John Doe Dad

The last time my dad went missing, I found him in jail. In North Carolina. I’m in Florida. At that time, he was living on his own in the streets of some little town I can’t remember the name of at the moment. He’d long since lost his companion of eleven years, his trusted dog, Blackie, and he’d recently lost an old friend of his, Jack, whom Dad had moved in with after our relationship fell apart back in 2007.

Why did it fall apart? Simple. Dad had taken up drinking again, and I would have nothing to do with him when he drank. He’d been on the wagon for nearly a decade when a new neighbor he’d become close with started inviting dad over for dinner, during which his wife would serve wine. That’s all it took.

Within weeks, Dad went from being a pleasant old man with a lot of heath issues and a dog to a belligerent fool bent on getting a hold of his money, to which I held the purse strings, and drinking himself into oblivion.

That didn’t turn out well.

By 2010, Dad was back in Florida. It took about a year or so before he was back to just being an old man with a lot of health issues. Fast-forward to 2018, and we have a visit from his last living friend in the world, Big Jim, during which dad started drinking again.

Jim wound up cutting his visit short, and Dad was left heartbroken and determined to visit North during the summer. I didn’t know if that would be a good idea, but I acquiesed. He left for the month of July to spend two weeks in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan to visit my brother and his family and then end his vacation with two weeks in Wisconsin visiting Big Jim.

From the moment I dropped Dad off at the airport, he started drinking. He didn’t stop the entire time he was gone. He stopped taking his medication. He started acting erratically.

When he arrived home, he was still drunk from his trip. Since he had money left over from the trip, he sweet-talked nieghbors into taking him to the store to buy some type of grocery item only to walk out with alcohol and cigars. Both of which are contraindicated with his medications. Within two weeks of being home, he had a heart attack. That was the last part of August. He was critical for a couple weeks, then released into a rehab facility by September. He loved it there. I started the process of getting him on Medicaid so he could stay there, but got talked into discharging him by the end of October.

I never should have done that.

At some point after his heart attack, Dad must have had a stroke, because his behavior was just too much. He started walking the two miles down to Deerwood Village shopping center every day. He’d seek out the company of homeless people, sponge cigarettes and booze from them, and then badger me for money. He’d make up stories that he would need something from the store and would need five dollars. Rather than give him the money, I always just bought whatever it was he said he needed.

Then, he just got mean–and strange. He wanted his money, at least twenty dollars a week. I reluctantly agreed to the amount and started mailing him money every week. Every couple weeks, I would take groceries over, and would be appalled by the state of his apartment. The once new carpet was nearly ruined. He’d picked out the slats of one of his blinds and its skeleton hung in the door window like a little string ladder to nowhere. He started cutting up his throw rugs and taping them down all over his apartment. And he wouldn’t keep them in the same place, he’d pluck them up and move them around. He constantly moved around his furniture. He started dumpster-diving nearly ever day and would bring in junk and collect stuffed animals. He started stealing bikes. Expensive bikes. He jammed a shopping cart out onto his screened-in porch and piled loads of junk in and around it.

The worst part of it was that he would invite his homeless friends to stay with him. They would come at all hours of the night and bang on the door, yelling at my nearly deaf father to wake up and let them in. They’d have raucous parties on the weekends, and sometimes during the week. Neighbors started complaining. I started getting calls from the aparment complex’s office about my dad and his friends as though I could do something about it. Finally, the apartment manager let me know that Dad was going to be evicted if he didn’t stop bringing those people home with him.

Then something happened. One Thursday night or early Friday morning five weeks ago, one of the homeless people staying with Dad couldn’t wake him up. The guy called 911 and the ambulance hauled Dad off to the hospital. (Not the nearest one four miles away, but the farthest one about 20 miles away.) I found out that Dad was in the hospital from a voicemail. Someone from Baptist hospital downtown left me a message that he “thought” he had to talk to me about my dad. The next five voicemail messages I got were condolence calls as the homeless guy who called the paramedics called other homeless people who knew Dad and told everyone that he was dead.

I called the hospital immediately, and six hours later, I got a call back saying that they had two John Does. One was alive. One was dead. I was asked to come identify which was my dad, if either.

