Five famous people who once lived in the Quad-Cities

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(Photo courtesy Pixabay)

Our community’s obscure name makes us an easy target for jokes. And the fact that many of us talk through our noses (whether we realize it or not) makes people laugh even harder because of the way “Quad-Cities” sounds when we say it.

But start ticking off a list of our most famous residents and even the harshest bi-coastal residents (who view us as flyover country) will say, “I didn’t know that!”

Here are five famous (or infamous) people who once called the Quad-Cities home.

John Deere. John Deere is a household name not only in the U.S, but around the world. While the global tractor maker was founded in Grand Detour, Ill. in 1837, it moved to Moline 11 years later. Today, John Deere World Headquarters remains in Moline.

Ronald Reagan. Not many people know that “The Gipper” got his start in show business at WOC Radio in Davenport, Iowa.

“Reagan’s first assignment – for $5 and bus fare – was the University of Iowa’s homecoming game against Minnesota,” The Des Moines Register reports in its online archives. “In the spring of 1933, partly because he had covered the Drake Relays so skillfully, Reagan was chosen to become chief sports announcer for WOC’s sister station, WHO in Des Moines.

Reagan, of course, went on to become the 40th president of the United States. He arguably was the most popular U.S. president in my 46-year lifetime.

Roger Craig. NFL legend Roger Craig of San Francisco 49ers fame grew up in Davenport, Iowa. Craig is a member of the NFL Hall of Fame. He has three Super Bowl rings.

Otto Frederick Rohwedder. Who’s that, you say? Well, while “The greatest thing since sliced bread” may be a common catchphrase, few people know that Otto Frederick Rohwedder invented it – in Davenport, Iowa, no less. You can’t get much more Americana than that.

John Looney. John Looney was a notorious Prohibition-era gangster who ruled the mean streets of Rock Island, Ill. The home from which Looney controlled booze, prostitution, and illegal gambling, still stands. It is rumored that it connects to tunnels that sprawl throughout the city’s downtown, which is how illegal goods were trafficked. The notorious criminal owned the city’s newspaper and threatened to blackmail people if they didn’t do as he wanted.

Paul Newman played Looney in the film adaptation “Road to Perdition” in 2002, co-starring Tom Hanks.

Some might say that the “less than above-board” (criminal?) style of Rock Island County power-mongering hasn’t changed much in the past 100 years.

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Elder care facilities: Bermuda Triangles for your loved one’s teeth

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This piece originally was published Aug. 23, 2015, for Caregiver Relief. After I was trespassed from seeing my dad for reporting an intruder at his memory care facility in June 2015, his dentures went missing the next day (they were lost most every day and I would conduct my own “shakedown” of his apartment, often finding them under the bed). I have this in writing from an employee of the memory care facility. So, my dad had no teeth there for 108 days. My brother claims the facility’s director told him Five Star Senior Living does not have insurance for such matters, and therefore they refused to replace his teeth. When dad and I were reunited thanks to the great work of the state of Illinois, dad proclaimed, “There’s my friend!” when I walked into the new nursing home. The second thing he did was point to his mouth and say, “Teeth, teeth.” I did manage to get dad to a dentist and have impressions made for new teeth (nothing short of a miracle for someone who has Pick’s) but he was dead two weeks later. I watched him try to gum food in the nursing home where he died for about a week, and when they switched him to a puree diet he quit eating altogether and died. This piece is reprinted here with permission from Caregiver Relief. Special thanks to Diane Carbo.

By David Heitz

We learn at a young age about sock-eating dryers, one of the greatest mysteries of life.

But there’s another Bermuda Triangle out there that caregivers for loved ones with dementia eventually come to know: Nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Things disappear daily at these places, and while many are quick to blame the employees for theft, that usually is not the case.

With confused residents wandering from room to room, anything is possible. We have to do our parts to make it easier to track down missing items, and I’ll get to that in a minute.

But I’m not going to be an apologist for these places when dentures get lost over, and over, and over again. This, unfortunately, has been the case with my dad.

Dad’s brand new set of uppers were permanently lost six months after he went into a memory care facility in July 2013. They had been lost about half a dozen times prior to that too, but I always found them, sometimes spending an hour or longer in his room conducting my own personal shakedown.

To avoid conflict with my bottom-line, bottom-dollar brother, I ended up bringing dad’s old set of false teeth to the facility more than a year ago, and dad began using those. But that was a bad idea. Dad got new teeth for a reason – the old ones didn’t fit correctly.

Long story short, about a week after dad’s facility trespassed me (you can read all about that here) a CNA tipped me off that the teeth had gone missing again. Time and again, the many workers who kept me in the loop while I was locked out explained that dad’s teeth appeared to be gone for good. And with me gone, there was no around to do a shakedown and look for them.

Finding this wholly inacceptable, I complained to the local elder ombudsman as well as the state about the missing teeth (among other things) back in June. I’ve yet to receive a response from either.

Cutting to the chase, when I was reunited with dad last week after 108 days, he still did not have any teeth. My brother (the POA) and I are unable to have civil communications, but the last text I got from him was that he was “fighting” with the memory care facility about dad’s missing teeth, dad’s missing hearing aids, and two weeks rent ($2,050) they don’t want to refund for the second half of the month of August. He said the director of the facility said not to lose hope, the hearing aids sill may be found.

Hope isn’t going to have anything to do with it

Hope isn’t going to have anything to with it.

Dad’s original set of teeth that were lost the first time should have been on the inventory list upon admission. My brother can, today, call the dentist and have replacement teeth made.

It’s not OK to put dad’s old set, possibly seven years old or older, back into his mouth. And the facility will need to cut a check for dad’s replacement set immediately, as they have insurance for that very purpose. They’re not going to offer you this information readily when this happens to your loved one, but it is fact.

My dad has John Deere insurance and ample funds for a replacement set. So in theory, the new set should be ordered today, and without delay. When I met the social worker the other day at dad’s new facility, one of the first questions she asked was, “Where are his teeth?” It gave me immediate peace of mind to see they are on top of such things and will be monitoring his care like a hawk.

