Dave Paxton

There was a long story in the Des Moines Register on Wednesday that was heart-wrenching on the one hand and infuriating on the other. It was about a 94-year-old WWII Navy veteran whose son had cared for him until dementia, physical instability and gyrating emotional issues set in.

The son placed his dad in a nursing home specifically managed for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, but after awhile he got too much for them to handle and he went to the Des Moines VA nursing home, where he was left alone for a couple of minutes, fell, struck his head and died of a brain bleed.

According to the article, he wasn’t being watched as closely as he should have (the VA does not have one-on-one nursing care for excitable dementia residents), his treatment after the fall took hours (typical of stories we hear from the VA) and his son is seeking answers.

I don’t blame the son. Actually it’s hard to not blame the first nursing home or even the VA. We live in a precarious world when it comes to the aging. Reading the article, I couldn’t help but think about my dad and the last year and a half of his life. His mind was as sharp as a tack and until the final hours of his life he was watching Cyclone basketball and offering advice to the television about coaching tactics. He had seen Donald Trump elected president, watched the Hawkeye football team do well and was cheering for the Cyclones basketball team.

But after playing golf on his 89th birthday, his balance left him as gradually as his wife’s Alzheimer’s began to take hold. For two years he struggled to regain his balance and he was actually making some strides when he fell getting out of his car bringing in groceries (by himself). My stepmother lost track of time and he lay on the garage floor for over five hours before she finally sought help.

He did relent on his stubbornness to remain independent and spent a week with us after a hospital stay. I think he might have stayed and continued to improve, except for his wife who was never comfortable in new surroundings (due to her disease) and made things difficult. So we drove them back to their apartment and said goodbye knowing that another fall was inevitable—even with five children, their spouses and a bevy of grandchildren looking in on him.

You’d think we as his children would have put our collective foot down and forced him to make decisions that would surely have benefited his health and our ease of caring for he and our stepmother. But we didn’t. We couldn’t.

He was a U.S. Navy veteran of WWII and the South Pacific Theatre. He was a tough as nails old farmer. He was in complete control of his mental faculties. And he was hell on wheels to deal with when it came to his own independence and his commitment to caring for his wife.

So, knowingly, we watched while he cut his life short. I really don’t dwell on the fact that we could have had this amazing man around beyond his 92nd birthday. But when the story of another Navy vet dying from a head injury sustained at a VA hospital, it made me sad. I cringe when I think of my dad rolling a riding lawn tractor when he was 88. Once a farmer always a farmer.

I had another great old friend, a hero of WWII aboard a ship that was struck by a Kamikaze plane. He was full of vim and vigor until he fell in his apartment and lay there for hours until he was discovered because he missed church Sunday morning. He died of pneumonia two weeks later. He had wonderful kids who visited him often, and our church family watched him closely. But there was a 12-hour window where he fell out of sight. It has never occurred to me to blame anyone for his death at the age of 89.

But it still makes me sad. I’m not sure where to go with this except to say aging is a difficult process and rarely do you or your spouse or your children get to write the script on how you check out.

The Iowa farming community, along with animal processing plants were behind a law a few years ago that said animal rights activists and PETA types couldn’t present themselves in a fictitious way to come on to your property and film or record farming practices they felt were cruel to animals. That law was thrown out by the Iowa Supreme Court. In the meantime, Idaho made a similar law that passed constitutional muster (at least in Idaho) and the Iowa legislature, behind the backing of farm interests, passed another law similar to the Idaho law.

It is based on the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that says it is the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. The government needs a search warrant to come on another person’s private property. It prevents wiretaps and other forms of surveillance. Your private property is also protected from other people.

The ACLU, its PETA allies, the Humane Society and others are again suing to stop the law. The Iowa Newspaper Association joined in a “friend of the court” brief. I’m on the Iowa Newspaper Foundation Board and at a meeting where everybody was nodding and patting each other on the back because we’re arbiters of the First Amendment, I shared my skepticism.

I am the son of a pioneer in farrow to finish, confinement swine production, I said, letting everyone know my bias. I’m not in favor of any inhumane treatment of livestock, or puppies and kittens for that matter, but PETA people believe eating meat is immoral and certainly killing livestock animals for meat production is the same as murder. I support their right to believe anything they want, but private property rights are as central to the U.S. Constitution as the right to free speech, free assembly and the free practice of religion.

People have the right to protect their private property.

In 40 some years of being a newspaper reporter and editor, I’ve never passed myself off as anything but a reporter. And in my mind, if you trespass to get a story, even if you’re on the side of the angels, you need to pay the price in criminal and civil courts.

The nodding sort of stopped in the room. But they allowed me to speak. Freedom of speech you know. Nobody jeered.

Ironically, at the top of many of our internal newspaper association communications there is a warning that the information is private and not to be disseminated. Hmmm.

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