Where Is My Dad?

What follows is a large portion, unedited, of a blog post by Malynda Salamone:

November 11, 2012

On Friday night, my friends had power again and went home. Their suffering was done, but mine had only just begun.

The news was now paying more attention to Far Rockaway. I developed a relationship with the area since I moved my 67 year-old father to a nursing home one block from the boardwalk. Over the summer I loved making day trips to visit my dad and walk on the boardwalk wishing he could be there on the beach with me. At age 62, he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and after two years taking care of him, I realized he needed more care than I alone could provide.

My Dad.

Before Sandy, the nursing home called me to let me know that they were not evacuating. They reassured me they were well-prepared, as they were last year for Hurricane Irene. The residents are on high floors and the facility has their own generators. I trusted their judgment.

In the days that followed, I heard nothing. There still is no phone or electric service in Far Rockaway. I figured he was fine and they just couldn’t call me for some reason or if something happened they would have called me. They call me when he stubs a toe, so I assumed that he was ok and in a day or two trains and phone service would be restored, or I could get over to see him.

I worried more every day. I didn’t recognize the Far Rockaway I saw on the news. The nor’easter was coming and I heard rumors nursing homes were evacuating. I started making phone calls. One place would give me the number for another and when I called they would tell me to call the first place that I had just called, if any one answered the phone at all.

A friend I met while caring for my dad manages a nursing home and she said they would not take him to a shelter in his condition and they should have his information somewhere accessible. She said no matter what, they should have called me, but they didnt.

A story in the Huffington Post said it was the city that gave five nursing homes in zone A in FarRockaway orders not to evacuate. On Saturday, The New York Times ran a similar story about nursing homes in FarRockaway.

The only resource I had to call was 311. No one answered anyplace they told me to call I. I was told you just have to keep calling and that sometimes you have to call a hundred times before someone answerers, no one did.

On Saturday, I finally got answers from the evacuation centers. They said everyone was gone but they didn’t know where they had gone. They told me to contact the Department of Health and Hygiene (DHH) and they would be able to tell me where my father is.

After several dropped calls and getting disconnected, I finally got someone on the phone. At this point, they don’t even ask for his name, just where he was evacuated from. They told me he is in a high school in Ozone Park. I was shocked, a high school. I start calling anyone I knew with a car that could take me there.

My dad has dementia but is relatively strong and healthy, but the faces of others on his floor flashed through my mind. I can’t see them lasting long in an environment outside a medical facility. I called my friend from the Ridgewood/Bushwick Senior Center to ask if she knew of anyplace he can stay after I picked him up. More calls back and forth trying to find a place with a “bed.” Unfortunately, many elderly people have been displaced, she is in crisis mode, yet somehow she finds a bed for my dad. Great! All I have to do is get to Ozone Park.

coffee shop
Coffee Shop with a Generator.

A friend will take me there since this is an emergency, but he is concerned about getting more gas. So to save gas I ride my bike to Brooklyn. Pedaling down Second Ave, through traffic on Bowery and up and over the Williamsburg Bridge the damp cold air stings my lungs, but I’m elated. I finally found him and have a safe place for him to go. I can’t wait to see him freshly showered, in his jammies and tucked into a cozy bed. My father can no longer speak. He wears diapers and eats liquefied food. I know he recognizes me and understands some of what I say, but he would not understand a crisis situation. I hate to think what he’s been through and just want to see him comfortable and safe.

I coast down the bridge full-speed and at the end I toss my bike in the back of the waiting van. I curse the open draw-bridge on Metropolitan Ave for slowing us down. We pass long gas lines that cause even more traffic. We’re almost there and I move the passenger seat back so he has more room. I can’t wait to see him and the look on his face when he sees me.

We arrive at the John Adams High School on Rockaway Blvd and all the gates are locked. I walk around the entire building looking for signs or some other entrance. Nothing.

I start asking people on the street as I dial DHH again. Someone tells me the evacuees are gone but to try the Red Cross tent-city a few blocks closer to Far Rockaway.
The closer we get to the water the worst it gets. Fallen trees, missing roofs and piles of debris line the street. It’s unimaginable what the storm must have felt like in Far Rockaway if Ozone Park looks this bad over a week later.

At a casino parking lot on Rockaway Parkway you can’t miss the Red Cross. There are dozens of police vehicles, tracker-trailers, and tents with kitchens inside of them. Moving vans have Red Crosses taped to them. The last thing on my mind was taking pictures but I wish I did because I never seen anything like it, and hope I never will again.