But dad’s teeth problems don’t end there. When he was found in a pool of blood on the lower level of the memory care facility on April 15 of this year, and landed in the emergency room, he suffered a chipped tooth. My dad winces and complains about his mouth incessantly, and has done so since that day. To think he has continued to suffer since April 15 to me is incomprehensible and 100 percent without excuse. In the five days we have been reunited, some of the few words he has spoken have been “I need the dentist,” “my mouth hurts” and “I need a wrench for my mouth.”

It makes me so incredibly upset. Again, dad has John Deere dental insurance and ample funds. He should be able to have a dentist look at his teeth even if we need to pay a dentist to come to the new nursing home. I have no idea whether that is even possible, however.

Most elderly in facilities broke and without dental coverage

But the reality of the situation for most people in nursing homes is this: They don’t have either dental insurance or ample funds. So what are these people to do?

It’s a huge problem. The millions of Americans on Medicare don’t have dental coverage. There are programs in place here and there, and you can click right here to go to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration on Aging website’s dental page. It lists multiple resources on how to get your loved one dental care.

Good dental care is more than a luxury. To quote from the site, “According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-fourth of persons age 65 and older have no remaining teeth. Nearly one-third of older adults have untreated tooth decay. Severe gum disease is associated with chronic disease and severe health conditions including diabetes, heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease.”

I can tell you right now that my dad is embarrassed that he has no teeth, especially as he is trying to make friends in the new nursing home. “Whether caring for natural teeth or dentures, daily oral hygiene can mean older adults will be free of oral pain, can maintain a well-balanced diet, and will enjoy interpersonal relationships and a positive self-image,” the AOA site states.

The poor guy has been sitting in the dining room by himself, which is why I’ve gone up there and had at least one meal with him every day. When I’m not there, an employee has been sitting with him. When old ladies wheel past, my dad lifts his hand and feebly says, “Hi.” Can you imagine what this is like for him? It’s got to be like the first day of high school freshman year in the lunchroom. Not having his teeth is a blow to this little Casanova.

What you can do to help, and when all else fails…

One member of one of my online caregiver support groups offered this very good advice for avoiding the nightmare of lost teeth:

I recommend making sure dentures and hearing aids have names on them. Best place for hearing aids at night are locked in the nursing cart in a labelled container. Dentures should have a labeled container as well.

If your facility does not have a set protocol for managing these items – ask them to create one so that everyone follows the same steps.

Make sure when you bring items in that they are added to your loved one’s personal belongings list. Make sure their name is on everything, even if you are doing the laundry. If you are doing the laundry make sure there is a neat visible sign saying so, either laminated or in plastic. Keep the belonging list updated. Take photos of clothing – it especially helps when trying to locate items.

If dentures repeatedly get lost, and you don’t have the resources to replace them, and the facility is pushing back…raise hell. Period.

“Find out who the local ombudsman reports to and file a written complaint as well as file a written grievance with the state,” suggested one caregiver in my support group. “They need to be aware of this kinds of negligence. Be sure to give a copy of your written complaints to the facility as neglect of patients can cause them to lose their license.”

Adds another member, “Keep repeating your complaints with written copies to everyone. Find out if other families at the same facility also have complaints also and form a group. Bring all the complaints to the administrator. If you continue to get no response, take your evidence to the local news media.”

I don’t mean to incite. But this journey has been an unbelievable nightmare. Negligence in elder care is everywhere you look (and yes, so is quality care, and I have written about that and will continue to do so when I see it). My stories would not be going clickety-click-click if there wasn’t a whole world out there experiencing the same problems as myself. Advocating for a loved one does not make you a troublemaker. Don’t let anyone tell you different.

What Does it Mean When a Person With Dementia Goes on Hospice?

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This piece originally was published Aug. 16, 2015, for CaregiverRelief.com. Reprinted here with permission.  Special thanks to Diane Carbo, purveyor of Caregiver Relief. My dad eventually was taken off hospice after being on it for two years and then died less than two months later, Sept. 27, 2015.

By David Heitz

I want to preface this column by saying that hospice programs are a blessing for people with dementia in numerous ways. My intention in writing this piece is to educate those of us with loved ones battling dementia-related illnesses so that we can get the most out of hospice programs.

But I’m going to start with a hospice horror story.

It didn’t take long after my dad entered a memory care/assisted living facility in July 2013 before the executive director informed us that he had become more than they could handle. With dad’s frontotemporal dementia diagnosis, his outrageous behaviors, angry outbursts, and refusal to allow certain people to bathe him, he had become too much.

She advised he probably would be better served in a nursing home. My brother and I, who don’t get along about anything as it pertains to our dad’s care, were devastated. My brother hated the thought of spending an extra $2,000 per month on a nursing home. I hated the idea of moving dad from an architecturally stunning facility to a hospital-like setting.

We found a solution in hospice care. By getting dad approved for hospice, that meant that hospice workers came to dad’s assisted living facility a few times per week and gave the staff extra help in caring for him. The tab for hospice, which was about $8,000 per month, was picked up by Medicare.

But in May 2014, I got a call from the facility saying dad had slouched down in his chair at lunch and had become unresponsive for a while. I was suspicious, as my brother had just taken dad to the doctor a day prior. I had asked my brother what had happened at the doctor visit, and my brother replied, “He doped him up some more.”

When the wellness director called, I asked her, “Could this be result of some of the new medications dad’s doctor had put him on?” She responded that, in fact, the doctor had discontinued all medications due to dad being on hospice.

I admittedly went into a rage. “Insulin too?” I asked. The answer was, yes, insulin, too.

Hospice Horror Story Sends Me Into Rage I Never Felt Before

When dad went on hospice, I knew enough as a health reporter to ask what would happen with dad’s insulin under the program. Dad was by no means dying. He ate five meals per day, which included three breakfasts that he would eat because he would forget that he already had eaten and demand to be fed again (the facility served breakfasts in three shifts). Taking him off insulin would be inhumane, as he regularly had blood sugar readings spike into the 400s.

