Side Effects

This time last year I was giving my friend Walter a ride to physical therapy on Mondays and Thursdays. That was right about the time he went into the tail spin that brought him to live at my house for five months. Statin drugs. That’s what started it all. Certainly there will be a few physicians out there who’ll read that sentence and cough up a little chuckle as Walter’s GP did right before she totally blew off my reservations and handed me the prescription. Common side effects however, of statin drugs used to treat high cholesterol include muscle pain or damage and confusion. Walter deals with both of these issues regularly and has for forty-seven years but he’s always been high-functioning. His missteps have a certain rhythm. Now I’m not convinced that a drug that causes muscle damage can tell the difference between a thigh muscle and a heart, that’s an argument for a different day but it came as no surprise that the addition of these drugs into Walter’s system created the perfect storm. I watched it happen.

Two weeks after he started taking them he began falling down. He complained that his hip hurt, then his shoulder. Everyone said “Well he fell in his room yesterday. His hip probably does hurt.” Six weeks of it and he was officially dismissed from Fifty Forward’s adult daycare program. He’d fallen in their bathroom, banged his head open and had a seizure in the ambulance. They said he was only allowed to return if he stayed in their wheelchair instead of using his walker but the concept was so new to him that he kept standing up by accident. A week later he was sent home permanently for “being defiant.”

The man has a brain stem injury and he isn’t perfect but I’d known Walter to be defiant once in twenty years and he was being verbally assaulted at the time. I tried to explain to her what was happening in his mind but she’d already made up hers and he went home that day confused and anxious. He’d been happily attached to Fifty Forward and all the people there for six years and it was the third time he’d been physically extricated from a group of friends by a system that supports ignorance and uses HIPAA to protect itself from scrutiny and conflict. Put simply, they were afraid of being sued. Walter had someone looking after him, someone who was paying attention and instead of seeing the good in that, they got spooked and pushed him away. So he sat outside on the porch of that group home for the next few mornings and waited for a bus that didn’t come.

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

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?”

Slick City (continued)

Part 2

I’m not sure what part of a person’s brain is responsible for it but Walter’s sense of humor is completely intact. He’s pretty good on an escalator too but watching him can make a person nervous. Earlier that morning during our bank visit, I insisted (much against his gentlemanly nature) on riding the escalator behind him. We were going up.

He said, “If I fall down this thing and take you with me, who’s going to call the ambulance?”

“It’s Regions Bank Walter,” I said, “they probably have an EMT and a lawyer on standby.”

“Neat,” he said.

We successfully navigated the two escalators that took us to the library but getting there wasn’t free of challenges.

Between the parking garage and the check out desk we were nearly run over half a dozen times. By people. Each time it was like trying to dodge a cannon ball. Four people were talking on cell phones. They glanced in his direction just long enough to convey their irritation. One person visibly relaxed after seeing him from the front but not a single person slowed down. Twice, someone stopped to hold the door for Walt but when it came to walking patiently then behind him, only one meditative soul was able to jump into a different groove for the fifteen seconds it took him to get through the lobby door. Fifteen seconds doesn’t seem like a long time until there’s someone behind you huffing their aggravation. It was nice that one person was able to resist. Of course, Walter was apologizing at every turn; even when a child (maybe three or four years old) ran between him and the walking stick to get by.

The people working at the library interact with a wide variety of people so nothing much takes them by surprise. I steered Walter to the counter where he was given his new library card and then across the lobby to a doorway that led to the latest fiction. I breathed a sigh of relief once we made it to the carpet.

He walked into the room, picked up a book and with little in the way of deliberation announced, “I’ll take it!” and headed for the door.

“That’s it?” I said “You don’t want to look around or sit down or anything?”

He looked back over his shoulder at me, amused. “Nope.”

He checked out the book and we headed for the coffee shop.

I knew from that bank visit that Walter had ten dollars. Whenever we go to the bank he withdraws either five or ten dollars which charms the socks right off the tellers every time. Walter had decided he was going to buy me lunch for bringing him to the library but when he lumbered up to the refrigerated case he reevaluated this decision. Salads were six dollars. Sandwiches were nearly eight.

“What else do you get with that?” he said to me, pointing at the shelf.

“I don’t know Walter,” I said “maybe you should ask that gentleman behind the counter.”

Knowing full well this was a set-up I redirected his attention, “Soup is three dollars, what if you buy that and I’ll get us something to drink?”


He agreed and we sat at a table facing the windows. I could tell he was happy just being out of his usual surroundings. He slid the new book over in front of him and reached in his pocket to retrieve a hard shelled case. He gingerly removed a pair of reading glasses and at that point I was forced to suppress a giggle. “Where did you get those glasses Walter?” I asked him. They were trimmed with rhinestones. Before he could answer one of the lenses popped out onto the table. He removed the glasses, carefully replaced it and returned them to his nose whereupon the other lens fell out. Suddenly, I felt like we were in a cartoon.

“Jesus Walter,” I said “I think maybe you could use a new pair of glasses.”

“But the problem is:” he said, “I never have any money leftover, or any way to get to a store that sells glasses.”

“Well,” I said, “after we eat, I say we run by the Family Dollar and get a pair. They’ll be like six dollars or something. We’ll call it a birthday present.”

“My birthday isn’t until December,”

“Okay, then it’s just a gift.”

“I can’t promise you rhinestones though.”

“All right,” he said sipping his coffee.

“Slick City.”