Andy and I went to the hospital, and I asked to see the live John Doe first, which turned out to be Dad. Apparently, from what a doctor told me, Dad was unresponsive when they brought him in. And even though he was a DNR (do not resusitate), they resusitated him at least twice. For three days, he was unresponsive, then on the fourth day, he started responding. By the fifth day, they removed the respirator from him. By the sixth day, they gave him some therapy. By the seventh day, he was discharged.

Now, because I never went down to visit Dad, he got his panties in a bunch and told the doctors and nurses not to talk to me even though I had given them my power of attorney, his living will, and his HIPAA release stating that I was his healthcare surrogate. I had also informed his doctor, the nurse, and the social worker that dad was in the first stages of dementia and that he couldn’t make decisions on his own. I also let it be known that when he was discharged, he needed to be discharged into a rehab facility, preferably the one I had picked out for him before this heart attack or whatever, because he was going to be evicted that Wednesday from his apartment. Regardless, the entire time he was in the hospital, even though I called several times a day every day, I got no information on his condition. No doctor called me. I only got told when he was going to be discharged.

When I got the call that he was going to be discharged, I reiterated to the social worker that he needed to go to a rehab facility, that we’d already had a 3008 form filled out by his primary care doctor to that effect. I had no intention of picking him up. We had quite a back-and-forth and finally the social worker said one of the nurses suggested Dad go to this respite care facility he knew of. They would take him for seven days and would help me find a place to put Dad, so I gave the okay to transport him there.

Naturally, the respite care facility did not help me find a place to put Dad. Instead, I had to call Blue Cross & Blue Shield to get a directory of facilities and called them all myself. I found two that were interested, but they couldn’t make up their minds in time, so the respite care facility owner suggested a managed care place up on West 33rd Street downtown Jacksonville. Not the best area in the world, but my back was up against it, so I relented and gave the okay for him to be transported there. Before he was moved, I spoke with the owner of the facility, Yashica T., and explained where dad was coming from, that I was in the process of getting him moved into a nursing home because he was in the first stages of dementia and an alcoholic who’d relapased. I also let her know that he needed to be supervised, that he would wander if he got bored.

Apparently, all my warnings fell on deaf ears, because 10 days later, some of the guys dad was living with helped him get on a bus (he’d never been on a bus before) so he could find his girlfriend (he doesn’t have a girlfriend).  Somehow, he got lost, because I got a call from Yashica letting me know what had happened, that they were searching for him and that they’d called the police to help find him. The police found him in a ditch. It had been heavily raining all day, so we think he simply fell in the ditch and couldn’t get himself back up.

That night, I was told Dad had to leave the facility. He needed supervision (which I told the owner up front), and that they couldn’t handle him. I had no place to put him, so Yashica suggested a managed care facility over in Lake City (the other side of the state from me). I okay’d the move. That was a week ago Sunday. A week ago Monday, Dad had sweet-talked the owner, Shenay F., into taking him down to the local VyStar Credit Union so he could access his money. For whatever reason, Dad okay’d Shenay to be put on his account. I found out about this a week ago Thursday when I went to the credit union to have some statements printed out. I got to the service desk, gave the member service person Dad’s member number and he looked at the account, looked at me, and said, “And you’re Shenay?”

Uh, no.

I spent the next couple of hours working with VyStar to see if there was any way I could remove Dad’s name from that account that was now joint with my power of attorney. I couldn’t. I called General Motors Pension Benefits to alert them to the possiblity of Dad’s redirecting his direct deposit into a different account. They couldn’t do anything to stop him. I didn’t even bother with Social Security. I knew I needed to have guardianship to stop his redirecting those funds.

Yesterday, I received a notice from Social Security that they would not be paying Dad’s May benefits next month. Today, I went down to Social Security to find out why. They couldn’t tell me, because I’d been removed as payee. Again.

I came home and got online to change the address on Dad’s accounts to reflect his Lake City address. Tomorrow, I’m going to pack up his mail, his bills, his pills that came to my house, and I’ll forward them to Lake City. I’m done playing this game. If Dad wants to be on his own, he can be on his own. I can’t afford to pay an attorney five grand to become Dad’s guardian again. To tell the truth, I don’t think I want to even try. I’m tired. I have my own health issues, and I’m trying to make a living.

