Alzheimer’s Disease, Ghost Fleets and Waiting for the End

Note: I want to thank all who have been offering words of encouragement, expressions of support and kindness as well as prayers this week. They are deeply appreciated. The week has been good but emotionally draining.  Tomorrow after I visit dad in the morning I hope to have some time decompressing with my brother on the golf course. Following that we’ll get with an old high school NJROTC buddy for a beer or two and then a cook out at my brother’s house. Tonight I’ll see an old buddy from grade school and junior high and have a beer together.

hancockDad’s Last Ship, the USS Hancock in better times

I went and saw my dad today. It was not as good of visit as the previous two days.  It was more depressing.  He looked worse and though he recognized me he was not as “with it” as he was before. He wasn’t really interested in talking. He had me wheel him to his room for a few minutes and then take him back to the dining room where lunch was about to be served.  He showed little of the interest that he showed in the last couple of visits and seemed down.  It is hard to believe how little is left of him and how week that he is.  Yesterday he had me help him into his bed from his wheelchair.  He cannot manage this himself anymore, when he gets free of his wheelchair seatbelt he usually falls down.  It was actually pretty sporty trying to get him to the bed.

jeff dad and me at ca capitolBetter Times: Dad with Jeff and I Outside the California State Capitol

Talking with the staff they say that he is becoming more combative and resistant to what he needs to do.  Today he asked if I could take him home with me.  I told him there that was nothing more that I would like to do but that it was not possible.  If it was possible I would take him in a heartbeat, but the level of care is beyond what I could provide and my two story townhome would not be conducive to his situation.  It hurts to see him like this.  He’s too much for mom and way beyond her capacity to care for him. He doesn’t understand this.  He actually thinks that he could go home and lead a normal life including driving.  Alzheimer’s dementia is a terrible thing.  It robs a person of who they are long before their body dies.

coral sea scrappingAn Unkind Fate: USS Coral Sea Being Scrapped

He kind of reminds me of a decommissioned ship that is awaiting disposal either through scrapping or sinking. If you have ever been to a Naval Reserve Fleet or facility where decommissioned ships are laid up you can probably picture this.  Decommissioned ships which are no longer being maintained for possible reactivation are usually stricken from the Naval Register.  They are then referred to as the “ex-USS name the name of the ship.”  Weapons systems and anything of value is removed. The ship is then allowed to rust away while awaiting disposal.  About the only thing that those working at the facility do are to ensure that the ship is neither sinking nor leaking any toxins into the water around it.  Apart from that it sits moored to a pier or out in a harbor basin with others like it.  The James River Maritime Reserve Fleet and Suisun Bay California are prime examples of this.  They are aptly known as “ghost fleets.” The vast majority of the ships at these locations will never sail again, except to be towed to a scrap yard or to be sunk as a reef or a target.  On rare occasion one might be taken for restoration as a maritime museum, but this is rare.   As a whole most people don’t even want to look at the ships in these fleets.  They are considered unsightly and even dangerous.  Their history is often ignored or unappreciated by those who look upon them, save those who served on them or have a special interest.

oriskany24USS Oriskany, Hancock’s Sister Ship Awaiting Her Disposal as an Artificial Reef

In a sense that is how my dad is doing.  He is like one of the ships in the “ghost fleet.”The Alzheimer’s has taken away his ability to function in any really meaningful way.  His body has deteriorated so badly that he is hardly recognizable as my dad.  He is now in hospice care at the nursing home.  In a sense he has been stricken from the Naval Register and is awaiting his fate.  He will not be reactivated for service in this life.  Only the timing of his death is undetermined. The hulk that once, and still in a sense is my dad is moored to his wheelchair or bed.  An alarm is attached to him in case he gets loose.  He gets enough care to keep him afloat.  Now he is getting excellent care, but still there is a limit to what can be done.  It is sad that there are so many like him tucked away out of public view and forgotten by most.  Now we wait for the day when this man, who lived such an active and productive life, breathes his last and passes to the next world.  His memory will go on as my brother and I will pass that memory on to others.

I meet men who like my dad are in the end stage of Alzheimer’s frequently in my ICU.  Some still have some capability of remembering things from early life, even if they can’t remember what happened five minutes ago.  With them and with my dad I try to find those memories so they can at least be in touch with something.  I believe that their lives and stories still matter and that they need to be treated respectfully and as much as adults as possible.  If you have a parent, family member or friend with Alzheimer’s disease, please treat them with as much care and dignity as possible.  Also know that there are others who like you are walking this path.

Peace, Steve+

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6 Comments

Filed under alzheimer's disease, Military, Navy Ships

6 responses to “Alzheimer’s Disease, Ghost Fleets and Waiting for the End

  1. bill tyrrell

    Padre… Know that you, your Dad, Mom and Brother are in my thoughts and prayers always…. The “long goodbye” is tough my friend… been there, done that… I will never forget my Great Grandmother begging me to pick her up out of her hospital bed (days before hospice) and take her home with me… I cried when I read your account of your Dad asking the same of you. I was only 19 then and that night still haunts my thoughts… She was full of cancer and died a painful and prolonged death…

    I am comforted by the fact that you will have some quality time with your brother and friends…. You need to do that. One who takes care of many others needs to take care of oneself now and again, believe me, I KNOW. We lost another Navy EOD Tech in Iraq 30 April, the day we got to Eglin to place last year’s loss on our EOD Memorial Wall at the EOD School… I left there, supporting that family to come to Norfolk, then to Massachusetts for wake, funeral, etc… Got back to Norfolk today and we are in the thick of planning the Memorial Service for 1000 next Tue May 19th at the Little Creek Chapel… Enough for now… Just wanted to give you some story and support my friend…

    2 Feathers sends

  2. Tim

    Steve,

    Your wards miss you! The patient to whom you gave the baseball is doing well. She thanked me for bringing it but I said it was you who had given it . . . I was only the relief pitcher. They had the Orioles game on in the room tonight. Praying for your family.
    Peace, Tim

  3. Steve

    My wife and her sister have had to deal with the stress of their dad having alzheimer’s disease the past 6 years and it has taken its toll on them. You just have to try to stay course and stay strong!

  4. rodney

    As a former Coral Seal sailor I found this site by accident but had to forward it on as it was so well written. What a great analogy as I’ve had thoughts like that when I saw the mothball fleet years ago. Bless you and your Dad.

    • padresteve

      Rodney

      Thank you for your kind words. I have kind of always felt that way myself when I see decommissioned ships that had served so proudly in our Navy. It seems that some of the older generation who have no more fight in them are in a similar situations. There is such a sadness to the situation. When I looked at the pictures of Coral Sea I remembered my NJROTC cruise on her in 1976….such a proud lady and such a sad end.

      God bless

      Steve+

      • padresteve

        Thanks Randolph this was taken from th4e fantail of the USS Hue City in February 2002 shortly after we transited the Straits of Gibraltar on the way to Malta enroute to the Middle East after 9-11. I do enjoy your blogs very much.
        Peace, Steve+

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