It’s easy to get the wrong impression of someone from their bumper-stickers, I think as I follow a client up the hill to the VA health clinic. I forget my thoughts about whether or not he should be driving when I see that his bumper-sticker reads, “Shuck me, suck me, eat me raw” -- I ask him later and he chuckles. It turns out he loves oysters. And Swedish dancing. And being a nudist. But I don’t know that at this point.
I meet Danny Greene because his friend at the senior center tells me, “Danny doesn’t know he needs help….but he does”, which is always a red flag for my ultimate pet peeve of you’re-making-things-worse-by-trying-to-be-nice. (I’ve yet to come up with an easy acronym for this -- it seems to come up as we get older.)
Granted, Danny probably shouldn’t be driving, given his Parkinson’s. He exhibits the tell-tale “drop-foot” where you walk with a bit of lilt because your toes forget to lift up, as if the thing that holds up the bottom of your vacuum cleaner is broken. His shoes have scuff marks on the top of the toes. Not the best situation if you’re going to operate a brake or a pedal. Danny also has double-vision -- the Parkinson’s makes his eyes vibrate back and forth. To remedy this, an ophthalmologist prescribed glasses that look like they are covered with a film of corrugated plastic, kind of like those pictures covered with a film that make it look like the horse is galloping when you tip them back and forth. Danny isn’t sure if they help. We’re walking toward his truck in the parking lot, double-vision, drop-foot and all. I ask if he has any other medical problems right now.
“Uh-huh,” he says. “Tendonitis.”
“My ears,” and he points to the side of his head like this should be obvious.
“Tendonitis in your ears?”
“Yeah. From the Army.”
I am too young to realize he means tinnitus or ringing in his ears so I jot “tendonitis in ears?” which probably still exists somewhere in a case-note. Danny asks if I’m coming to the VA with him and I say yes.
Danny: Do you want a ride? Me: No. Danny: Suit yourself.
Danny is a big tall tan Swede who drives a big old green Ford truck. We arrive at the VA and he has the date of his appointment wrong -- ironically, he only remembered because his “friend” at the senior center reminded him. Now we have more time so Danny asks if I want to see where he lives. Given that my job is to be an advocate and I can easily justify being out in the field versus in the office, I agree. Soon we’re on our way upriver with me following at a safe distance.
We pull up to where Danny lives -- a neat development of mobile homes and camper trailers in the woods. But I can’t see that yet because we have to punch in a code for the gate. The gate slides open and we pass a welcome sign. I realize the welcome sign is informing me that I am now entering a clothing optional community. Now I’m blushing.
We round a corner and the nicest manager ever waves from a golf cart. He’s wearing shorts (thank god) but I wonder if it’s only because he’s gardening. There’s a weed-eater sitting next to him. Too dangerous perhaps?
The community is manicured like a park with a community room, a gazebo, a hot tub and locker rooms for men and women. One man is definitely mowing his lawn in the nude right next to the road. I don’t make eye contact. I follow Danny up a hill and around a curve. I pull in behind his truck. Shuck me, suck me, eat me raw! He waves for me to come see his trailer.
Before Danny opens the door, he pulls up his sleeve and places his forearm next to mine. He has a wonderful chuckle that sounds like a low-idling rototiller, “Hu-hu-hu-hu-hu-huh!” I realize he’s comparing his tan to mine.
“I know. I’m white. I’m never going to be as tan as you even if I live here and never wear clothes.”
Huh-huh-hu-hu-hu-hu-hu, he laughs harder.
“And that’s not going to happen.”
Nothing seems to be put away in Danny’s trailer and it smells. It’s obvious he can no longer get himself organized and his mobility in this tiny place is on the decline. There’s paperwork everywhere and he digs out his costume for Swedish dancing from somewhere behind the bed-couch. I admire it. Then there’s a photo of him on his Harley in the bar he once owned. I admire this too and ask who checks on him. He tells me there’s an ex-girlfriend or maybe she is just a friend. I jot down her name. Who is going to help you with things when you can’t do them? I think. I ask if he runs out of money every month and he shows me some paperwork that makes it look like he comes pretty close.
“Danny, can I come visit you again? I know you don’t need any help but I wonder if we could figure something out...even if someone could help with the things you don’t like to do….can I help you with that?”
He doesn’t answer but hands me another photo. The Parkinson’s makes it so sometimes people get off-track. Danny is happily in another place in his mind.
“Hey Danny,” I put my hand on his tan arm. “What if I come back and we see if we can get some of this stuff organized so you can find the things you need? Is it okay if I come back?”
This time he nods and I tell him I’ll come back in two days. I ask if there’s anything I need to do to get out of the gate or if I’m locked in here. He chuckles at the thought of this and I guess I’ll just have to figure it out. I tell him goodbye.
“Two days, Danny. I’ll be back in two days. Thanks for letting me come.”
Danny smiles and waves as I close the door behind me, but the next time I come to see him, he’s gone.
To be continued….
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