The next time Dad does a disappearing act and gets tossed from this place where he is, I will not be around to help him out. As of now, he’s a John Doe to me. A John Doe dad.

Taking the train to nowhere

Early 2011

What is it that stops you in your tracks?  For the past several weeks – several weeks – I have been trying to think of how to describe what I have been experiencing since I brought my dad back to Florida.  It’s not so much frustration as it is pressure, but not the kind of pressure that breeds anxiety.  I’m not anxious.  I know what needs to be done to move ahead, but that’s just the problem.  I know.  I know, because I’ve done it before, and I know not one piece of what I have to accomplish is going to be easy or appreciated.  It’s that knowledge that has my stymied.

If you can, imagine yourself inside a ball that is filled with that gooey stuff inside a stress ball.  I feel as though I’m inside that ball.  I’m a lump that gets manipulated by a huge hand.  Each finger is a different stressor and I’m desperately trying to press myself back into relative shelter in the palm.

It’s just not working.  The fingers pressing me into contortions all over the inside of that ball.

Every breath I take, from the moment I wake until the moment my head hits the pillow (notice I don’t say “sleep”),  I feel the atmosphere compressing that ball.  Think about it:  the force of everything compressing equally all over that ball.  I’m in the middle, and I can’t move.  I can’t breathe.  I have to heave a sigh just to take in air, otherwise, my breathing is so shallow, I have to think myself into taking a breath.

My mind feels suspended.  There really isn’t another word for it.  Blank doesn’t quite describe it, neither does empty.  I feel too much inside my head, see too much.  The sense of overwhelm is like another layer of skin and it paralyzes me.

Don’t get me wrong, to look at me, you wouldn’t know anything was wrong.  I’d strike you as too quiet, aloof even.  All business with a pleasant face.  My humor is dark, biting, even self-deprecating.  I’d make you laugh, but only so I can get you to go on your way.  I’m the queen of placation.  The problem is that it takes every ounce of energy for me to emit that facade of interaction.  I would receive no energy from you.  I would only be throwing my energy at you to give you whatever you need to get you away from me so I could force myself to check off the dad-tasks as quickly as possible so I can accomplish at least one thing for myself.

It doesn’t always happen, the doing something for myself part.  That’s why I need my notebook.  I need my notebook to remind me what I need to do as much as to show myself what I have done.  Kind of a proof.

I have too much to do.  Dad is a 24-7-365 job.  Even though he’s in his own apartment, he’s living on the other side of my woods.  He and the dogs will pop over at various times throughout the day to visit.  Dad just wants to tell me about his day and show me an ungodly number of pictures he’s taken of virtually nothing, and I can’t stand it.  There’s no phone call before he comes.  There’s no sense of respect that my work cannot be interrupted and restarted, because a train of thought is fleeting, and writing is all about stringing together a train of thought.  I’m paying for his life right now.  His life and mine, and I can’t pay out what I don’t earn, and I can’t earn if I can’t think.

It’s a boundary issue, I know, but I also know that it’s going to take months to get him to relearn boundaries.  The last time I moved him down with me, it took about three years.  I know what I’m doing this time, so I’m praying it’ll only be a matter of months.

Please god, let it be a matter of months, because my nerves won’t stretch out any longer.

 

A Dawning Realization

My dad’s best friend, Jim, is coming for A Friendly Visit in January. He’ll be here for three months.

Earlier today, my dad called me to let me know that Jim will need to have a doctor when he comes down, because he needs, among other things I’m sure, to have his blood drawn every month.

No problem. I can get our doctor’s information to Jim.

Hours pass.

I sit down to prepare my writing plan for this week, and it dawns on me that I am now going to have to take care of–at least in part–Jim’s medical needs, too. It’ll be like having two dads to care for.

I truly don’t mind overseeing these two’s medical care. I’d rather know what’s going on with them than not, so I can make certain they’re not doing anything to harm themselves–which they will. Fifty-three years of experience assures me of that.

It’s just that I also realized that it’s not going to stop at medical oversight. Jim will have a vehicle. The two of them will want to go on road trips. Neither know where to go around here, so it’s going to be up to me to be their human GPS, since neither has a smart phone.

Is it harsh to say I don’t have the time to play travel guide? In truth, I don’t have the time. I have writing and editing and consulting to do. I have my own ailments to deal with.

