The last time I moved a homeless man into my own house I didn’t write about it at all. Couldn’t. I was paralyzed by my own actions. It was like an out of body experience that began one freezing morning in February when I started picking up my house on auto-pilot. I didn’t really think about it and that’s odd because I’m a person who over thinks everything. I just got up that morning and knew. I was about to have an extremely high maintenance roommate for an undetermined amount of time. It was out of my hands. And it was extreme.
It was like that this time too, especially the out of body, auto pilot part, except this person is very different. There’s no alcohol involved, no crushing sense of regret, no self-loathing or impending doom. That may be a little on the optimistic side. The doom this time around is more potential. This time the Grim Reaper’s just loitering. He isn’t chasing the man down. No. I fear Walter’s death will catch us by surprise. A tumble down two steps into a concrete post, something like that or the sink and tile combo platter in a sad, tan public restroom. Add a drop of water, a caregiver who’s looked away for a single second, a little blood spatter and there you’ll have it: the end of a fascinating and miraculous life.
Some of you already know this most recent chapter in Walter’s life began in December of 2014, when he was evicted from a group home he’d been guided to by his social worker eight years earlier. I could rail on about this incident for days but let’s say that after a month of phone calls I managed to find a room for him at a different group home, just in time for his New Year’s eviction. This solution turned out to be a mistake and a huge strain on everyone involved as they were unaccustomed to the sometimes erratic mannerisms of someone with a traumatic brain injury. A few months in, I took Walter to the doctor and he was put on some statin drug for his high cholesterol. Two weeks later, he was falling down. Hard. He had a series of falls in fact, that led him to the hospital emergency room twice, once with a suspected seizure and several stitches and then a third time when he was finally admitted, having fallen out of a chair at the house. There at the hospital, he was completely confused for the first thirty-six hours, then he sat up in bed and said he’d love to have a cup of coffee. This left me and an entire shift of nurses speechless. Nine days later, he went to a physical rehabilitation center for three weeks. I asked a number of social workers to help me find him a new home during all of this. You would have thought I tossed them a hot steaming cup of Ebola virus. One gentleman offered up an application for TennCare’s CHOICES program, Tennessee’s version of Medicaid. He asked God to make it happen “for Susan and Walter and all of mankind.” He prayed, I filled in the blanks and as with all good acts of God and government, it took a hundred days. During the hundred days, is when the worst of the falling began. One week, Walt was asked to leave Fifty Forward’s Adult day program because suddenly he was “a fall risk.” He’d gone there for years and loved it and loved the people and they him. He didn’t really understand what had happened and kept trying to go out each morning to wait for the bus. When it never came he got depressed and I was very nervous by this time. The group home’s answer to him falling down was to make him lie down in bed. All day, every day. It made the hospital, when he finally got there the last time, feel like a relief. Sort of.
We love to read stories about survivors. Walter’s story is that many times over. Too often that final paragraph, in some artfully crafted, uplifting incarnation is the last we hear of it. Our experience of the story ends there. It’s a convenient stopping point and we turn the metaphorical page, feeling good about ourselves and the outcome. This story is the post script to that. It’s what happens after the paper’s put to bed; after the show closes. Reading it you may feel really good one minute and sick at your stomach the next. I won’t apologize for that. There are too many people out there living it every day. Eventually, they’d call me on it.
Walter’s rent came due just as he was going to rehab and although we paid it, the group home moved his things into a shed behind the house. They believed as I did, that we’d find a place for him to live any minute now; that his Medicaid would “kick in” and some miracle would take place, that someone would step up to the plate for this man. Then his insurance company “released” him from the rehabilitation center with two days notice.
That is when a bunch of professional problem solvers turned to me in a conference room and asked, for maybe the fourth time in three months:
“Miss Adcock, what is it you want for Mr. Burns’ future?”