The hospice nurse replied that Medicare only pays for medications related to the terminal diagnosis, and that likely would not include dad’s insulin. (Editor’s note: This absolutely is not true as it pertains to insulin, I since have been informed by a well-known national law firm that advertises on television every 30 minutes). I advised her, in the presence of my brother and my dad, that as a John Deere retiree dad has excellent health insurance in addition to Medicare, so that would not be an issue. The John Deere insurance would pay for the insulin.

I apparently thought I had warded off my greatest fear – that someone would attempt to revoke dad’s insulin when he was still active, eating, talking, and quite frankly having nice visits with me every single day. Why did I suspect this could be a possibility? I won’t go into that. I can tell you that the doctor’s nurse, Carol, said, “The doctor must follow the POA’s wishes.”

I raised holy hell with my brother, the doctor, and let out a drunken scream heard round the world on social media. Dad was back on insulin the next day. I quit drinking after nearly dying myself that night (attempted murder is how I see it, although it was listed by police as “assault”) and remain sober 15 months later. (Editor’s note: I will be sober three years in May, despite ongoing harassment related to being dad’s caregiver, 15 months after he has been put into the ground; his estate is not resolved and has become an ugly court battle between myself, my brother, and a neighbor of 50 years. I have spent $5,000 thus far just to get what my dad left me in a simple share and share alike will. I pray it all comes to an end Jan. 11 at the next status hearing; all parties involved have suffered long enough. I share this because this is not at all uncommon when one sibling is the caregiver and the other is the POA/executor. Make sure your parents put everything in writing including a binding caregiving contract between you and your sibling(s)).

Let’s fast forward 16 months, to April 2015, when dad landed in the ER. He was found on the floor of his room in the facility in a pool of blood with deep gashes to his face. That is exactly what the nurse on duty at dad’s facility told me when I got the 5 a.m. call.

Medicare has refused to pay my dad’s hospital bill for that trip because dad was on hospice. The John Deere insurer did pay some.

After 18 months, even though dad has continued to decline, hospice abruptly was stopped two weeks ago. (Editor’s note: This was the first step taken by the state of Illinois in seeing to it that I was reunited with my father. My dad was what was known as a 2:1, meaning it took two people to handle him at all times. It is a violation of state law to live in assisted living/memory care if you are a 2:1 UNLESS you are on hospice. The reason I was apart from my dad is because I was allegedly trespassed from seeing him (that was yet another lie, no paperwork ever was filed) after reporting an intruder at the facility on June 6, 2015, and then being taken to the Rock Island County Jail, stripped naked, emotionally tortured…ON NO CHARGES AT ALL. I did not see my dad for 108 days; he died 21 days after our reunion. The town I live in is a disgrace and people will be held accountable for all of this if only by their maker – but me thinks the justice system is going to work and people are going to be held accountable in that way, too. I know I need to forgive but I am not there yet. Even in the throes of addiction, I never could have mustered the evil that resides in the people responsible for all of this, particularly those who wear business suits. The others, I at least have some pity for and therefore am at least beginning to feel some compassion toward them).

Don’t Be Pressured: Be a Picky Hospice Shopper

I am not my dad’s power of attorney, and my brother and I are generally unable to communicate civilly. I’m certain he does not understand the ins and outs of the hospice program, and when I’ve tried to explain it to him, he has no interest and makes a mockery of my health reporting background. He works in department store security. He once said, “I work in law enforcement!” to which I replied “And I’m a doctor” and that is about the only laugh we have shared together in five years.

Kurt Kazanowski is a hospice and home care expert as well as a global consultant to companies that provide hospice care. He’s an ardent proponent of hospice, and with good reason. I shared my story with him and asked how I could use it to better educate people who have loved ones with dementia and are considering putting their loved one on hospice care. My intention is by no means to scare people away from hospice care, but I also want them to know how to get the most out of it and avoid problems and misunderstandings.

The author of “The 7 Pillars of Growth for Home and Hospice Care” and author of “A Son’s Journey: Taking Care of Mom and Dad” had this to say.

First, you need to be picky and careful when selecting a hospice provider. He said it is irrelevant whether a hospice is for profit or non-profit. What is important is that family members interview at least three hospice providers and carefully select the right one for them.

Diane Carbo, purveyor of this site, also wants to remind everyone that hospice choices can be changed mid-stream.

Kazanowski said 10 to 12 percent of residents in long-term care facilities today meet CMS guidelines for hospice. But providers can make potentially subjective decisions as to what qualifies a patient and what doesn’t.

The stigma associated with the words “hospice” prevents many families from selecting the service. And with good reason. I burst into tears when the director of dad’s facility brought up hospice, because I did not fully understand myself what it meant. I assumed it meant he would be dead soon.

“Many people are not being identified as candidates for hospice, and there is a stigma,” Kazanowski said.

Eight Interview Questions for Hospice Providers

Here are eight questions he says you should ask potential hospice providers:

  1. What is your turnover rate? The national average is 15 percent for hospice companies.  If the company you are interviewing has a higher turnover rate you need to understand why.
  2. What is the average case load for a nurse?  The national average is 13 patients per nurse. This is a key question to ask.
  3. Are your physicians board certified in hospice and palliative care medicine?  Just like you won’t go to a family physician for open heart surgery (you want a board certified cardiovascular surgeon), you want a physician who is board certified in hospice and palliative care medicine on the hospice company team you select.
  4. Does the hospice have full time physicians? You want to know if the hospice you select has a full time medical director.
  5. Does the hospice offer all four levels of hospice care? There are four levels of hospice care:  routine, respite, continuous care and general inpatient.  Does the hospice you select offer all four levels of care?  Ask for details in how they offer these four levels of care.
  6. Does the hospice offer general inpatient hospice (GIP) care? The GIP level of care is the “ICU” of hospice care and is intended to care for patients who have break-through pain and symptom management issues.  You need to know and understand how the hospice you select delivers this level of care should your loved one ever need this specialty type of hospice care.
  7. Does the hospice offer music therapy? The basic hospice benefit does not require a hospice to offer music therapy.  If the hospice you select offers music therapy they are going above and beyond the basic hospice benefit.
  8. How many volunteers does the hospice have? The use of volunteers is part of the conditions of participation a licensed hospice must offer. Ask how many volunteers the hospice has and how many volunteer hours the hospice provides per month.

