Still Learning How to Fly ~ Chapter Thirteen: "Talented Teacher" (Pt.4)

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 21st Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

In today's concluding installment from Chapter 13, my 82 year old dad experiences a severe stroke right at the end of the school year which begins our "Summer from Hell" as Nancy and I rush off to his bedside.

The Summer From Hell

Fortunately for me and for her Nancy was passably healthy (at least she had leveled off) as the 2003 school year drew to a close, because at it would turn out we were about to go through our summer of hell. With just two days left on my school calendar before summer break my sister, Sandi called early in the morning from our hometown in Michigan to frantically inform me that our dad had suffered a severe stroke in the middle of the night a few hours earlier. He was in intensive care. I told her we’d be leaving as soon as we could pack a few things which we did, and we were out the door. Thank God for cell phones. As we were driving out of state across the Indiana line on the south side of Chicago, I called my school and got hold of my assistant principal and explained our situation. She said that my classes would be covered for the final two days of the school year and not to worry, and she’d see me in the fall. And with that we continued on expecting not a lot, but hoping and praying for it.

We covered the 200 miles back to Jackson in a little over three hours to find my dad had been moved out of intensive care and into a regular step-down room. We talked with his physicians to discover that after suffering a massive stroke he was in stable condition, but at this point it was just a wait and see situation. He was unable to speak and was paralyzed on his right side (if I recall the side correctly).

We went into the room and tried to visit and of course he tried to speak which he couldn’t, but he was alert enough to understand that we were there, and he grabbed my hand with his and he squeezed it with a fairly strong grip I thought. I kept trying to comfort him and told him it would be all right though I knew it wouldn’t. I just kept rubbing his arm and told him to rest, and after a few minutes Nancy and I went out in the hall to talk to Sandi, and she filled us in on the whole story of the night before.

It seems that Dad had gotten up out of his chair in the living room to go to bed and collapsed, and Mom had freaked, and she’d called Sandi (who lived a couple of miles around the corner), and so she and John hurried over to find Dad lying on the floor half-dead. John called 9-1-1 and got an ambulance there, and the rest was history. But that’s when they found out what nobody apparently had caught onto all this time.

We all knew Mom was getting a little dotty, forgetful. But as it turned out Dad had been covering up for her, and what looked like a little bit of old-age (to make a long story short), we figured out over the first two days there turned out to be Stage 1 Alzheimer’s. And she wasn’t in the early stages of Stage 1 either. Of course, we found all of this out a little later.

Oh Boy! This was going to be a really fun summer!

The night after we arrived my dad suffered a major heart attack which did not kill him, but it was a major setback. He went into a coma, and the doctors made him comfortable. It would now be only a matter of time. I was glad we’d made it there to see him alert enough before this setback happened.

That morning in the hallway of the hospital in front of my dad’s room we ran into three of my girl cousins Sherry, Sally, and Shelley and we were wondering why they were there if only because we hadn’t had the presence of mind to inform the family yet of what was going on . . . though we should have.

As it turned out, my Aunt Mildred (their mom) who was 18 months older than my dad had suffered a stroke 18 hours prior to him at her home in Lake Columbia. She had lain there for hours and hours before one of the neighbors had heard her calling for help and had broken a glass and rescued her getting an ambulance. She’d been in another part of the hospital, and now they’d just moved her into the room adjoining my dad having absolutely no idea of the connection. The brother and sister lay in beds head-to-head separated by a three inch wall. Can you say Twilight Zone? My dad would pass four days later unaware of this. Or would he? My cousins decided that they would wait a couple days until my aunt was more stable before they would break the news gently to her, because we knew she would make it. She would go on to a rehab center for awhile and live for another year and a half.

All of this was just the beginning of our summer from Hell. Recall that my dad was the third of four children. My Uncle Harry, the youngest was the first to pass some two decades earlier from lung cancer. That left the three eldest, and then my dad went at the age of 82 a week after his birthday in 2003 while his just older sister recuperated from her stroke in the hospital. The eldest, my Uncle Lew resided in a nursing home in Spring Arbor and suffered from major dementia, and so his kids, my cousins were trying to figure out how to break all of this news to him about my dad and my aunt and their strokes (this even before my dad passed). They didn’t have to. Just a couple days after my dad’s stroke and before he passed Lew stopped eating. Just stopped! He starved to death two weeks to the day after my dad passed. The funeral was at the same funeral home, and when we walked in the funeral director did a double-take looking at me incredulously. I just nodded my head. At least I didn’t have to plan this funeral, but I was sad.

Nancy and I were just staying in the area with her aunt and uncle, Karyn and Roy, because it was summer break, and there was a lot of stuff to do. Mom could not be left alone for long. We’d soon discovered that not only did she not understand anymore how to operate the microwave oven, but she couldn’t operate the thermostat to change the temperature, and there were times when she wasn’t certain what a light switch was. This was telling me loud and clear: Alzheimer’s, which was confirmed by a visit to a professional within the first two weeks.

