The Feedback

(Note: This is the second part of a story that begins HERE.)

“What I want for Mr. Burns’ future is what I assume you all want for yours” I said, looking around at the blank faces in the room. “So let’s think about that, shall we? I want him to have a nice, warm, clean place to live, where he feels comfortable and doesn’t have to worry about bedbugs or sitting around in his own urine day after day. I want him to live in a place with caregivers who really do care about and understand him; people who enjoy propping him up and maintaining his dignity. I want him to have nutritious food that might actually prolong his life, not promote his death. I want him to have friends and activities that stimulate and reward his creative side. I want him to have a hot cup of coffee every morning and a sunny window to sit in when he reads because here’s a man who’s spent his entire adult life at the mercy of people with too much to do and not enough time or resources to do it. He deserves the same happiness as you or I do and that’s what I want for his future.”

They all sat there for a long minute staring at their paperwork. No “Happiness” box to tick off, no “Needs a foster family” option. Finally, the social worker said: “We really appreciate your feedback Miss Adcock. He’ll be discharged on Saturday. Feel free to call us if there’s anything else we can do.”

I fought the urge to ask what they’d done so far and let the words sink in, hoping I could remember them exactly. Then I left the rehabilitation center and drove to WalMart where: with what would have been Walt’s next rent payment I bought him all new clothes including socks and underwear, a coat, a new pillow, a mattress cover, a reading lamp, a thermal coffee cup, some reading glasses, an electric razor, a television (because mine is in the bedroom) and an old-school antenna. That afternoon when I got home I disassembled my living room and had a big, screaming fist fight with God, who by all accounts, had just given Walter exactly what I’d asked for.

also see Slick City

Batter Up

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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?”

Ten months out

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Inauguration Day for Tennessee's Governor Bill Haslam, January 15, 2011

This is not the view I had hoped for on this day but it was the one that was offered.

I’ll never be able to think about this event in a serious way at all which is probably for the best. Stella was with me that day and we hadn’t really planned on going to the inauguration but found ourselves trapped backstage just as it began. We were surrounded by the Tennessee Highway Patrol and I’m guessing a number of Homeland Security personnel. You can see some of them high up on the building in the photo. It made me think of a time once when the Secret Service surrounded the Ryman Auditorium for Al Gore’s birthday party. On the way to shoot it I casually gazed up at a guy on the roof and had the camera halfway to my eye before realizing he was looking back at me through a scope. Talk about your epiphanies.

And here we were now at the state Capitol right in the thick of it on Inauguration Day. Many of you have already read the story over at Carny Dog (here’s the link) so I won’t elaborate further except maybe to say the gist of it is this: when we walked past the bomb dog (or whatever) my dog started walking like Jennifer Lopez and I think it’s safe to say he went haywire. So yes, the point was, I will never think of this day without laughing which is better than a huge sense of regret I suppose.

More photos from that day are below. They are an odd contrast to the images we see coming from Legislative Plaza of late.

paraderelics

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Federal judge orders TN to stop arresting occupy Nashville protesters for curfew violation

Lastly, isn’t it ironic that Occupy Wall Street protesters would be annoyed by homeless people? This may actually be a topic for another post.
Dissenting, or Seeking Shelter? Homeless Stake a Claim at Protests