Living Through Windows
It's amazing anything slowed Leonard Wibbels down. As a youth, Leonard was a spitfire of a baseball pitcher, so good that he played with the St. Louis Cardinals semipro farm team... Read more...Read all of the profiles...
Living Through Windows...
Story by Mike Bockoven, Photos by Scott Kingsley
Head First into Deep Water
We have a habit of jumping before really looking. Into the deep
end. Head first.
Last August during the vets home Olympic bash, Scott approached
Nancy Klimek, activities director for the Grand Island Veterans
Home, about the idea for this story.
It was a story he'd been kicking around, stemming from a conversation
that Holocaust victims with Alzheimer's were regressing back to
those horrendous experiences.
Nancy was interested in the idea of the long-term project and
let Wilma Luther, activities director for Third Phillips, and Deb
Watson, supervisor on the ward, in on it. We met, talked, discussed
and figured out a way to accomplish what we all wanted: an educational
piece on Alzheimer's disease focusing on people and families, a
window into who the members are and who they were before the disease
robbed them of their memories and personalities.
And so, last October, we jumped.
While we had read about neurofibrillary tangles and plaques, we
hadn't ever met anyone with Alzheimer's. School was in session.
Our initial anxiety was soon quelled with our first visit. Third
Phillips is just like any other ward at the vets home in appearance.
There are the same hallways, the same rooms and the same nurse's
station. It's the details that set it apart. The doors are secured,
and many of the things that we take for granted are brought to the
ward. Instead of going outside to explore new-fallen snow, Wilma
brought in trays of it for the members to make snowmen and snowballs
for a playful fight on the floor. Instead of a trip to the barber
and beauty salon, a local barber makes a special trip once a month
to the ward for the necessary trims.
The all-too-common misconceptions of Alzheimer's patients as frightening
and violent people were shattered and replaced with sadness for
humanity lost and awe of what was still intact. We saw members not
as subjects, not as patients and not even shells of their former
selves. Spending time on the ward, delving into that microcosm,
we found out who the members are; Third Phillips residents still
show their personality and past in spite of the disease.
Benny, a former car salesman, talks to no one in particular about
cars. Middie, unable to form words, looks deeply into your eyes
for understanding, grabs your hand and talks to you. She makes everyone
feel welcome and needed. And Roger the Dodger always has a smile
and a friendly finger point and can still make nurses smile with
his flirtatious ways.
Even more, we learned the internal strength it takes for a family
to cope with this cruel disease and the love caregivers have for
those they serve. We saw wives come every night to dine with their
husbands, knowing their husbands would not remember the time the
next day. We saw thousands of examples of enduring and abiding love.
We dove, head first, and were met with acceptance and trust that
we hope we've proved worthy of. We need to thank Wilma Luther, Deb
Watson and Nancy Klimek for going to the wall for us, our friends
and family who gave us support as we struggled and, most importantly,
the families who opened some difficult chapters of their lives.
It's hard to put into words what it has meant, and we hope it was
worth it. Your stories are something we will never forget.
-- Mike Bockoven and Scott Kingsley