How Did These Things Happen to My Dad?

As for my dad’s case, Kazanowski said family members should ask a hospice provider what their philosophies are about a patient’s medications. Sometimes when a patient is taken off medications they actually do better, because it may turn out they were overmedicated.

A decision to take a patient off insulin, as in the case of my dad, should have been decided at a meeting held every two weeks between the physician, the hospice provider, a nurse, and a social worker. Family members are entitled to attend these meetings, Kazanowski stressed. Of course, the POA would need to approve who is able to attend.

As for dad’s emergency room bill, it’s true that Medicare generally will not pay in such situations. Kazanowski said one way of handling would have been to simply state in the ER a request to revoke hospice. Of course, that would have to be made by the POA. In that case, Medicare would have paid for my dad’s bill, and then dad could have gone back onto hospice later.

“I don’t advocate that that’s the best way to handle things,” Kazanowski added.

In his book, “A Son’s Journey,” Kazanowski devotes an entire chapter to hospice care, including the “10 Myths of Hospice” and “Demystifying Hospice.”

With dementia a global epidemic, and with so many people in the U.S. meeting the qualifications for hospice care, many still elect not to use it, Kazanowski said. In hospice surveys, nine out of 10 loved ones say they wish they would have chosen hospice sooner.

I can tell you this: Dad loved the extra attention that he had on hospice, and he has continued to decline since its removal two weeks ago.

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In China, web junkie teens sent to military style reform camps

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This piece originally was published in July 2015 for Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission.

By David Heitz

Show of hands … how many of you are concerned that your child spends way too much time on the Internet?

How many of you are concerned about it enough that you would send them off to a militaristic reform camp to straighten them out and force them to become more social?

No? What if they skipped school to play on the Internet?

What? You say you suspect that has happened in your home maybe once, maybe twice? Maybe more than twice?

In the documentary “Web Junkie,” to air on “POV” (“Point of View”) Monday, July 13 (check your local listings) on PBS, Israeli filmmakers Shosh Shlam and Hilla Medalia give us a look inside one such reform camp in China. Parents representing China’s growing middle class spend the equivalent of two years’ earnings to place their children in the camp for an average of three months.

Shlam and Medalia spent four years filming at the camp, located in a Beijing suburb. The camp’s director, Professor Tao Ran, a psychiatrist, gave them unprecedented access. Shlam and Medalia showed just how Tao and his staff attempt to de-program

Chinese children who play Internet games for hours, days, even weeks on end, sometimes even wearing diapers while they do so so they don’t have to pause the games to go to the bathroom.

I spoke with Shlam and Medalia on the telephone about their experience inside the camp. While they acknowledge some in the Western world may be quick to cry out that such camps are yet another example of human rights violations by China, they are upfront about the fact that they don’t see it that way.

“I don’t think it’s so important whether you make a decision between using the Internet for gaming or another (use); it affects your social skills,” Shosh said. “The children that you saw in the film are very lonely.” Professor Tao explains that “the part of your brain that is responsible for social skills is being damaged a lot (by the Internet). If you don’t use it, you lose it. You lose your social skills, too.”

Mentally Ill Because of Too Much Internet?

China isn’t the first country in the world to classify Internet addiction as a clinical disorder. If you find that shocking, here’s something you may find even more shocking: Internet addiction, specifically Internet gaming addiction, was added to the appendix in 2013 of DSM-5. DSM stands for The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, and it is the Bible of American psychiatry.

An editorial two years ago in the medical journal Addiction explains how Internet gaming dependence came to be added to the appendix, along with gambling addiction. The editorial calls for more research to be conducted about Internet gaming addiction.

In the film, it’s easy to see how Chinese children in particular become so addicted to gaming. Until last year, China had a restriction that couples could only bear one child due to the country’s burgeoning population. Only children sometimes make for lonely children.

Second, with China’s longstanding emphasis on academic rigor, the idea of a child skipping school is heresy no matter what the reason, let alone to play games on the Internet.

“And if they go to school, they are surrounded by other kids,” Shosh pointed out. “They drop out of school. They stop functioning. Parents bring the kids to the center because they don’t know what else to do.”

Some parents admit to actually drugging their children so that they can peel them away from the computer and transport them to the center.

Harsh?

“If you put a child behind bars against their will, it’s harsh,” Shosh said. “When you put a child through discipline they’re not used to, it’s harsh. On the other hand, if this is your last chance as a parent …”

 Human Rights Violation or Parents’ Rights?

“You can say it’s a human rights violations, as some journalists do,” Shosh said. “And you can also say it’s the last chance for these children.”

Tao claims a 70 percent success rate at reforming the kids. In the film, the children appear to be brainwashed into thinking that Internet gaming is a horrible thing. They also are forced into respecting their parents. One child is told to say to his father, “I love you” 30 times.

But away from their parents, the filmmakers show the children joking amongst themselves about what goes on at the camp. “It’s easy to say ‘I love you’ 1,000 times,” one child quips. “It’s called, ‘Control C, Control V,’” as the children squeal with laughter.

Another child breaks out in song, in English, singing Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone.”

Shosh said socially inept children are not unique to China. “In Israel, there are teens who will not even look into your eyes. Our children are losing their emotional intelligence.”

She believes these Chinese reform camps are trying to help children, and it could be a model that other nations soon will follow. “You can relate to the fear of the Chinese government seeing the power of the Internet. Of course they are afraid of the Internet and all of the social media. But no doubt, China is the only country in the world that tries to face the problem at a national level.”

But when the teens do give in and admit they have an Internet addiction, are they telling the truth or just trying to get out of the camps?

“It’s hard to tell,” Shosh said. “When you are dealing with the souls of people, you cannot tell if they’re pretending or not. We hope that the 70 percent success rate they are claiming is true.”

Watch the trailer for “Web Junkie” by clicking here.

This adorable old guy is my dad. And I may never see him again. Today I tell you why.

