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Daddy's Last Days: Visiting John Compton After His Fall
All Words & Photograph Copyright 2015 by J R Compton. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction in Any Medium Without Specific Written Permission — unless you are family.
This document of Anna's & my visit is a work in progress. I add and subtract pictures, edit and rewrite words and change the spaces. NEW PIX. Slight editorial below.
Mom on the phone in the living room
Daddy fell, broke his shoulder in one clean break across three bones, but that wasn't all the damage.
Mom driving down the hill to The Mission
Mom found him, called the ambulance, and they took him to the hospital for his fifth or six hospital visit in the last year or so. He'd been having a yet undiagnosed issue with extreme stomach pains, and now whatever he has now is also yet undiagnosed, but for different reasons, as we shall see but not quite yet understand.
Luckily, Air Force Village, now called Blue Skies of Texas to attract non-retired military retirees, has a facility called The Mission down the hill from the residences, that specializes in serving Medicare patients who show improvement. That's where Daddy was when we visited, although he may movie again soon.
Anna & Mom reflected in the front door panel
The Mockingbird section is upstairs on the Ground Level floor, and the Bluebonnet rooms where Daddy lived when I wrote this was downstairs and unheralded by such sign. Upstairs is at ground level in the front, and downstairs, which is ground level in the back, is on the level below, especially notable on the elevator buttons, which thoroughly confused us on nearly every of our visits, but it eventually made sense.
Mom & Anna
Behind them and on up the hill are the main residences of what for many decades was called Air Force Village, but is now "Blue Skies Over Texas." Mom's taking us on our first visit to The Mission.
The view down to the Lower Level from near the Elevator
We spent a lot of time waiting for the especially slow elevator, trying to decide whether we were going down to the Lower Level or up to the Ground Level.
"Visitors Please Check with the Nurse Before Entering"
is what the Xeroxed sign in bold print stated from every door we entered, but there was never a nurse to be found to ask or check with, and by then we had already entered.
old photograph of Air Force Village, circa the early 2000s
Almost all the shorter, one-story apartment buildings on this side of the higher rises are gone now. Only the few that people still live in remain. Over the years, Anna and I and others of my siblings and families have stayed in the ones gone, and they were lovely places, a little reminiscent of the better air base quarters we'd lived in growing up. I think that building at the bottom left of this photo was the beginnings of what is now The Mission.
Newer apartments on the hill down from Air Force Village proper
The Mission is farther down the hill and behind those taller buildings set into the far side of this hill. From the first time I realized how close it was I promised myself I'd walk it up and down, and it took till the last day we were there till I did, twice,. Though it was raining, it was a pleasant walk, although I doubt if Mom or Dad could make it. Or would want to. The road, somewhere off to the right, would have been easier, but I took the direct route, picking my way through muddy fields past mostly saplings.
"Well, thanks for all the information."
That's what the guy on the TV screen is saying in the caption. It seemed appropriate to our visit to San Antonio — especially with Dad's deteriorating condition and our confusions and his. I'd hoped to unlax in something decent at the Mission between visits with Daddy, but there wasn't much on the TV in the extended dining/ living area, but. I eventually had some down-time in Mom & Dad's old apartment — and they had every channel on every network, plus many more, although they usually only watched Fox TV. I didn't even watch that.
The TV in the visiting family quarters that Anna and I stayed in had about twenty. Not that we had much TV time or interest. The digs weren't exactly swank, but way more very pleasant, and it was on a corner, so we could see miles and miles into the rain and fog.
John Looking toward Mom
This is a look I'd never seen on Daddy's face before. It frightened me, but not as much as everything seemed to disturb him.
Daddy Staring Off into Space
He looked so confused, lost and disconnected. Often, he just stared off into space.
