My Uncle Lonny served in VietNam and was injured when a plane accidentally sprayed napalm on friendly troops. One half of his body had the skin peeled off and his lungs were seared. Uncle Sam stuck him in the Veteran’s hospital when he got back to the States, located at Fort Grand River.
The injuries were not only to Uncle Lonny’s limbs, trunk, and lungs. His mind was affected. He’d seen too much. He’d done too much. The official diagnosis was paranoid psychosis.
My cousin, Betty, and I made regular drives to Fort Grand River to see Uncle Lonny. There was a lovely pond and landscaping done by patients who would never go home. When the weather was nice, we would roll Uncle Lonny down by the pond. He seemed calm there, looking at the daffodils and watching the pair of swans who were inseparable. Sometimes Uncle Lonny’s eyes grew moist watching the swans. Aunt Malva had run off with Uncle Lonny’s best friend, Wilbur, while he was in Nam. Wilbur wasn’t drafted because he’d carelessly lost a finger in the saw in high school shop class. We knew Uncle Lonny was thinking of Aunt Malva when his eyes got misty.
One day Betty and I got to Uncle Lonny’s floor and were headed to his room when we were stopped by a terse nurse. All she would say is, “He’s not able to see you today.”
Being the kind of loved ones who want to know the people we care about are ok, we decided to walk past the nurse and see for ourselves. As we approached Uncle Lonny’s room, we could hear him screaming at the top of his lungs, “It’s a trick! It’s a trick! It’s a trick!” over and over. We pushed the door open and saw Uncle Lonny, strapped to his bed, food all over his face, and his bedding all wet. A burly orderly was trying to force feed our uncle.
We ran to Uncle Lonny’s side and told the orderly to back off. He tensed up for a second, then smiled and said, “OK, ladies. He’s all yours.” and left as light as a daisy.
We found warm washcloths and cleaned Uncle Lonny up. I turned pandora on my phone to music from the 50’s, his favorite. We started dancing to a Lawrence Welk tune and Uncle Lonny seemed to snap out of it. He made eye contact and started smiling, but his eyes again were a little misty.