A police officer stops us and I tell her I’m desperately searching for my father. She says she hasn’t heard anything about evacuees but sees I’m not leaving until I speak to someone. She brings over a supervisor from the Red Cross. I tell him what happened and seeing the tears in my eyes, he hands me a bottle of water. He tells me to call evacuation centers I already called and no one knows anything. As a final attempt to help, he gives me the cellphone number of another Red Cross worker, who gives me the number to the DHH. At least I got some water.

At this point, both of our cellphones are almost dead. I text on one and make calls on the other. A smart phone isn’t very smart when you’re on hold for the Red Cross and your battery is dying. I make a mental note to buy a military issue cellphone, a wind up USB charger with a radio and a tracking device to attach to my dad.

I speak to the cop again and she tells me to call the precinct if I can’t find him, which I do. The precinct says the evacuation centers are closed and the patients from nursing homes were sent someplace else, but the police department keeps no records of where people are sent.

My friend wants to go home. We don’t know where else to go. The streets are clogged with emergency vehicles and we start to drive back toward Brooklyn. I would drive around to each possible place, but it’s not my car, and we can’t get gas.

How can this happen? I call 311 again, I call the DHH again. The DHH takes my name, my father’s name and actually returns my call. I’m shocked when they say they located him and he is in a nursing home back on Rockaway Blvd. I call immediately and they tell me he is not there but they know the place where he definitely is. I call the next place and they tell me he is not there but to call another place where he must be, he’s not there.

I call DHH again, but now their office is closed. I call 311 again and they tell me to wait until tomorrow or file a missing person report. There is nothing they can do. Defeated, I take my bike home on the subway. I’m too tired to ride.

I think about Sandy’s aftermath and its consequences. My business is out of business because of the gas situation. I’m behind on homework. I just wasted an entire day for nothing. I don’t understand how this could happen. I hope I find him tomorrow, if DHH is open tomorrow, or Monday.

As I write this post, I watch the phone and twitter. Other people’s dads are missing too. Check out @rockawayhelp on Twitter


I found him.

November 13, 2012

Sunday Morning we began making calls again. The DHH gave me the name of the same nursing home in Carnarsie. I called and they said he was not there but at a different building a few blocks away where they have adult-day programs. They transferred me and the receptionist said he wasn’t there, but she would check to see if he was at the shelter in basement. He was there.

Minutes after speaking with the DHH a nurse called to tell me where my father was, what a coincidence.

When I heard the word “shelter” images from Katrina flashed before my eyes and I wanted to get him out of there. I planned to take him from the shelter to the respite center but when I arrived, I was surprised how pleasant the place was.

A receptionist walked me past the dining room full of adorable seniors slow-dancing to live music. This was one of the fanciest adult centers I have seen. Most are non-profits that have to fight for the small amount of funding they receive every year.

When he saw me he shot straight up in his chair, his eyes got huge. He can’t talk but he laughs. His eyes and his mouth were wide open. I gave him a big hug and he just stared at me, he speaks with his eyes. He always was a nice guy but this illness has made him less inhibited, and more of what he already was.

A lot of people say their dad is the best, but mine really is. The nurses always say he is their favorite resident. Most likely they say that to everyone, but he really is that sweet and lovable so I believe them.

Since he has been in a nursing home he has had countless girlfriends. He loves music, especially country and a beautiful ballad could bring him to tears. He often hums along hitting all the high notes. His memory isn’t what it used to be, but he remembers songs like a living jukebox.

Two caregivers from his nursing home were there and I asked what happened. One woman said the water on the first floor came up to her chest and that the ocean and the bay overflowed and became one body of water. The entire Rockaway peninsula was underwater. The first-floor generators failed because they were submerged. She covered her mouth with her hand and eyes filled with tears when she told me she is living in a shelter with her family. She is taking care of people in a shelter and living in a shelter. I’ve watched these women take care of my father for two years and I want to help them but I don’t know what I can do. The nurses believe everyone will be going back to Rockaway next week when they get the power back.

I had planned to take my father with me and asked about discharging him. I spoke to the manager from the nursing home and she said they did try to call me but couldn’t get through. The week of the storm, my cell phone service was terrible. I’m sure they tried to call. He was taken to Brooklyn Tech, never John Adams. If I chose to discharge him I would have to wait until Tuesday to get approval and new prescriptions. There is a risk that if I take him out, they may not take him back.

Nursing homes don’t want people like my father because he is too young and active, and has dementia. Most are at full capacity and have an evaluation process before they accept a new resident. Two previous nursing homes sent him to the emergency room in an ambulance and made it clear they did not want him back. Once he was so over medicated he had to be placed on a breathing machine. This is the first place where he has had no issues and is well cared for. I decided it wasn’t worth the risk of moving him.

No one could have anticipated how devastating Sandy would be and I’m glad everyone from his residence is safe. I still believe the city did an excellent job considering the circumstances.

I just wish my father could tell me what happened.