Years ago, on may way to Canada to circumnavigate Lake Superior, but stuck at the border while a police person thoroughly searched my car, because I had Texas plates. He said he was looking for guns, but who knew what he could find in that mess. I called Daddy, and he answered the phone, because Mom was buying groceries. I asked him what he was doing, and he surprised me by saying, "Oh, just staring off into space." That was so very unusual for my father to be direct and personal, and I've always remembered that as our most real conversation ever., but I remember many that ended with citrus, because he could always talk about citrus more easily than anything else.
A oft-repeated pose
Now, unfortunately, he's absent most of the time. We were all so proud of him for keeping it together at the tender age of 101. When I tell people about him, they tell me I had good genes, but being so much like him could be a mixed blessing.
This is the next room down the hall.
This almost looks like the Daddy I used to know.
I was almost always searching his faces for signals from the Daddy I've known for more than 70 years. But this didn't seem to be him anymore.
Daddy in distress
The other patients I saw at Bluebonnet wore simpler outfits — though the nurses did not. It is said that people with cognitive diseases need simplified surroundings. That blanket jarred my senses every time I saw it, and I live in visual havoc. The rooms were simple with blinds pulled down and large areas of muted colors, like the pillows holding him up. But he's wearing his always usual plaid shirts and that blanket.
Anger, Pain, Confusion or Something I couldn't fathom
Unless he was absorbed into something, I think he was almost always in pain during our visit. Before the Mission, he'd been to four or five different hospitals and had so many tests, and they still don't know what's wrong with his stomach. But anyone could tell his lower middle hurt, and it kept him up nights before he fell, and it still keeps him up days and nights and in between. You'd think by now somebody would have figured it out.
The most comfortable I saw him except when he was asleep
I worry about his pain, because people keep telling me how much I look like my father, and I know some of our blood vessels are enough alike that we share the same pains in the same places, and I'd really like to know what the deal is with all the pain he's been suffering. The latest diagnosis is reticulitis, but that doesn't explain enough. And I'm not the only sibling with similar issues and pains.
Mom showed us this, but it took a long time to understand and implement its odd way of dealing. Twice when we visited him there were four or five people at the table at the far end of his bedroom, all asking him questions at once — that he couldn't possibly answer. Looking back and finally understanding this message, I'm embarrassed I didn't catch on quicker.
Mom especially needed to know why Daddy was in the room where he fell and broke his shoulder, precipitating sudden illness and enormous change. It seemed like a spectator sport to go visit Daddy, when what he needed and responded best to was someone talking quietly with him, touching him gently or helping him with something. I think touch is really the only way to effectively communicate with him now.
Mom Feeding John
The last time I'd seen Mom and Dad, they were independent and self-mobile. Dad was walking a mile every morning and Mom using her walker, so she wouldn't fall again. So it was a shock to see him completely dependent on other people. When any of us were there, he did not feed himself, although the nurses reported twice during our visit, that he had eaten breakfast by himself.
the mobile dysphagia crew
Trauma Drama at The Mission:
We thought we were going to get to watch Daddy do his therapy exercises, but they had him scheduled for an X-ray swallowing test.
Cold enough to wear a parka
Guy came and got Dad from his room. Told him where he was taking him, but I doubt Daddy knew what that meant. We didn't. The guy whisked Dad out the room, down the hall and up the elevator, and I thought he was taking him to another room at The Mission.
Slumped at the Swallow Test
But to our surprise, the guy whipped him out into the cold, cold outside to a big van.
Nobody ever explained why.
Daddy is miserable cold.
It was 43 degrees F outside and soon as that cold wind hit Daddy in just his thin shirt, he started crying and shaking in pain and cold and shock.
I thought this crew from Louisiana Dysphagia was poor of spirit and seriously in need of human kindness or compassion. Anna put her jacket on him, but he'd already been wantonly injured and was screaming and loudly moaning in pain and cold.
Daddy's innards glowing
Two words too similar:
Dysphasia is a language disorder marked by deficiency in generation of speech, and its comprehension, due to brain disease or damage.
Dysphagia is difficulty or discomfort in swallowing, as a symptom of progressive dysphagia.
The words are so similar, and Dad may have both, but we did not learn more about either from this crew.
