Monday, November 18, 2013


During their final years our adoptive parents could have continued to live in their home in Athens, Ohio, had Father been willing to accept a daytime housekeeper who would cook the evening meal, keep the house clean and pick up and do the laundry.  He chased a series of housekeepers away and thus spent his final years in a modern but soulless assisted care facility.  Mother, on the other hand, continued to live in their house in Wonder Hills and when that was no longer possible, she asked to be moved into a small apartment.  In her last year Janey created a bedroom suite for her in Janey’s home.  

                                    Father is off to Hickory Creek

          When mom and dad, our adoptive parents in Children of the Manse, reached their mid-80’s, my sister Janey hired housekeepers that would come in each day to pick up and clean the house, do the grocery shopping, and prepare an evening meal.  Dad chased them all away, insisting that he and mom could take care of themselves, thank you.  What that meant in effect was that mom would take care of him, responding as she had all their lives together to his many needs, real and imagined.   For years she had said from time to time, “He’s killing me by inches,” but she complained little though it was obvious to Janey, the only one of us who lived in Athens at that time, that his demands were in fact slowly killing Mother.  But he was king, like King Lear, and the discussion ended there.    
          On Palm Sunday in l990 Dad had a bad fall and was taken to O’Bleness Hospital in Athens.  About the same time Janey discovered his abuse of prescription drugs was worse than she had thought.  His behavior was becoming ever more erratic.  In anger he had grabbed the steering wheel of a granddaughter’s car in which Janey and mom were also riding and almost drove the entire family off the Richland Avenue Bridge.   The psychologist and the psychiatrist at O’Bleness recommended he be placed in Hickory Creek, a new assisted living facility in a village called The Plains near Athens.  After a few weeks at Hickory Creek medical personnel there recommended he be sent to Harding, the Ohio State University medical center in Columbus, for a full psychiatric evaluation.  He was at Harding for over a month.  The doctors there concluded he should be placed permanently under medical supervision in an assisted care facility.  One of their observations did not surprise us.  “This patient is the most manipulative human being we have ever evaluated.” 
          Mom chose a new assisted care facility she liked down along the Ohio River near Pomeroy but once the staff there read the Harding evaluation, they declined to take him.  He hated leaving home, hated going into an institution, and we hated having to place him there.  He was particularly hard on Janey, always his favorite child, who he blamed for his commitment to Hickory Creek. He began calling her Big Mouth in his belief she had spilled the beans about his prescription drug abuse and talked authorities into sending him to Hickory Creek in the first place.  It was as if he was King Lear, driving away his favorite daughter as Lear drove away Cordelia.  At other times he told Janey, “The only reason I am going there is because I love you.”  All this was unfair because Janey, as the only one of us living in Athens at that time, had to take the initiatives we all agreed were necessary.
Dad continued to resist staying in Hickory Creek.  No wonder.  It was a sterile, charmless place that looked more like a newly built hospital clinic than anything else.  But, to borrow a line he sometimes used on us, “He brought it on himself.”   Even so it was sad that the view from dad’s room window in the Hickory Creek facility was bleak in a county with some of the most scenic landscapes of wooded hills and open fields in North America. He knew his Shakespeare and some times, like King Lear, he ranted against his fate.  He managed to run away twice.  Once he hid in a house of a couple he had known for years until the hospital staff discovered his whereabouts and brought him back.  I felt sorry for him during my first visit to Hickory Creek while on home leave from Australia.  He seemed too active, too alert, too capable, and too young to be in a place where many of the residents had lost some or most of their capacities to function in life.  It hurt to see that he could no longer enjoy the splendid west-looking view he had had of Athens County hills from his back porch at home. 
          Unhappy as he was, he continued to distinguish himself in his new environment. Even in a place that had to depress him he found the means of continuing the ministry to others that he had exercised all his adult life. He worked at organizing singing groups so that the residents would have something to do.  He read to those unable to read for themselves.  He led non-denominational religious services and a prayer group. 

Weeks after he arrived the director, an attractive woman in her late 30s, told Janey. 