Neither do I have the inclination. Dad, as you know, was never around when my brother and I were growing up. He wasn’t a part of our lives as we grew into adulthood, because he was busy being a drunk, getting into trouble (read: sitting in jail), and going through wives and girlfriends (sometimes simultaneously). We didn’t want to be around him.

Now, I’m faced with these two. Who, together, will get into trouble. They will act like little boys, as they have done for as long as I can remember. Will giggle when they’re caught.

And I find myself unable to see the humor in everything that’s going to come next.

 

Rough & Rushed

December 12, 2010

Rough and rushed.  That’s how life feels right now.  Since before Thanksgiving, dad has been my focus.  Dad’s safety.  Dad’s health.  Dad’s finances.  Dad’s living conditions.

Since I first heard from Moira, Dad’s probation officer, getting Dad to Florida has been my priority.  At first, I only planned to have him down here long enough to get him evaluated by his doctor and get his social security money out of suspense.  When I arrived in Sanford, North Carolina, I didn’t try to contact dad.  I had too many things to do in too short a time.

Hate to admit it, but he would have just been in the way.  I needed to meet Moira, the detectives I’d worked with when he was missing, and the bankers who first alerted me to his situation.  I wanted to thank them.  I wanted to have us each put a face to the phone and email conversations we had over the past several months.  I have to admit, though, that I had an ulterior motive for wanting to see them all in person.  I wanted them to see me, see that although my dad may look and sound like white trash, he wasn’t.  I wasn’t.  In my mind, if they saw me, heard me, they would understand that Dad always had competent help at hand.  All he ever needed to do was reach out, but he never did.

My fault, that one.  The day he told me he wanted to move to North Carolina, I told him that if he did, “Don’t call me when you get into trouble.”  Other than when Blackie, his dog, was stolen, I rarely heard from him.  When I did, he rambled, and I knew he was drinking.  Many times, I didn’t take his calls.  Just let them go to voicemail.  If he called too often, I wouldn’t listen to my messages.  I couldn’t.  I just didn’t want to hear his overly long messages that told me nothing more than he wasn’t in his right mind when he called.

Should I have cut him off like that, taken away his lifeline?  I think yes.  His neediness and drama had taken a horrible toll on my life, my work, my health.  His very presence stymied my creativity.  I’m a writer.  I’m an editor.  Creativity is what gives me life in every sense of the word.  Though I published, the work was no longer fun.  Only when I hired help for him did I finally find fun in what I do.  When I made the decision to bring him back here, I made the decision to temporarily take the fun out of my life again.  I know the process this time, though.  The downtime will be weeks instead of months.

Day One: Our first stop for him once we arrived in the Sunshine State was to see his doctor, (I’ll call him Dr. Brennan).  Before we went to Social Security, we needed the doctor to sign on a medical form to testify that dad is unable to handle his finances.  It took only moments for Dr. Brennan to say he’d seen enough.  Dad didn’t stop talking the entire time we were in the office.

Then, it was time to go to the credit union to set up his accounts and get the proper paperwork started for the next day’s visit to Social Security.

After that, the grocery store for some staples he could have in his hotel room.

Day Two: The Social Security office visit was like stepping into hell. The place reeked of body odor, even though it was wintertime. People’d brought their children with them. Why would anyone do that? The wait in the SS office is going to be at least three hours if not longer, and there’s not a child on earth who can sit still, let alone be quiet, for that long.  The place itself was bulletproof-glassed and security guarded up just enough to make me feel uneasy stepping inside. What kind of people do they service, anyway?

Once at the counter, the man behind the glass did his level best to make me out to be a child who was going to take advantage of the old man next to me. “Does your dad owe you any money?” He did, about $25,000, but I didn’t say that. “Will you be getting paid for taking care of your dad’s finance or anything else?” Uh, no. The man doesn’t make enough to pay me, let alone pay me back. I just found the little man’s attitude and tone to be offensive. He was, however, quick to get dad set up as we had already been to the credit union and had the account numbers at hand.

Day Three: Clothes shopping. The urine-soaked pants had to go, as did the ill-fitting shoes and women’s sweater and coat dad refused to take off. He did, I must say, find a pair of pants (not his size) laying beside the road that he actually thought I was going to let him wear. I guess that counts for something. The pants were new to him, after all.