Dysphagia tech in a thick, padded, warm coat
Todd later explained that persons with Daddy's so-far undiagnosed condition have mixed and confused pain / cold / discomfort signals that are sometimes multiplied. Dad should have got at least a jacket or a blanket, before he went out into the wind.
Swallow Test Screen Detail
Then the Dysphasiaed Dysphagia crew positioned him in different ways without any coaching. Even Dad could tell they didn't give a damn about him, till at nearly the end of their tests, when he loudly and carefully enunciated, "Get me out of here!" — the longest full sentence I heard him utter, and within a minute, they took him out into the cold wind again. He was crying in pain and helplessness. Guy took him back to his room and just left him there, where we watched and worried, and the Mission staff ignored him.
John in Jacket being lowered
The white at the corners of Dad's mouth was stuff that made his innards glow on the screens in the Swallow Test van. They made some attempt to wipe it off his face, but Daddy wasn't very cooperative, and they didn't seem to care.
I thought they must be poor of spirit and desperately in need of redemption. Eventually, they lowered the ramp and off-loaded Daddy.
Still cold and shaking in the elevator
And the guy wheeled him down the elevator to Bluebonnet, miserable and defeated. They didn't notify anybody about the condition they had visited upon him, and no one greeted or helped him. He just lay in his bed in pain and cold, unable to rest or sleep.
Daddy was in distress the rest of the morning and into the day. When it was time for his therapy, that my brother John and Mom had both strongly suggested we watch — probably to see his spirit climb and him actually accomplish something he enjoyed, he could hardly stand up and and only barely participated. This is about as much therapy he got that day, as gently kind and careful his therapist was. She did manage to slightly exercise his hands and arms, out and back together.
Mom Feeding John
Most of my life, Dad was known as Jack. Then, only Mom ever called him John, I think, as a term of endearment. In the last few decades, he's become John to everybody who didn't already call him Daddy or Grandpa.
Doctor Peters' Office
I often arrange my photo essays chronologically, but straight chron is too facile and misses opportunities for subtle and overt connections. I tried to arrange these images and thoughts in the order they were recorded in my camera or brain, but they refused to go along, insisting to be bunched in other ways. I thought they were just being difficult, but gradually I learned this way works. There are reasons, just as there were reasons Daddy had not yet got a specific diagnosis or prognosis, but those things are difficult for some of us to deal with.
A painting in Doctor Peters' office
I often wonder why story-tellers like in the movies, turn stories inside out and backwards to tell them, but I now think I understand. I tried to present this emotional journey logically, but it just wouldn't. Artists talk about their materials guiding them, and authors say they listen to their characters. My pictures insisted on this arrangement. It seems to work. Maybe they know what they're doing.
the Air Force Village multidenominational chapel
Just around the corner from the doctor's office. I liked their simplified, cubist version of the cross, but I liked most this one dissecting the Holy Ghost, who's been my favorite of the three. Pure spirit. Perhaps my most religious aspect is that I love stained-glass windows.
Some jewelry Anna liked
She got the feather near the lower right for the price noted here, $1. There were many handcrafts on sale in window units we passed several times every day.
Yo-yo The Clown
I did not want one, but I found this interesting to photograph — so bright blazingly colorful and oddly textured in ruffles upon ruffles. I even liked the way this altogether too happy clown seemed to be floating behind the glass window of the crafts area by the post office downstairs.
Mom has made Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls for family members for decades, and I remember seeing those there, too. But she now says she's made her last Raggedy. Hand-cut and stitched by my mother, like many of our clothes were — and all of our costumes for Halloween and such. I especially remember a Saint Patrick costume that looked like I was a green pope, complete with a pointed bishop's hat and a snake wrapped around my staff.
I was up in our room alone and needing to take different sorts of photograph of and around our vacation spa, so I scanned the exterior landscape for colorful oddities and found these.
More Roof Art
I've always appreciated art that wasn't intended as art almost better than art that was, but I guess that's only been the last 50 or so years. I'm always on the lookout for more.