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Editor’s note: This piece originally was published July 14, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission from Healthline (many thanks to Healthline). The incident reported here came around the one-year anniversary of an attempted homicide (that’s my definition, it still was being investigated by police as an assault last I knew) that I survived the last time I ever took a drink. It left me with a PTSD diagnosis regardless, and such behavior as what is described here is not uncommon for people with PTSD around the time of anniversary dates because they serve as triggers.

 The facility never filed formal paperwork to trespass me despite what I originally reported (they simply had a high-powered Chicago lawyer send me two threatening letters saying they had), but I was told by a judge to “keep my distance” anyway. And I trusted her. I appeared before the judge because the wellness director of the facility filed a no-contact order against me (facilities routinely take such measures when they have a demanding advocate for a resident…I heard from people not only from around the U.S., but around the world when I wrote this). The no-contact order was dismissed and I represented myself (pro se).

 I’ve been told by several attorneys that I have a solid case against this facility, but I’m not sure I have the energy left to fight. I’m glad I have attorneys willing to take the case, as it is affirming regardless.

 I’m still fighting my brother just to get the inheritance dad left me in a simple “share and share alike” will for which there should be no confusion. What a never-ending nightmare that has cost me $5,000 in attorney fees thus far! To think it continues even 15 months after dad has been laid to rest. But I’m glad he’s resting, and I’m glad I have maintained my sobriety, I am grateful for a great career and for my self-respect back.

Still, Never. Forget. What happened on this day. I never reported it at the time, but this is what led to my being taken to the Rock Island County Jail, held on no charges at all, stripped naked and emotionally tortured for two days. To think that Strategic Behavioral Health recently was denied a license for a psychiatric hospital in the Quad-Cities! What happened to me is not at all unusual. Even the Scott County Sheriff testified on behalf of Strategic Behavioral Health for the need for this facility. The Rock Island County Sheriff, meanwhile, is married to Congresswoman Cheri Bustos, former executive for UnityPoint Trinity/Robert Young, which opposed the construction of the Strategic Behavioral Health facility along with Ken Croken on behalf of Genesis Medical Center, Davenport. Genesis and UnityPoint monopolize the market for psychiatric beds in the Quad-Cities.

 This piece had almost 18,000 page views on Healthline Contributors as of last month. Thank you for allowing me to share my story.

By David Heitz

This adorable old guy is my dad. And I may never see him again.

That’s because his assisted-living facility criminally trespassed me a little more than two months ago. This occurred after I reported an intruder while I was there – someone who I recognized as a “bad guy” from my past, whether right or wrong. When they laughed at me and discredited me when I made the report, I started yelling and giving them a piece of my mind, as I admittedly had done before.

I’m very protective of my dad. And they know that, because I would show up at the facility once, twice, sometimes three times a day, at all hours, to make sure he was being properly cared for. That’s the only way to know for sure whether a loved one in a facility is getting the care they are paying outrageous sums for. Any dedicated caregiver will tell you this is absolutely true.

I would walk in on the weekends and see residents sprawled out on the floor while the CNAs were downstairs, on their phones, fighting amongst themselves, or eating candy. On the weekends, it was an absolute free-for-all. Once, a resident and their loved one became locked in an apartment due to the door malfunctioning. Nobody answered when the emergency cord was pulled. Nobody answered the phone at the front desk. Nobody answered calls for help. That person removed their loved one from the facility, as have many others in recent months.

In the first threatening letter the facility’s Chicago law firm sent, they stated I had premeditated an attack of some sort, calling the police and the front desk of the facility before arriving. A simple review of the 911 tape of my call to the police department will prove that I called because I thought my life was in danger. My life had been threatened a couple of days prior to this visit, and I had been on edge. I thought I saw other “bad guys” while walking to the facility from the bus stop, so I called both the police and the front desk of the facility to make sure I got in safely. There’s a perfectly good reason why I thought I was in danger – that also is easily verifiable – and I am not “crazy.”

I’m not the power of attorney. As the guy not writing the checks from my dad’s account, I have been laughed at, discredited and disrespected ever since my dad’s facility was sold to one of the largest assisted-living chains in America. A handful of the CNAs, particularly those working on the weekends, have been anything but professional. They get by with … anything they want. And they know it.

From day one, when the new executive director was put into place, she painted me as mentally ill. Her latest slander against me came after I sent the local elder ombudsman to dad’s facility to check on his welfare since I have been unable to see him since May 4. A month prior, dad had landed in the emergency room, a deep gash to his face. Dad reported to the doc, the hospice social worker and myself that an employee at the facility had struck him. My dad repeatedly has alleged that one employee in particular, who struts around the place threatening other employees and disrespecting residents and their loved ones, has hurt him repeatedly. I have seen this employee be rough with other residents and be insubordinate to her superiors. When I report it, I am laughed at and discredited by the executive director, who is almost never there.

So, as I was covering the White House Conference on Aging yesterday, I received a second threatening letter from the Chicago law firm of the facility. It states: “(Facility) is advising you that it will not allow anyone sent by you or on your behalf to enter upon the premises of (facility) at any time. All visitors are being screened for this purpose, in order to maintain the safety and well-being of residents, visitors and staff. If someone comes on your behalf or at your request to (facility) that person or those persons will not be permitted entrance. In addition, no mail, packages, or other items sent to (facility) by you, on your behalf or at your request, will be accepted.”

This is called isolation. They have removed his advocate and are isolating him. Classic, classic elder abuse. I am one of the most gentle guys you could ever meet. I am 14 moths sober. I have God in my life. Everyone who knows me knows this.

Why do I write this? Because this sort of thing is being replicated coast to coast. I’m not one to roll over.

Elder care in America is a disgrace. When I met Joan Lunden last year after I interviewed her for this Healthline news story, I vowed to be an advocate for elderly people. I meant it.

Saturdays with dad – still making memories

saturdays

This article originally was published Feb. 3, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted here with permission. My dad died less than seven months after this was written.

By David Heitz

When dad first entered the memory care facility two years ago come July, I remember having a conversation with the director that always has stuck with me.

She explained then that when a parent has a progressive illness with dementia, we lose them twice. We lose them when they’re no longer able to communicate, and then of course we lose them when they die.

