The Outdoorsman Has Had His Wings Clipped


In response to my last post about Charlie's inability to enjoy the outdoors via his all terrain vehicle, several people suggested ways he could navigate the woods on foot. I don't believe I have ever told the whole story about Charlie's disabilities.

During the Cold War in 1963, Charlie was a career fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. On a cold day in December, he was piloting an F101 Voodoo over RAF Bentwater Air Base in England when the fighter experienced mechanical problems. The plane crashed as he came in for a landing, broke into three pieces and burned.

Charlie was hospitalized for several weeks with head, spinal, leg and internal injuries. The crash left him with partial paralysis of his legs, a condition that has increasingly worsened as he aged.

Charlie recovered from his injuries to the point that the Air Force reassigned him to non-flying status. He was honored to be able to serve in Vietnam five years later as an intelligence officer. When the Vietnam War wound down, he was retired from active duty and went to work for the U.S. Custom Service at the Peace Bridge in Niagara Falls, NY.

Residual effects from the accident have plagued him ever since. He had to have knee surgery, surgery for hammer toes and a bowel resection due to adhesions from the abdominal injuries. Doctors also indicated that brain scans following his TIA six years ago showed he probably suffered a brain injury from the accident. Therefore, it's quite likely that his dementia is an indirect result of the fighter crash.

He now uses a walker to get around; even that is becoming difficult. I am sure he will reach the point where a wheelchair will be his only option for mobility.

Since Charlie has been an outdoorsman all his life, it has been a bitter pill for him to be relegated to this type of life.

When we moved to New Hampshire, we found a lovely spot in a seniors-only community where we have a view of a ten-acre open field backed by woodlands. Charlie is able to sit in his recliner and watch the wildlife amble by the living room window. He is entertained by herds of deer, flocks of wild turkeys, a fox with her young one, and an occasional bear with three cubs. Once the bears go into hibernation, feeding the birds provides him with hours of wintertime enjoyment.

We had a ladybug turn up in our living room yesterday. I picked it up with a tissue and headed for the door. Charlie stopped me saying, "No, put her on the window; I want to watch her." It just goes to show how hungry he is for a chance to commune with nature, even the tiniest of creatures.

Bucolic as the view is out the window, it will never replace the freedom Charlie felt when he was able to navigate his 200 acres on his ATV. As recently as six-years ago, his legs were still able to climb into his 15-foot deer blind equipped with a propane heater, easy chair and windows. The year he caught a 13-point buck was the culmination of his hunting experiences. It was followed a few months later by the mini-stroke and ensuing dementia that changed his life forever.

Charlie's increasing health problems have caused us to spend a lot of time discussing whether or not we are ready for assisted living. He is adamant that, if he can't find a place with a view of wildlife, he isn't moving. I pray that our life doesn't come to that, because I fear that I won't be able to find a facility that meets his standards.

Marlis describes herself as a “Gramma who loves technology and has a lot to say.” She blogs about whatever catches her interest: food, books, family and more. For, she writes about the issues facing the elderly and her experiences caring for her husband, Charlie, who suffers from dementia.

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We have recently been struggling with a similar issue- my husband can no longer enjoy the outdoors as he did before due to some severe back issues. Our solution was finding an electric golf cart. Not noisy, super comfortable, very easy to drive and get in and out of. They are easy to maintain and only require being plugged in for a charge after a few hours of use. New ones can be expensive but we found a used cart for a reasonable price. Now he enjoys taking me for an evening "stroll" around the property and on wooded trails. Un-like a rascal, golf carts are designed to be driven out of doors and on grassy areas, and accommodate a passenger. Some have a fold down seat on the back that grandkids like to sit in for a ride too. They are so quiet you can easily have a nice conversation or chat on the phone while riding. No, it's not the same as being able to do things like we used to, but it was a good alternative for us.
Marlis, thank your husband for me for his proud years of service.

If you cannot find a continuing care facility that has a wonderful view of wildlife, is there any chance that you could hire a person to come in to help you and Charlie? I fully understand how Charlie feels, I would be lost without my views, too.
The more I read about Charlie, the more I just want to give you both a big hug.