“You know, Janey, our work days here were mostly boring until your father arrived.  Now the staff can’t wait to get to work to see what he has been up to.” 
          What he was up to was doing everything possible to escape Hickory Creek.  He called judges he knew, he called prominent lawyers.  He wanted them to legally force his family and Hickory Creek to release him.  He called a psychologist, a former drinking buddy, who called mom to berate her for having put him there.   
There were other developments.  The moderate hypochondria he suffered as a man in his middle years had advanced to the point that he was calling a dozen different doctors a day with one symptom or another he feared signaled his imminent demise.  These were doctors long established in Athens.  He called newly arrived doctors who had not yet been told about his campaigns to obtain prescription drugs.  Most doctors eventually instructed their nurses to take no more calls from the Reverend Fred E. Luchs.
The doctor who suffered most from his barrage of telephone calls was his personal physician. Finally, after repeated frustrations and doing violence to his medical ethics, his doctor also instructed his nurse and his family to take no more calls from Dr. Luchs that were not clearly emergencies.

So one day dad called his doctor’s residence and said:

“Good afternoon. This is Dr. Luchs.  Is my doctor there, please?”   

The doctor’s son answered the phone. 

“This is Matthew, Dr. Luchs. Is this an emergency?” 

“Well, no it’s not actually an emergency but I need to talk with your father.”

“Well, my Dad has told me not to take any more of your calls unless they are emergencies.”

  A day later dad called his doctor’s office again and, told he was not there, again called his residence.  The son again answered the phone.

Dad cupped his hand over the receiver to distort his voice and said,
“This is Dr. Maxwell, calling to speak to your father.” 

“I’m sorry, doctor, but you will have to call again.  Dad is up on the roof doing repairs and told me not to take any phone calls that are not emergencies.”

Not to be stymied, the Dr. Fred E. Luchs told a whopper.

“Look, son.  You must tell him this needs his immediate attention.  This is an EMERGENCY.

So the son ran out of the house, shouted up to his father who climbed the long distance down the extension ladder he was using and, somewhat annoyed, went to the phone. 

“Hello, Mac.  This is John.  What’s up?”

“Good afternoon, doctor, this is Doctor Luchs.” 

“Doctor Luchs?? Dr. Fred Luchs???  You are not Mac Maxwell?”

“Well….. no…. but you see…..

“You impersonated a doctor?!!”  You, a clergyman, impersonated a doctor?  
His doctor’s blood pressure was rising rapidly.    

“Well, you wouldn’t have come down off the roof to speak to me otherwise, would you?”

His doctor slammed down the phone receiver on its cradle!  He raced to his car and drove at 50 miles per hour on hilly, winding county roads to Hickory Creek.  He ran through the front door, ran down the hall and ran towards dad’s room, second on the right side, without saying hello to the nurse on duty.  He ran into Dad’s room, grabbed the wall phone next to Dad’s bed and with one mighty pull, yanked it out of the wall.

“There,” he said, spanking his hands against each other.  “That will you fix you.  No more phone calls!” 

He stopped at the nurse’s station as he left to write in dad’s chart: “Do not under any circumstances have the phone in Dr. Luchs room repaired. His telephone privileges are suspended indefinitely.” Then he scratched part of that out and wrote, “No.  They are cancelled forever!  And he is not to be permitted to use any other phone in this facility!”    
Days later Dr. Luchs, formerly the pastor of First Presbyterian in Athens and other pulpits, went from house to house ringing door bells in the Plains with his hand out begging for “a little spare change, in quarters if you have them.”  He told a sad story of his family having refused to give him any money for an occasional candy bar or even basic necessities such as shaving lotion and a razor – pointing to his four day beard.  In no time at all he managed to collect over five dollars in quarters.   He headed directly to the pay phone installed a short distance from the entrance of Hickory Creek and made his first call to yet another doctor.  He was back in business!
As he aged dad’s antics became ever more bizarre.  One morning the supreme master of the attention getting mechanism decided to lie naked on his back in bed.  He refused to put on any clothes or cover himself with a sheet.

The director of Hickory Creek called Janey.

“Janey we have a problem with your father this morning. We need your help.  He is refusing to dress.  He is lying naked in his bed.  No one on the staff will enter your dad’s room.”   So Janey drove out to The Plains and persuaded him to put on some clothing.
          Each time I visited him on trips from abroad and Washington, DC, he seemed older and after two years, he began to look like most of the other residents.  Then, in his 90th year, two months after his 89th birthday, on Memorial Day, 1993, he died.  The doctors said the damage to his lungs from tuberculosis as a young man was what killed him.