Another Cruciform on the Landscape
I photographed this out the corner window of Anna's and my suite — we were expecting a single bedroom — till I got the details in the cross and its rounded Reddy Kilowatt fists and head just perfect. I never even noticed the trees and landscape behind. These are just what was there. I never even saw the trees on the other side of the highway, the dark rood just stuck up beyond the farthest roof on this side of AFV.
a neighboring pool
I keep wondering what that stunted and rounded green figure right of the linear cactus might be. Is that one, big creepy eye on the face side we can barely see?
I loved the patchwork quilt quality of the engineering in this object.
That's the title and why I liked this at another far edge of one of the roofs I looked down on.
These glasses seemed way too small to be of much use — maybe demitasse for cordials, but I loved the way the light shot through their rich, dense colors and clear crystal edges and curves.
the winter trees are clear enough but the wold beyond is vague and oddly colored
It looks bluish on my other monitor, and I wanted that here but I couldn't coax it into this subtle tone at 6:45 ayem after working on this page all night.
The Insider's Guide …
This is in Mom's apartment, what had been their happy home. I was still looking for interesting things to photograph, and Mom had told me I could have some of her ice cream anytime I wanted, and right then I needed it, but I didn't want to go off-campus. Besides I had to take more photos of their walls of pictures — of all the people who populate these stories.
The Room Where Daddy Fell in the Middle of the Night
And suffered in pain for more than three hours while Mom slept in their quiet bedroom two rooms away. He said he'd been calling for her, but she was soundlessly asleep for the night. When she woke and discovered him gone, then lying with a broken shoulder, Mom called an ambulance, and they took Daddy into his new condition at the tender age of 101. That's his roll-top desk on the right where he did his thinking. He probably had an idea he wanted to check out, then fell in the darkness.
Kids and kids and kids of kids. How families grow — my nieces and their families.
Gold ball bowl and succulent
Another elevator floor marker I saw too often going the wrong up or down.
Todd and Mary Ann arrive
Downstairs on the way to dinner. There's another photo with more smiling faces, and more of Mom and her walker, but I really like the softness of this one. All that depth, and t doesn't hurt that Mom is framing the big picture.
Mary Ann and Todd at Dinner
Todd was a great source of information about the medical aspects of what is concerning us all. He brought what he'd learned working with doctors for so many years on what we needed to know and made it sane and comprehensible. Doctors can be helpful if we know the right questions, and nurses have their opinions, too, of course, but they won't tell anybody until after they trust you. We asked, and Todd told us true and direct.
I made a recording of some of what was said over interesting food and should be quoting here and there through this long page. Mom and me and Anna all learned and learned. We needed that. Information is the most difficult game of it.
And Anna smiling
I probably didn't notice them at dinner inside with that stormy night out, but I like seeing the spiral of life curled in upon itself and protected, hanging from her ears. And that amazing grin.
Mom wanted to show us the basement.
After dinner, we enjoyed spelunking along the darkened aisles down another elevator.
Abstract Art Elevator sign
Notice that the arrow does not point diagonally down the stairs. I imagine people standing at the top, pausing to see the sign, then floating off away from danger. This simple graphic employs elements of Indian blankets, and "Pictographs were used as the earliest known form of writing, examples having been discovered in Egypt and Mesopotamia from before 3000 BC," according to my iMac's dictionary. In other parts of the buildings, I found a sign saying "DO NOT USE DURING FIRE" in quotation marks, as if it were quoting great literature.
But no poetry.
the box from John
My brother John sent this box of airplane toys to Daddy, but it got lost somewhere between the front door of the residence and being able to give it to Daddy in the Mission down the hill. It took a couple days of frantic searching everywhere we could imagine, till I found it under the clutter in the back seat of The Slider I had rearranged to make room for Mom to take her down to the Mission. I forgot it almost as soon as I put it there. Oops! My bad, and my already slipping mind.
