Sunday, March 21, 2010

Caring for Daddy

Kingsport man has spent last 31 years in nursing home



Willard Robinson was only in his early 50s when a stroke robbed him of the ability to use his right side. Following the stroke, Willard’s three children, Susan Robinson, Kathy Robinson and Donald Robinson Sr., each tried, at some point in time, to keep him at their homes.

Thirty-one years ago, the children of Willard Robinson (center) made the difficult decision to have their father live in a Kingsport nursing home, after a stroke he suffered required such care. Now 85, Robinson is often visited by his children Kathy Robinson (left), Donald Robinson Sr., and Susan Robinson. Photo by David Grace —

But with his many physical impairments, the task of caring for their dad at home just became too daunting.
“We just weren’t able to take care of Daddy like he needed to be taken care of. So, we chose, as a family together, to put him in a nursing facility,” Susan said.
And though Susan admits it was a very difficult decision to make — most residents are much older than just 53 when they are admitted into a nursing home — the family knew from the beginning it was the right one.
“We knew if he was in a facility we would know he was getting the care he needed,” she said.
Willard just celebrated his 85th birthday this month and has been a resident of Kingsport’s Holston Manor for the past 31 years, making him not only one of the oldest residents there, but also one of the residents who has lived there the longest.
“I really wanted to bring Daddy out at one time and have him try to come live with me again. But he didn’t want to come out. He’s been here for so long, and it’s a big world out there now,” said Kathy. “Everything’s changed. It’s not like it was when he was younger. It’s different now.”
Susan said she also tried more than once to bring her dad home to live with her.
“I took him out to try to take care of him. He lived with me for a few weeks. It was difficult. I had children, and it was hard to take care of kids and him, too. So, I chose to bring him back. I knew because of his situation, it would be best for him,” she said.
Although Willard’s physical capabilities are somewhat limited and his speech is just a bit slurred, his children say he still loves to tell stories and make those around him laugh.
“It’s just such a blessing that he’s still with us and his mind is so sharp,” said Susan. Willard doesn’t complain about his situation. He’s accepted the hand he’s been dealt. “I like it here. I guess I had to like it because when I had a stroke, I had to come here. But it’s best for me,” Willard said. He does point out, though, that his positive outlook comes from a higher power. “It’s the good Lord. He keeps me positive,” he said. But a person can’t spend more than 30 years in a nursing home and not think about the things of his former life. “The hardest part about being here is worrying and wanting to go anywhere I want to go and knowing I can’t. When I get to thinking about things I used to do before and I can’t do now, that’s hard,” Willard said. “I watch the birds at the bird feeder and it makes me wonder about the world out there.” Outdoor activities were a big part of Willard’s younger years. “I used to play ball. I loved to play ball. I used to hunt in the wintertime. I loved to fish and I see people fishing on TV. I think about stuff I can’t do anymore and that’s what hurts so bad,” he said. He said he also thinks a lot about the people in his life he’s had to say goodbye to. “Except for my children, everybody’s gone. I lost my mother and my dad when I was 20 years old,” Willard said. “I’ve been on my own a long time.” Prior to his stroke, Willard says he worked at a tire and recapping store on Center Street and then at Eastman, which he says was where he was employed when he had his stroke. “I worked out there a good little while and made it pretty good,” he said. And though it is a different world out there today than what Willard once knew, he says all of the changes haven’t been so bad. Willard, an African-American born in 1925, says he never thought he’d live to see the day that a black man was elected president of the United States. “I never thought it would happen. Never did,” he said. “But I feel so proud to have lived to see it happen. And I know there’ll be another one again some day.” Kathy says her dad was “overwhelmed” with the outcome of the 2008 election. “I bought him an Obama shirt that he’d wear around. He loved his shirt,” she said. Willard jokes with his children and tells them he’s going to run in the next presidential election. “It’d sure be nice to have all that money the president gets,” he tells them. Willard does realize, however, that not everyone shares his excitement over President Obama. But, like with a lot of things, he uses his sense of humor to deal with it. “One day there was a white lady in here from Mississippi. She said she didn’t like the president. I asked her why. She said, ‘Because he’s black.’ “I said, ‘What? What’s wrong with black? Ain’t that pretty?’ he laughs as he points to the skin on his own arm. “She just didn’t know what to say.” Even though their dad has been in a nursing facility most of their adult lives, Donald, Kathy and Susan all have fond memories of their dad and stories to share about him that still make the four of them laugh togethe r.
“When Daddy was younger some man got his eye knocked out and Daddy whittled a piece of wood and made it look like an eye and tried to put it in that man’s head. That’s what Daddy’s nickname was when he was growing up — Wood Eye — because he tried to stick a wood eye in that man’s head,” Kathy said.
Coming to visit their father at Holston Manor for more than three decades has become “the norm” for the Robinsons. They’ve accepted that this is his home and they’re OK with that.
“It’s been a peace of mind for all of us, knowing he’s been well-taken care of all these years in this facility,” Susan said. “They’ve taken real good care of him. We appreciate the care that they’ve given to Daddy and all their hard work. And we know we can get up and come here anytime, day and night and check on him and he’s OK.”
Kathy agrees.
“We can go to sleep at night knowing Daddy’s OK,” she said.