inappropriate behavior around women. He cannot be dissuaded from his belief that all women love to be reminded that they’re sexually attractive. I have tried to use humor to educate him. Told him, if the first thing you ask yourself when you meet a woman is ‘Is she doable?’, well, buddy, you might be a misogynist. I have explained over and over that professional women – in-home workers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, social workers, waitresses, anyone getting paid to care for you or provide you with a service – not only do not want your approval of their sexuality, it is against the law to offer it.
He remains unconvinced.
So, yes, I believed the accusation the young woman brought against him.
This was not, however, a big deal. Not, as I said, my first rodeo with Jack’s inappropriate behavior. I took Jack aside, told him quietly about the phone call and that he would need to be more careful from now. We went on with our get-together.
The next morning I stumbled from bed to find Jack up and sitting in his lift chair. He muted the TV. This is never a good sign. He was angry that he had no rights. Why hadn’t I backed him up when the supervisor called? Once a Vietnam vet messes up once, then forever afterward he’s guilty, was that it?
In my defense, I hadn’t even had my first cup of caffeine yet.
“I don’t know what you’re being a Vietnam Vet has to do with this.” I admit I flashed onto the scene on the cliff in The Big Lebowski. I may have chuckled a little. A bad move on my part I know, but seriously? Vietnam? “And you have not been sexually inappropriate one time. We’ve been together thirty years, you’ve hit on every one of my friends, my sister, every female employee we’ve ever had. . .”
“I tell them to let me know if I’m being inappropriate! It’s up to them to tell me to stop.”
This comment may have triggered a few issues of my own. “No. No, it is not up to the woman to control your behavior.”
“I have PTSD and PSP. A symptom of both of these diseases is inappropriate behavior and talk. Why did the supervisor call you and not me? And why didn’t you back me up? You just threw me under the bus.”
“You know what? On second thought, I’m going to need two or three cups of tea before having this conversation.”
I sipped my Earl Gray.
Jack has been doing so well lately with this old problem. He’s been at daycare over a year and not one complaint from a worker. I actually thought he was getting the idea that he had to behave around health care workers or his quality of life was going to deteriorate quickly. Every single place that offers care has a zero tolerance for sexual inappropriateness. I understand that Jack does not understand, truly he does not, that his comments are offensive, but I really thought he was getting with the program.
It may, or may not, be relevant to know that my mom was in town for a one day visit and I had been looking forward to getting out and enjoying a quiet visit with her while Jack was with the respite worker. I wondered if some of this was Jack’s attempt to draw my attention back to him and away from my mom.
By the time I was caffeine-fortified, the worker, Alonso, was at the house. Jack had an appointment for therapy at the pool and the worker usually helps him into his bathing suit and gathers his towel and a change of clothes. However, when Jack came down the hall he was wearing long pants, a button shirt and his black cap that says, Dysfunctional Vietnam Vet, Leave Me Alone.
“I thought you were going to the pool?”
“Don’t you worry about it. If you can’t back me up, I’ll deal with this myself. Alonso can take me to talk to the supervisor. I’ll sue the bastards. Own the whole goddamn pool before I’m done. Take it all the way to the supreme court.”
The worker’s eyes widened. This was a bit outside his job description.
“Jack.” I touched his arm, tried to make eye contact. “Honey? Right now, this is no big deal. A minor blip that is over and done. If you cause yourself to be banned from the pool, the only person who’s going to suffer is you. Maybe you could talk to some of your guys about this before you talk to the supervisor?”
“You don’t need to worry about it. Alonso’s got my back.”
And they were out the door, though not before I told Alonso to just take him to the pool and stay out of it. I had no control over him at that point, though I did actually think about tying him to his chair. Certainly this was far above Alonso’s pay grade.
I met my mom and sons and grandson for breakfast and did my best to enjoy the visit I’d been looking forward to for weeks. No point in wasting a good moment on something over which I had no control. As the waitress took our order, a text came in from Alonso saying that Jack was in with the supervisor and having a meltdown, but that the supervisor was handling things well. As I chatted with my mom about her latest watercolor project, a text beeped telling me that Jack had fallen in front of the municipal auditorium, but that he was okay.
The auditorium is a good five miles from the pool.
Turns out Jack told Alonso to take him to his buddy’s house, got lost and ended up ten blocks from the friend’s house. He fell as he was getting out of the car. They did, eventually, find the right house. However, the visit with his friend did nothing to calm him down. They left there and went to see an attorney so Jack could file a discrimination charge against the pool. Seriously? Because, what? The pool discriminated against dirty old men?
By that afternoon, my mom had left and Jack was still as angry as I’ve ever seen him. Still ranting about respect and discrimination against Vietnam vets. He needed other combat vets. I’ve seen him like this before. Other combat vets are the only people who can help him. No matter how much I love and care for him, that is a role I cannot fill. I loaded him up and took him to the local VetCenter. They put him in a quiet room, and sent other veterans in to talk with him until a counselor could see him.
He was calmer when I picked him up, but still determined to see that attorney, still angry that I did not believe that he was not inappropriate with the therapist. We have agreed that, from now on, when someone calls about his behavior the first thing I will ask them is, have you talked to Jack about this? However, and I cannot fix this for him. At this point, I am his caregiver. His speech can be difficult to understand, especially over the phone. He tends to not be the most logical thinker on the face of the planet. I understand that reporting him to me rather than confronting him directly about his behavior is infantilizing. I get that. But we are deep in the water here with social workers and professional health care folks. There are laws and rules in place to protect both the client and the worker. People are going to follow established protocol.
He is still insisting on speaking with an attorney. I will not help him in this endeavor in any way. To do so would, in my mind, encourage faulty and dangerous thinking. I empathize with his need for control over some small aspects of his life and I will do everything I can to help him with that, but I have very little sympathy for his belief that he can say whatever he wants to women and it’s up to them to tell him when he’s out of line. I do understand that when Jack was growing up men actually could say pretty much anything they wanted to a service worker. All through high school I worked as a waitress. Believe me, I understand.
There are thousands upon thousands of these old misogynists in the healthcare system. Men who now find themselves dependent on the very women they have preyed upon for years. These men either learn new rules or they end up without the care they need, or drugged into submission. I do not want that for Jack. And, yet, I cannot control his behavior.
So, we are at an impasse. To be honest, while the week has been exhausting, I have too much on my plate to worry too much about it. I am deeply hurt by Jack’s accusation that I do not back him up. But I will get over it. His hour-by-hour care will overshadow my anger. To paraphrase: “Fuck it, Dude. Let’s get on with life.”