Don had been living with his father in the country in south-central Missouri several miles outside a small town. His mother had died several years earlier. They were both retired in style, living exclusively on the fat of the land, welfare, their only source of support for many years. Don said he had attended school through the sixth grade and reported no useful work history. When Don was forty, his father fell upon ill health of some unknown variety.
For other unknown reasons both Don and his father were uprooted from their country estate and planted in a nursing home in Mexico, Missouri. This decision by the county welfare folks produced a dramatic change of scenery for Don. Don was still young appearing and strong, yet he found himself being counted among folks who were on their last legs. Initially he may well have believed he had died and gone straight to hell.
As it happened, Sister Theresa was still young and beautiful, and she was the person in charge of all nursing home patients during the night shift. Like all such homes that are over worked and under staffed, Sister Theresa could use all the help she could get. Don was the closest thing to a healthy person in the entire facility. Whenever Sister Theresa needed help with one of the other residents, which was most of the time, she saw Don lean and healthy with nothing to do. In her wisdom, she told him to “give her a hand”. Don discovered that caring for his ailing father was very much like caring for dozens of other ailing folks in the nursing home.
As a forty-year-old adolescent, Don also grew a fondness for the young and beautiful Sister Theresa, a natural outgrowth of their working closely together. As this relationship blossomed Don’s heart went pitty-pat like never before. As one thing often leads to another, Don’s system was overwhelmed, and he had a seizure while caring for others. Whether this was good news or bad news was on the drawing board.
Sister Theresa, whose reputation preceded her, had Don referred to the Neurology Department at the University of Missouri Medical Center for testing and treatment. Of course, she did not want to lose her vital helper, but she was committed to doing the right thing. She knew the Center, which cared for indigent folks across the state, had a place for patients to stay during evaluation and treatment, the perfect answer for Don.
Early in this process Don was referred to the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, where there was known to be a counselor with access to almost unlimited funds to restore ordinary folks to usefulness. I was that counselor.
When Don arrived for our first meeting, all the above was revealed by Don, except for the falling in love part with Sister Theresa. Sister Theresa is probably the most important part of this story, but her insidious and powerful influence often flies under the radar.
Supporting documentation was obtained from history and the Neurology Department. Don had a history of seizures which were not well controlled, and until his admission to the nursing home nobody seemed to care. Neurological reports indicated Don had both grand mal and possibly other less obvious seizure problems. Cerebral atrophy was also suspected based upon head X-rays. If Don had other types of seizures he was not aware of them. If other seizure types appeared, hopefully we could deal with them as they arise.
In Don’s first interview I asked what kinds of work he was interested in. His response was crystal clear. He wanted to become a nursing home attendant or orderly. Working with dozens of welfare clients over the years, Don was the first to express an interest in work, rather than a jumble of mixed feelings. He was the first to specify a job by title which was realistic.
At this point the treasury of funds to support his rehabilitation was open for business. Not only was the treasury open for business, the working model for his future program was handed to me on a silver platter by Don’s first love, Sister Theresa. Will miracles never cease? It was never determined whether the seizure Don had at the nursing home might be related in any way to this budding infatuation, a realistic association. That first love was now history with a world full of opportunity opening wide for Don.
At the end of our first conversation, I explained that folks who were serious about working should appear clean and well dressed. Don arrived in the office in clothes he had spent two or more days in, and his general appearance was un-kept at best. On his next visit to my office he arrived in his only suit with a white shirt and tie, convincing evidence that his attending skills were nicely intact, in spite of any cerebral atrophy.
While Don was ten years my senior, the relationship that grew over the next few weeks suggested that I was now Don’s father figure, a role I was happy to play for this functional adolescent and newly ambitious young man. This transference came in handy on a few occasions down the road.
There was little need to worry about the appropriateness of his expressed job objective. Preparing for work through the same means already used by Sister Theresa made the most sense. Six months of on-the-job training was negotiated through a local nursing home. Fatherly wisdom suggested that training on the job should be performed where Sister Theresa was not, in view of Don’s delayed adolescence.
Six months of on-the-job training was authorized through a nursing home in Columbia. The arrangement included supervision of patient care appropriate for an attendant or orderly. Board and room was also provided by the nursing home, so Don would not need to worry about independent living needs during his training. A gradual introduction to independent living seemed appropriate for Don.
Only one incident occurred during this initial six month training period. Don called me at the Medical Center and asked if we could talk. I went to the nursing home and met with him on their front porch. His proposal was as clear as his initial expressions. Don had found and fallen in love with Sister Theresa number two. He asked if it would be alright for him to rent an apartment, get married, and continue his training at the nursing home? I was flabbergasted.
As Don’s newly discovered father, I pursued this circumstance as any father might do. “You know, son”, I said, “marriage is a big responsibility. Proposing marriage and supporting a wife is a major undertaking, and one that should require a fair amount of advance planning. Actually having a job to pay rent and support a wife was very important before taking such a step”.
Don was listening very intently.
“Exactly who is this lucky lady?” I asked.
“Well I really don’t know her name yet, but she walks back and forth in front of the nursing home every day. She is the future Mrs. Don” he added.
Knowing that Don’s entire program to this time was based upon his first love in his first nursing home, his new father was reluctant to diminish the incentive of happily ever after. To keep it alive I suggested that maybe we should find out who the woman was, what she did, and see if she was looking for a husband right now. I also suggested that maybe he should concentrate on completing his training before he gets so serious about marriage.
At the end of Don’s first six months of training all was going well. His seizures had not been a problem of any kind, yet there were a number of areas of patient care where he needed additional work. Six more months of on-the-job training was authorized including board and room, and Don’s impending marriage was put on hold for a spell.
(To be continued in Don’s Acid Test)