You see, we’d gone through many eye-openers with mom. I’d been with Dad when he passed. Sandi was at work, Nancy was in the room but she was snoozing, Mom was at home (because she was constantly making trouble at the hospital), and so it was just me and him. And when he went I stood up to grab his hand and I told him to let go which you could tell he did. And this transpired as Nancy woke up and saw it happening. She jumped up and went to alert a nurse who then alerted a doctor who pronounced him.

We then called Sandi, and then went to the house where Sandi met us and we all went in to inform Mom. “Thank God,” she said. “I’m free at last!” And she threw her hands up in the air like she’d been emancipated by Lincoln himself. Quite frankly I wanted to slap her!

The three of us looked at each other in utter horror! We’d just lost our dad while our mom sat here with a look of bliss on her face. What the hell was going on? Was she nuts? Was she losing it? Who knew? Perhaps it was a little bit real, a little bit crazy. With this woman, one never really could be absolutely certain.

A bit more history. A few years earlier sometime in the 80’s before Mom had retired from the garment factory where she hung up clothes in the warehouse, Sandi got a call from Mom’s pastor at the church she was going to at that time not far from their home (a different one than the baptist one we’d gone to as kids). He needed to talk to Sandi and me personally, and so a meeting was set up, and Nancy and I drove down from Mason and Sandi and I met with him.

Without going into all the details it would appear that Mom had fallen in love with her much younger pastor, but not only that, she was passing him a bunch of writings (not love notes, perhaps ramblings would be a better choice), and in those writings one could tell that she was unbalanced, that she was not well upstairs. His plea was to get her help, and please, get her to stop pursuing him. We’d take care of it we assured him.

Sandi and I met with Mom and Dad. We showed them the copies of the evidence, and they ignored everything . . . like usual. The only thing to come out of it was that we insisted that she stop writing anything to this man which she did, and she eventually left that church. Poor guy.

However, it wasn’t too very long later that Mom got overly aggressive at her place of employment and she snapped one day and threatened a co-worker with a clipboard. Sounds like my mom. Clipboard, fly swatter, yardstick. She never used a clipboard on me, but then she never had access to one. At any rate, she was put on medical leave and was not allowed to come back to work until further notice, and what that meant was she had to get psychiatric treatment. It was mandatory for her reinstatement. I believe she was off for almost a year. But during that time she saw the guy a couple of times a month, and I recall her saying to me one time, “Oh I just tell him what he wants to hear.” And you know, I believe she was telling me the truth of it with that remark. That woman knew how to manipulate if nothing else. But eventually she would return to work and at least keep it under control enough to retire in 1989 I think.

But now she needed to be cared for because she could no longer care for herself. If the situation had been reversed, I’m certain that either Sandi and John, or Nancy and I would have been happy to take Dad into either of our homes, but Mom? Nope. Sorry. Wasn’t about to happen. Fortunately, Dad had tucked away their money a bit into savings, and we put the house up for sale which sold almost overnight and for a reasonable price which we tucked away for her. We then placed her in a decent assisted living facility which was in a good location so that Sandi and John could look in on her from time to time. It was located about four miles from their home, and just a couple miles from her brother Gerald’s. We were about ready to move her when the next shoe fell.

Remember I said this was our summer from Hell. Two weeks after my Uncle Lew passed, my mom’s sister, my Aunt Rena passed. She’d been in a nursing home out on the south side of the county, and in four weeks time I’d lost my dad, an aunt, uncle, and almost lost another aunt, and placed my mom in assisted living due to Alzheimer’s. They were dropping like flies! Can you say The Outer Limits? That’s where I felt my sanity was floating.

My Uncle Gerald was Rena’s executor, and he was pretty broken up over all of this having been to my dad’s funeral also, and so he asked me if I’d help him arrange her funeral to which I agreed. So when we walked into the same funeral home together and the director saw me, he placed his hand on my shoulder and offered his condolences and said something to the effect that this was unprecedented! I had to agree.

After Rena’s funeral and by the time we moved Mom into assisted living almost six weeks of summer break had flown by and it was our anniversary. We made our escape back to Chicago to see if there was anything we could do to salvage what had been a horrible summer. We slipped away somewhere, I don’t even recall where for a couple days, and then we heard about a riverboat cruise up on the Mississippi River in LaCrosse, Wisconsin and we were off! We managed to salvage a few days of something to restore some sanity in our lives that summer to recharge our batteries. It was just a day cruise out of LaCrosse, but we had fun. And fun was what we needed most.

The Lure of the Lush Desert

Because of the open wounds of our drastic summer from Hell, I began the school year in a funk. My physician really wanted me to stop driving the 40 miles into Chicago to go to work. While I’d stopped the shooting pains in my legs and my feet, the neuropathy had progressed to the point that I was having great difficulty feeling my foot on the accelerator and the brake. Driving was getting to be a hazard for me.

One of the teachers I worked with, my good friend the computer teacher, lived in a neighboring suburb a few miles away, and so beginning with the 2003/2004 school year we worked out a deal where Nancy would drive me to a parking lot at a grocery store near his home in the morning and he’d pick me up there and we’d ride together to school, and then she’d pick me up there in the afternoon. I’d help out with the gas. But somehow we all knew that I was nearing the end of the line. My physical health was just getting too bad just like Nancy’s.

