No one should have to undergo the degradation and suffering my husband, a Vietnam veteran, recently experienced in his own country.
My husband, Ronald Lee Davis, had a 100 percent VA service-connected disability rating. He had been receiving treatment for Lewy body dementia, an atypical Parkinson’s disease, as well as PTSD at the Durham Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center since fall of 2010. The medical care there was fantastic. Unfortunately, the LBD, a progressive disease, had recently gotten much worse.
While Ron was on vacation in Virginia, his attention span grew even shorter. He was more disoriented and subject to psychotic outbursts. He assaulted our grandson and a friend. We were able to talk him down but had to keep him under constant surveillance.
A few days later, my husband had a psychotic episode in which he tried to attack our grandchildren. He was so combative that he had to be physically restrained by our son. He became a danger not only to himself but to other people. We had no choice but to take him to the nearest hospital emergency room at Riverside in Tappahannock, Virginia, where he later punched a nurse.
With the help of the hospital and social workers, we contacted more than 32 facilities in Virginia and North Carolina, including four VA hospitals. No facility would take him. He was never admitted to a room in Riverside but remained in the emergency room for one and a half nights. For his and others’ safety, we had no choice but to have him temporarily committed to Eastern State Hospital, in Williamsburg, Virginia. He arrived there by ambulance after midnight.
Once at Eastern State, he attacked a staff member and threw chairs across the floor. His physical health declined even further. When Ron first arrived there, I noticed a very strange walk in addition to his Parkinsonian characteristic shuffling, as though tripping over his feet. He had extreme difficulty speaking.
After a day or so, my continuous visits were for naught, as each time I would be told he was sleeping. My concerns were voiced and met with reasonable replies. However, within a week, he was transported from Eastern State to Sentara Hospital Emergency Room in Williamsburg, where he was diagnosed with severe dehydration, pneumonia, acute renal failure and a rash. He was unable to swallow and couldn’t talk and was in a comatose-like state from which he never woke. Sentara admitted him, though he was still under auspices of Eastern State, and provided outstanding care while we continued trying to get him back to North Carolina.
When Ron was at death’s door, the Durham VA Medical Center was finally able to accept him. There was still another obstacle to face, however. Because he had been committed to the state mental institution, he wasn’t allowed to cross state lines to get back into North Carolina. With the support of many professionalshelping us on this case, Eastern State was granted legal authorization to release him.
He was transferred by ambulance in the wee hours of the morning and ended up in the VA hospice unit. He died there of advanced Lewy body dementia on Sept. 9.
Doctors, nurses, social workers and many others from both states tried to help us find timely care, but everything seemed to be locked up in an administrative bind that no one could penetrate. He did not belong in Eastern State, which acted as a safety net for disturbed patients who couldn’t find care elsewhere. He needed to be placed in a mental ward of a medical hospital, which seems to be a thing of the past. There, his psychotic episodes could have been addressed while he received the medical help he needed. Unfortunately, even when there was a psychiatric ward at a hospital we contacted, there were not enough beds to meet the demand.
This situation should never have occurred. We need to step up to the plate and make sure it never happens again. Restructuring our medical institutions to include the mentally ill, as well as dementia patients, is a challenge we must face.
Patricia S. Davis of Raleigh is a retired dance instructor, gymnastics coach and insurance representative