Burro against an impressionist sky
It's one of Mom's paintings in the apartment where they've lived for the last years since they moved up to San Antonio, where they'd known they would eventually retire for decades. I remember visiting another, much less lovely Air Force Village with them decades before. But they kept telling us the one they planned on living in was much better. And it is.
Dad's King Citrus crown
I think Mom must have made this. She made many costumes for us (although I'd gone off to college by then.) kids and grand kids. All made from organic seeds and citrus parts. When Mom & Dad still lived in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, Dad was King Citrus for the parade one glorious year, and Mom made amazing costumes for all the kids and grand kids and nieces and nephews who wanted to be his court. Thinking about it reminds me of the Valley-wide smell of citrus wafting the Valley wide in early spring. Like now.
Mom takes her evening pills.
I was surprised to see a pill box even more complex than mine, color coded in appropriate daily hues.
And we remembered that Daddy kept admiring Anna's sox.
Yet we wonder what all else he noticed or appreciated but could not find words for.
Anna on the phone
This must have been in our room, all bright, light and open. Mom originally told us we'd have a one bedroom place while we were there, so I brought my white noise machines and never even turned one on.
John in his Air Force hat & breather
But during their final retirement at Air Force Village it has been much more common to call him John. I think he prefers the name he was born with to the alternative he's been called nearly all of his life.
my snore-stopper I'd bought on Amazon
This is only the second time I'd worn that implement of torture. Turned out our digs was a suite with two separate bedrooms and a fold-out bed in the living room in front of the big TV with not nearly as many channels as Mom had. I didn't wear it, because there were well-insulated walls to stop our snoring from bothering each other.
Anna touching her toes on the high bar in the hall
In high school and college Anna was in dance groups that performed at football games, etc. She still gots that stretch.
Gold Flower floor marker
I kept going the wrong way up/down the elevator, ending up on a strange floor that wasn't Mom's or ours below. I was Mom's first child and a breech at that, so we have always joked abbot my backwards ways. When we moved every couple of years or months — sometimes weeks, while I was still in grade schools, I'd always do an introduction speech ex toling the values of having "been born backwards and heading in that same general direction ever since."
Eventually, I figured out that I was going the right way, and everybody else is wrong. Eventually I figured out which way to take the elevator, and it only took four wrongs. Pretty stuff on every floor, but now I wish I'd tried them all. These objects were 'donated' by deceased former residents as was much of AFV's public decor.
A name on every piece in the room
When family members show interest in a of art or other object in what has been Mom and Dad's apartment, she has them put their name on it in the back or bottom of it. It's kinda nice to be in a room full of pieces with names on nearly everything, even if we can't see them without lifting up a rhinoceros or a tiger to see who. My name is on about the biggest thing in the room, a Chinese Trade box that we've all loved since Daddy gifted it to Mom before I was born.
This trip I got back the large electronic keyboard I gave her many years ago. She can no longer move her fingers to play the notes she for so long took such great joy in. Growing up, she was almost always at every new base we were stationed at, the church organist or at least in the choir.
A younger Mary in an oval frame
I remember this person, although the photo may predate me.
Dad in an oval gold-ish frame
And I'd know this guy anywhere.
Although this photograph is new to me, it seems to have been taken on December 7, 1941, of the plane Daddy lew to Hickam Field during the Japanese surprise attack of Pearl Harbor, which brought America into World War II. This photo appeared at Daddy's 100th Birthday Party in San Antonio, Texas. Somewhere, I have a video of him describing his arrival with a flight of brand-new B17s, which were so new, the people on the ground at Pearl Harbor — as well as the Japanese Zero Fighters, all shot at when they arrived in the area that infmamous day.
Dad and Mom in better days
One of the many instances around the building that show who lives there and adds a joy of community to the place — and a sense of belonging.
Treasure Island San Francisco, Calif 1939
These photos were on the wall in what used to be the spare bed, music, sewing and crafts room and Daddy's office, I wonder what's in Daddy's right hand here? A pipe? He smoked those for decades, and we always gave him new ones or his favorite tobacco every gift opportunity.