Day Four: Forced shower. Threw out old clothes so he had to wear his new ones. Then, off to visit apartment complex after apartment complex after apartment complex. I wanted to try to get find him something he could afford with just his General Motors pension check so we could start saving his Social Security check once it started coming again.

No luck.

With him just getting out of jail, and that jail stay being for passing bad checks, no one–at least on the good side of town–would touch him. In the end, I took him back to where he lived before, the complex right on the other side of my woods. Thankfully, the staff was the same. They all loved dad (who didn’t, right), and they let him come back. I, of course, had to sign for him…

We wound up putting dad in a two bedroom, second-storey (yes, that’s spelled correctly) apartment. Even though he had no furniture, only my air mattress and a couple camping chairs, dad was thrilled to move in immediately.

Now, all I had to do was start furnishing his life. He already said he’d like to get another dog. I could start on that Day Five.

It’s going to be a long rest-of-the-year.

 

The case of the ball that lost its bounce

What is it that stops you in your tracks?  For the past several weeks – several weeks – I have tried to think of how to describe what I have experienced since I brought my dad back to Florida.  It’s not so much frustration as it is pressure, but not the kind of pressure that breeds anxiety.

I’m not anxious.

I know what needs to be done to move ahead, but that’s just the problem.  I know.  I know, because I’ve done it before, and I know not one part of what I have to do is going to be easy or appreciated.  It’s that knowledge that has my stymied.

If you can, imagine yourself inside a ball that’s filled with that gooey stuff inside a stress ball.  I feel as though I’m inside that ball.  I’m a lump that gets manipulated by a huge hand.  Each finger is a different stressor, and I’m desperately trying to press myself back into the relative shelter of the palm.

It’s just not working.  The fingers are rolling me into contortions all over the inside of that ball.

Every breath I take, from the moment I wake until the moment my head hits the pillow (notice I don’t say “sleep”),  I feel the atmosphere compressing that ball.  Think about it:  the force of everything compressing equally over that ball.  I’m in the middle, and I can’t move.  I can’t breathe.  I have to heave a sigh just to take in air, otherwise, my breathing is so shallow, I have to think myself into taking a breath.

My mind feels suspended.  There really isn’t another word for it.  Blank doesn’t quite describe it, neither does empty.  I feel too much inside my head, see too much.  The sense of overwhelm is like a too-thick layer of skin and it paralyzes me.

Don’t get me wrong, to look at me, you wouldn’t know anything was going on with me.  I may strike you as too quiet, aloof even.  All business with a pleasant face.  My humor, as always, would be dark, biting, even self-deprecating.  I’d make you laugh, but only so I can get you to go on your way.

I’m the queen of placation.

The problem is that it takes every ounce of energy for me to emit that façade of interaction.  I would receive no energy from you.  I would only be throwing my energy at you to get you away from me so I could force myself back to the dad-tasks to get them done as quickly as possible so I can accomplish at least one thing for myself.

It doesn’t always happen, the doing something for myself part.  That’s why I need my notebook.  Not my smart-phone, not my laptop, but my plain paper notebook.  Jotting is quicker than booting up and typing.  Flipping is faster than searching.  I need my notebook to quickly show myself what I’ve done as much as to remind me what I need to do.

And that’s just it:  I now have too much to do.  Dad is a 24-7-365 job.  Even though he’s in his own apartment – he’s living on the other side of my woods – Dad calls every couple of hours to ask me if it’s raining where I am.  (He’s about 300 yards away).  He and the dogs will pop over at various times throughout the day to visit.  Unannounced.  Dad just wants to tell me about his day and show me an ungodly number of pictures he’s taken of virtually nothing, and I can’t stand it.  I don’t care that he’s seen the same ducks he’s seen for the past month.  I don’t care that his neighbor has moved in or out.  I don’t care.

I do care that he’s safe and well and that he has enough to eat and that he will always have a place to call his own.  Every day.  I just want that to be enough, but I know it’s not.  I have to dig deeper inside myself, drill out my marrow if I have to, in order to find that last speck of whatever it is – life, I guess – to make me get up tomorrow so I can lead him through another good day in a place that makes him feel secure.