I knew she was speaking truth when she told me this, but I sort of shrugged it off as “after-school special talk.” That’s my term for the things people tell you about losing a loved one with dementia that, yeah, you’ve heard it all before, you hope it doesn’t apply in your case, and sometimes it’s just best to mind your own business.

But some things, like that piece of advice she gave me, are worth listening to. Other words of wisdom that have proven true? “Join a support group, you’ll feel better” and “you really need to remember to take care of yourself.”

Even though I’ve really been down in the dumps as it relates to the progression of dad’s illness, I wanted to write a column today talking about good memories with dad. I’m hoping it makes me feel better, because I really do feel like I’ve already lost dad that first time, as the director of dad’s facility predicted. Writing this column each month helps me come to terms with it all, and for that I am so grateful.

Dad still talks now and then, but very little, and nothing makes any sense at all. Soon I know even these few sentences per visit will become cherished memories.

Here’s another important piece of advice: When a loved one goes into a facility, there’s no reason at all to stop making memories.

Just last week, dad pointed to a row of wheelchairs next to the television in the great room of his facility and said, “Take a picture of all those hot rods lined up over there.” That one went over pretty well on Facebook.

Having Fun While Making Fun of Milan

So last night I began thinking about dad and special moments with him that stick out. They always were on Saturdays. I think every Saturday until the end of my days I’ll think about my dad.

When I was very young, we would go on Saturday mornings to visit one of his two best friends, Jack Long or Dave Guldenzopf. They both lived in the nearby village of Milan, and going to Milan always excited me for whatever reason.

Even though Milan borders my town of Rock Island, Ill., it always seemed like another world to me. You have to cross two little bridges over the Rock River to get there from Rock Island. When you cross the bridge, there’s a power dam with a little waterfall off to your left. To a little kid it’s just the neatest thing ever to look at the waterfall when you’re crossing the Milan bridges.

Back in those days, when you entered the village of Milan the first thing you’d see was a Western store with a large, spinning horse atop its sign. There were lots of seedy looking bars downtown, too. Honestly, to me it looked like the set of a Western at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Dad liked to make fun of Milan. It’s terrible, but I have good memories of hearing dad’s Milan jokes. Even until recently, we would giggle when he would talk about Milan.

(Disclaimer: Milan has since grown up and boasts some of the most beautiful residential neighborhoods in our region: a stunning city hall, robust economic growth and lots of other wonderful things! So my apologies to Milan!)

Dad always was in a good mood when we would visit his friends in Milan. It seemed like a reprieve from work and married life for him, at least for a morning or an afternoon.

Honestly, he seemed like a different person during those Saturday trips to Milan, and looking back I can only imagine home life was as miserable for him as it was for the rest of us. Other than that, dad seldom went anywhere. Keep in mind he received disability retirement at 43, so he led a pretty boring life.

Sadly, Jack and Dave both passed quite a long time ago. Dad hasn’t been able to visit either of them for many years.

Prior to taking me with him to see Jack or Dave on a Saturday, I know he used to spend Saturdays visiting his dad. I don’t remember my Grandpa Raymond T. Heitz the first (now there are four, maybe five, who knows) because I was only 3 when he died.

But my dad, who like so many people with dementia like to tell you the same thing 10 million times over, spoke many times through the years about enjoying his Saturday visits with his dad. Those were special memories for him.

Free Lunches at Coney Island and Mr. Quick’s

Saturdays weren’t just about seeing Jack or Dave. Usually it meant a free lunch, too.

My dad was a penny-pincher, and seldom did we eat out unless my mother insisted on it (and who am I kidding? she did insist on it quite a bit). So when on a Saturday we would go to Mr. Quick’s or Harold’s Coney Island, it was a huge treat.

I remember two things about Mr. Quick’s and Harold’s Coney Island. Mr. Quick’s had a tile mosaic counter that I thought was just so, so cool. And Harold’s Coney Island? I remember Harold, the little old guy who ran the place (not super old, but older than my dad at the time). He was very quiet and very regular guy-ish. No matter what anyone at the counter would say, he’d just sort of smile and nod, then go back to cooking the hot dogs. The guy really never said much, but I thought he was famous. His name was on the sign outside Coney Island, after all!

And sometimes around here when people talk, smiling and nodding is simply a good idea. He was a smart man.

Fast-forward to before dad moved into the facility. I had the pleasure of making memories with him for one year in this house, the house he and my mother bought together in 1963 (and now I own the house). She had him evicted from the home in 1984 (Order of Protection) prior to divorcing him the second time. I moved out shortly thereafter, moving in with a cousin and paying room and board as a high school senior on my part-time newspaper salary.

When mom died in 1995, neither dad nor I had an interest in buying the house. My older brother already had his own house by then. So we sold it.

And in what undoubtedly has been labeled a dementia twist by some, dad found out it was for sale in 2012 and bought it again.  The year we spent together here was special beyond words.

 Facility Tales: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Back to when the time comes for a nursing home or assisted living. The best advice I can give anyone is to NOT stop making memories once they go in there. It only will make life unpleasant for both of you.

For starters, let me just tell you surprise visits are a necessary part of being your loved one’s advocate. You need to know what’s going on, and sometimes you may not always be thrilled with what you see. But it can’t be addressed if you don’t know it’s happening.

But far more importantly, you only are cheating yourself by staying away from a loved one when things begin to become uncomfortable. Going along with the strange things they say and maintaining as much of a sense of normalcy as possible, I think, is key to getting through this – for both the loved one and the patient.

If you’ve got a sense of humor, facilities are just plain fun at times. I wrote a little bit about that in my first column about dad, “My Dad: Class Clown of His Memory Care Community.”

Believe me, I could write a book: “Facility Tales – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” And I still might. But for the most part, the controlled environment of assisted living allows for some tender moments during the sunset of life that I do not believe otherwise would be possible due to the stress of caregiving.

So when they go into the memory care facility, keep making memories. That’s the whole point.