In Australia during World War II
Daddy was a bomber pilot after flying into Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 just as World War II started. See Daddy's Story elsewhere on this website.
Our young family in the late 1950s
Left to right, down and right again: Daddy, Mary Ann, John, Jim, Tom, Dale and Mom.
Self-portrait of the photographer by the photographer
In the men's room downstairs about a stone's throw from the front desk, always handy in a hurry coming back. I sometimes go missing from these large-pages of family history, unless Anna or I take my picture, too.
Mom & Anna
In the Snack Shop downstairs near the front entrance. I forget what they were looking for, but chocolate is always a good excuse.
Mom in her late teens or very early 20s
Pictures from the past keep appearing. I did several family stories, but I don't remember ever seeing this photograph before. No wonder I've nearly always gone for brunettes.
Mom gently staring at me
I love that smile. Here, it's tinged with everything out there and in here, and it's still a lovely thing to be graced with, even when I photograph it before it's all there quite yet.
Mom's Hands and Foot
Mom was 93, going on 94, when Anna and I visited and I took these photographs and crystallized these memories.
Mom's painted rock lion
Along with all the photographs and other pictures were animals, a house and a buncha other things Mom had painted.
Mom's feet in white slippers
Everybody either gets older or they don't. As Dad no longer always reminds us, "It gets worse."
Mom adjusting John's wheelchair
Mom often seems conflicted about going down to the Mission every day. It must be so very discouraging, though he took care of her all their life till he fell.
Dad, Mary Ann and Anna
Sitting around the rec room at The Mission waiting for Doctor P to tell us stuff.
Mom & Mary Ann touching Daddy
I took notes. I'll read through them and add it when I can.
Doctor Peters checking Daddy's vital signs
Doctor Peters Explains
Helping Daddy into Bed
He always seemed so strong and vital, walking nearly a mile every morning and doing exercises he learned in the Air Force every day.
Three birds flying intertwined
I have tried so many times to render this sculpture of three birds flying intertwined. This time, in the cool and wet, I finally got an acceptable photo of it.
Mom's Hand and Daddy's Hands Folding Napkins
Anna said that Daddy seemed most content when he was doing something, and folding napkins worked for him for many minutes. And having him at ease and at peace gave me this opportunity to include both Daddy's and Mom's hands in a photograph, together, apart and with something simple but useful in visual common, blue napkins.
Some of the websites I've visited say that people with Alzheimer's (Daddy has not yet been officially diagnosed with that, but it seems likely he will be.) often enjoy simple tasks. From watching him do this for many minutes as Mom talked gently with him, Anna and I believe he might enjoy folding naptkins.
Off-loading for the South Texas Radiology Scans
This time, Dad was plenty bundled up and was even carrying a blanket, just in case.
Another stomach scan
They made him as comfortable as possible, spoke to him directly but gently, but he didn't like being there.
uncomfortably in the scanner
He was supposed to hold still, but he was not able to. He squirmed and turned and tried to get up.
Unlike the Dyphagic folks, nobody restricted me in any way from photographing anything. The Dys crew didn't want me photographing their monitors, but South Texas Radiology let me shoot wherever I wanted, including this cute duck awash in medical stuff. My camera is small and looks amateur, which seems to help. But I liked the duck. I guess for children who might be terrified of the machine. I've always documented my family, but I specifically asked my mother for permission to document Dad's life now, and she told me yes.
Daddy riding to yet another test
The test was at South Texas Radiology Center on Hospital Row north of the city. On the way back, I asked Daddy if he knew where he was. He said, quite clearly, and in one of the longer sentences — we live for more words strung together — "This has to be Indiana." So he was mixing one home with another, and that makes all the sense in the world.
All that trip, from the far southwest corner of San Antonio to the hospitals north of the airport and back, Dad paid attention and sat fully upright as he watched the city going by. I was happy for him.
Thank you for visiting.
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J R Compton