Thrown into the mix was the fact that I was teaching each day while taking Vicodin. Now I never felt any adverse effects or high from taking these, they always went right to the back pain (they never helped with the leg pain at all). But I never felt comfortable about being in front of a classroom full of kids while being on narcotics despite the fact they were prescribed. And so partway through the year I got to thinking that it was about time to get my disability retirement from CPS. I couldn’t stand up to teach, I couldn’t drive to work anymore, we weren’t going to relocate into Chicago, and with my dad’s passing it was like the wind was taken out of my sails. It was time to go. A gentleman knows when to leave.

I sailed through as easily as Nancy had. At 53 years old and with a masters degree and 13 years in CPS I was at the top of my pay scale making over $60,000 a year. I’m sure they were happy to replace me with younger and cheaper blood. Still, I’d hoped to teach another ten years. I’d loved where I was and what I was doing, and who I was doing it with. Now I would have to go.

On top of that, Nancy and I had decided to leave town. We thought that the best place for my back and her COPD might be the dry Southwest. At least we were willing to give it a try. Our nephew, Ben, one of her sister Evelyn’s sons lived in Tucson, Arizona, and he’d long wanted us to come for a visit. In fact, Burt and Evelyn had just relocated themselves out there, too. So, I called Ben and made arrangements for a visit in July. Just me alone. Nancy was in no health to go. Again she was trusting me to find a mobile home park for us to retire to. And while I was in Tucson, she would stay behind trying to sell our condo. Supposedly it was a good time to sell.

So shortly after the 4th of the July holiday I landed at Tucson International Airport. It was a sunny and reasonably hot afternoon. What else in Arizona? I rented a car and made my way to the nearest Motel 6, my usual choice. I’m cheap. I was already impressed with all the palm trees. It was called a lush desert. The so-called monsoon season had just begun, and shortly after I arrived at the motel a huge downpour blew up suddenly although I’d noticed the huge, billowy cumulus clouds growing larger and darker on my way over. Fifteen minutes later the wind and rain had passed, and I waited another ten before I went outside in the bright sunshine to witness the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. Even more beautiful than the Aurora Borealis I’d seen a few years earlier. Looking to the north and east of the motel toward the Santa Catalina Mountains which are a magnificent sight in themselves on any ordinary day I stood looking at my first perfectly-formed double rainbow. It was as if God had placed his blessing upon my visit here. Welcome to Tucson. I hadn’t even been there much over an hour.

While I was in Tucson Nancy was back in Oswego selling the house, and I mean selling. Just before I left we’d signed on with a realtor who began showing it just as I left and it sold in four days before I got back . . . for just a couple thousand less than we were asking (which was a $30,000 profit over five years earlier.) It’s about time we did something right.

Chickening Out

Of course this had impressed upon me the necessity of finding something perfect in Tucson. But before I went through with all of this you must understand that I had a long, long talk with myself about coming out to Nancy, and spilling the beans and telling her my heart, selling the condo, splitting the proceeds and just me moving to Tucson or whatever we worked out and that would have been the smart thing to do. Yes! That would have been honest. And it would have been brave. But I wasn’t brave at least not yet.. Again, I chickened out. I actually thought I could do it. I could carry my secret to my grave and be her knight in shining armor, and take care of her, and we would move to Tucson and live happily ever after . . . Ah! Who was I fooling? Me and only me. Well, and I guess her, of course, and so I continued my quest for our perfect retirement nest.

I’d checked out many senior (55+) retirement villages, and remember that I wasn’t 55 yet. But I found out that there happened to be a federal code that exempted disabled folks under the Americans With Disabilities Act to the point that a certain percentage of the senior villages could be under 55, and I found one that could allow Nancy and me in under the ADA. And it was perfect. They had three mobile homes for sale for us to choose from, and I called Nancy with the details. All were good, but one was great. A double-wide on a corner lot. The price was right. With the sale of the condo, we could pay for it all outright, but I didn’t want to bankrupt us, so we put half down and got a low interest loan from a local credit union. That plus our lot rental were affordable.

Nancy was going to love this place. The community had two swimming pools, and if it’s one thing Nancy loved to do it was swim.

I flew back to Chicago with plans for us to move out to Tucson in September 2004. All the pieces were falling into place. One era was ending, and another was beginning. I just had no idea at the time the total upheaval which lay shortly ahead of us.

(This concludes Chapter 13 AND Part 2 of the book. Beginning with the next installment, we begin the final part of the book, Part 3, "From the Closet Into the Light")

Link to next installment . . .

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Alzheimers, Alzheimers Disease, Alzheimers Illness, Autobiography, Gay, Gay Experience, Gay Lesbian And Bisexual, Gay Men, Gays, Glbt, Lgbt, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Psychiatry, Psychosis, Serial, Series, Stroke, Teacher, Teachers, Teaching, Teaching Children, True Experiences, True Stories, True Story

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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