Still full of life, breast cancer took mom 22 years ago come March

mom-cancer

This piece originally was published March 6, 2015, the day before the 20th anniversary of my mother’s death to breast cancer. The Healthline Contributors site has now gone dark, but Healthline graciously has given me permission to reprint this piece on my own website.

By David Heitz

Twenty years ago Saturday I lost my beautiful mother to breast cancer. She was only 53 years old – my brother’s age now. I was 24.

Now I’m losing my dad to a rare brain disease, although he has lived to a very ripe old age of 76. Entering his 14th month of hospice, I have been so caught up in the emotional rollercoaster of losing him that I haven’t had a lot of time to reflect on this major anniversary of Mom’s death. But it is a perpetual state of reflection, as I am living now in the very house she died in March 7, 1995.

So instead of going on and on, I’d like to repost this column that was published March 9, 1995, in the Orange, Calif. Independent. I was working as city editor of the Independent, owned by California Community News, which was a division of Times Mirror. The newspaper was inserted weekly into the Los Angeles Times in Orange, Villa Park and Anaheim Hills.

The column was published again a year later in the Glendale News Press, when I was managing editor of that daily, also owned by and delivered with the Times. The column received an Award of Excellence in 1996 by the Greater Los Angeles Press Club at the Southern California Journalism Awards.

While so many advances have been made in cancer research, it remains a frightening disease that touches so many lives on such a personal level, people I know and love, all the time.

This is in memory of my mother, Barbara Fordham Heitz.

“Until her last breath, mom will keep laughing”

I’m convinced my mom is going to die laughing.

I sat with her the past two weeks and watched her body slowly give up to cancer. We witnessed a painfully unthinkable dying process, something even the darkest minds in Hollywood probably could never dream up. And they certainly would leave out the laughter.

For better or worse, her mind is unaffected by the disease, and she hasn’t lost her sense of humor.

To the astonishment of doctors, nurses and family members, mom is still alive as I write this column. The menacing cancer tumors have strangled her colon, liver and apparently her kidneys, too. She literally is filling with fluids like a balloon attached to a garden hose.

When she began to hemorrhage through her G tube (a hose that drains the stomach), she watched nonchalantly as my brother tried to siphon out the blood clots with a device that resembles a turkey baster. “Get out of there, you little hussies,” she called to the clots.

When some of my younger cousins questioned her coloration, baldness and frail body, she let them believe she was in labor.

When I presented her with a helium-filled smiley face balloon, she declared with her own smile: “It is more jaundiced than I am.”

When she had what can only be described as a near-death experience, and the room became dark to her in the middle of a sunny afternoon, she began to laugh uncontrollably. Her significant other guessed she must have been playing a joke on God.

If you don’t believe laughter is the best medicine, you’re wrong. Dead wrong.

When death comes for a terminally ill cancer patient like my mother, there’s no room for tears. Those were shed 15 years ago, when a doctor interrupted her contagious giggle with three horrifying words: “You have cancer.”

How Joan Lunden has inspired me to get serious about elder advocacy

joan-hc

This piece originally was written April 21, 2015, for Healthline Contributors. That site is going dark, so this piece is reprinted with permission here (many thanks to Healthline for the heads up and the permission to reprint). My father’s assisted living facility had just changed hands when this was written, and things took a severe nosedive shortly thereafter. I urge everyone to attempt to care for their loved one at home if possible. I realize that sometimes it is not.

By David Heitz

I met Joan Lunden face to face Friday!

I attended a meet-and-greet fundraiser after she spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at the RiverCenter/Adler Theatre in Davenport, Iowa. Both events raised money for Gilda’s Club of the Quad-Cities – the community in which I live – and were sponsored by Genesis Cancer Institute.

When I heard that Joan was coming to my community, I knew I just had to meet her. A publicist for Joan reached out to me last September and offered me an interview with the legendary television newswoman. Just days before I interviewed Joan for this piece on her work advocating for quality senior living, she revealed on “Today” and her alma mater “Good Morning America” that she has breast cancer.

I thought, “Why would someone as famous as Joan Lunden work so hard during a time like this?”

The explanation she gave Friday keeps playing over and over in my head. “I realized, ‘Joan, you have this amazing platform after being in people’s living rooms and bedrooms for so many years,’” she told one news reporter. “You can either step up, or not.”

so understand what she means. While I can’t relate to the fear or despair that can come with a cancer diagnosis (although I did lose my mom to breast cancer 20 years ago last month), I can relate to the fear and self-pity associated with having a parent lose their mind before your very eyes.

The issue I spoke with Joan about for my story last October – preparing for the possibility that a loved one may have to move into an assisted living facility – could not be more personal to me. Like so many Americans my age, Dad’s dementia came on sort of suddenly in terms of when it got to be more than I could handle. I had checked in on him for many years, and lived with him for one year. When it became too much and I dialed 911 two years ago, the drama and anguish that followed for several months afterward became more than I could bear. While my dad ended up getting outstanding care, and continues to get it today, it has not been without struggle – lots and lots and lots of struggle on my behalf as his advocate.

At one point, managing the situation became more than I could handle. I cried out on social media in a drunken rage about some of the horrible things that were going on as it related to Dad’s dementia, my concerns about the quality of the care he was getting, and even some of my personal relationships with family and friends.

The day after the explosive, blunt posts, I woke up. Like Joan, I thought to myself: “Everyone is watching you. You’re an intelligent person. Are you going to feel sorry for yourself?”

And, in my case, drink myself to death? Or was I going to get sober, step up to the plate and be my dad’s advocate?

I chose the latter. The day after Memorial Day marks one year since I put down the bottle for good. And while I may not be famous like Joan, I do think it’s fair to say I have a way of telling interesting stories, as well as access to some great platforms like Healthline.

So while talking about Dad’s dementia is tough, I’m going to do what Joan has done. I plan to pour even more of myself into issues related to elder advocacy and helping others prepare for Mom and Dad possibly needing to go into “the place” someday. In addition to Healthline, I hope to soon share my experiences about being Dad’s caregiver with even more sites and publications.

How do you know Mom has dementia and isn’t just forgetful? How can you be sure Dad is getting good care at the memory-care facility? What are some warning signs that Mom isn’t in the right place for her? What do you need to know about signing contracts when choosing a place for your parent? What should you think about when choosing a power of attorney? When a parent with dementia goes on hospice, what does that mean, exactly?

Believe me, it’s not the same as putting a parent dying of cancer on hospice, heaven forbid. There are lots of important differences. And a few shocking things everyone needs to be aware of.

I have all of that information, and it’s time I start sharing it. On top of my personal experience (and battle scars), I’ve become a bit of an expert on the topic of elder care myself after talking to so many prominent national authorities like Joan. I’ve spoken with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Aging Kathy Greenlee about elder abuse being a growing national problem. I’ve interviewed former ’70s pinup model and television bombshell Loni Anderson about caring for her parents with COPD. I’ve reported on how corporate America needs to acknowledge that people caring for elderly parents are the new “working moms.” I’ve told the story of how caregivers save their loved ones and government-funded health programs billions of dollars every year. And just last month I reported that home-care workers for the elderly are living in poverty.

As a journalist, I’ve always thought, How can you expect others to share if you don’t share yourself?

“When you’ve got such a platform, you can either step up to the plate, or not.”

Joan said it again at the meet-and-greet.

I’m stepping up, Joan. Thanks for being an inspiration.

Research explains how my writing, not lots and lots of meetings, got me sober

 

aa-no-way

Originally published Aug. 19, 2015, on Healthline Contributors, which no longer is live. Reprinted with permission. This piece had almost 8,000 page views on Contributors as of Dec. 3, 2016.

By David Heitz

My sobriety has left a lot of people speechless.

After all, I took my first sip in 1984 at the age of 14 and, off and on, drank heavily for 30 years. When I wasn’t drinking, I was in the throes of a crystal meth addiction. When I escaped the wickedness of meth, I ran right back into the arms of booze. For many years, cocaine was in the mix, too.

So how have I gotten sober? And has it really been as easy as I say it has been?

It has, and for me the key to getting sober hasn’t so much been a higher power, but for the first time in many years, having meaning in my life.

I got wind this week of some groundbreaking research published last year in the Journal of Social Service Research titled “Attachment Style, Spirituality, and Depressive Symptoms Among Individuals in Substance Abuse Treatment.” Naelys Diaz, associate professor in the School of Social Work at Florida Atlantic University, and colleagues studied a group of 77 people receiving substance abuse treatment at Behavioral Health of the Palm Beaches in Florida.

Read more: When is it time to thrown in the towel on AA, and what other options are there?

They found that those who reported having meaning in their life were less likely to suffer from depressive symptoms than those who reported a perceived “closeness to God,” otherwise known as “a higher power” in 12-step programs.

People who report secure attachment styles – people with positive views of both themselves and others – long have been known to be at a lesser risk of depression. They are more likely to form trusting, intimate, emotional bonds with other people.

The Realities of Insecure Attachment Styles

But it is people with insecure attachment styles who are more at risk for substance abuse, and the depression that leads to relapse when trying to get sober. People with insecure attachment styles fall into three subcategories:

  1. Preoccupied. These people have a negative view of self, but a positive view of others. Their insecurity stems from feelings of low self-worth, anxiety and fear of abandonment by others.

I’ve been in this terrible place. It’s not a good place to be if you want to make good choices about who you hang out with, as opposed to hanging out with just anyone who will pay you some attention, even if they don’t have your best interests in mind.

  1. Dismissive. People with dismissive styles are likely to have a positive view of self, but still often have a negative view of others. I admittedly am trying to crawl out of this category and develop a secure attachment style.
  1. Fearful. People with fearful styles have negative views of both themselves and others. Their lack of personal worth coupled with expectations of abandonment interfere with the possibility of developing healthy intimate relationships.

Why Meaningful Lives Are Critical in Sobriety

So, if meaning in life is more important to the success of people battling substance abuse and depression (which often leads to relapse), why all the focus on God and a higher power?

“People need to find security in terms of their relationships,” Diaz said. “If they don’t find it with their relatives, they’re going to look for that sense of safety and community elsewhere. For people with an insecure attachment style, a relationship to God is the next best thing.”

The problem is that if the perceived relationship with God or a “higher power” isn’t enough to keep them wholly satisfied, it won’t ward off the depression that likely will lead to relapse.

I have more meaning in life than I’ve ever had. That’s because I feel like my health reporting truly makes a difference and helps people. I don’t have HIV or hepatitis C, for example, but I know that when I write about these topics it helps people not only who have these diseases, but who may be at risk for them. To me, that provides much more satisfaction than I ever got writing or editing stories in the newspaper about road work. I can say the same about how I feel regarding my reporting on elder care and caregiving.

In 12-step groups, they describe this sort of satisfaction from helping others as “service work.” It may come in the form of volunteering at a nursing home or a school, for example.

Second, the writing process for me is a form of creative expression, and those creative feelings just make me feel generally good – a fix, if you will. Others enjoy such creative benefits by cooking, gardening or building things, for example.

Read more: Renowned addiction writer says shaming doesn’t work, nor do 12-step programs for opioid addicts 

Third, living by myself, in a quiet neighborhood, and even working in solitude, gives me a feeling of peace and calmness that I never before have had the opportunity to experience.

 A Three-Pronged Path to Staying Sober

All of these things have helped create a sober David, and that’s no surprise, Diaz said.

Soon, Diaz will have a paper published in the Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work along with colleague Gail Horton outlining how service to others, moments of solitude and creative activities can help people find meaning in life and get them on the path to recovery, she said. They call this model the “three-leg stool.”

“AA works for many, many people,” Diaz stressed. “But some people have no relationship with God, or their relationship with God is hurting them at this point in time and needs to be addressed in treatment. In those cases (the relationship with God) can be more connected to the symptoms.”

Diaz said treatment centers need to work harder to foster creative activities (painting, drawing, writing, dancing, gardening), solitude (praying, meditating, walking a labyrinth) and service to others.

Is it really a surprise that people who have meaning in their life are less likely to be engulfed by drugs and alcohol?

For many people, sobriety needs to be about more than meetings.