‘No, I’m serious. He shot me.’ My husband was lying completely alone on the ground. He dragged himself away from the door. There was nothing I could do. Absolutely nothing.’ Man shot by elderly man, urges people to keep an eye on older family members for signs of dementia

“April 11 was a normal day for us. Me, juggling homeschooling and house work, trying to squeeze in some ‘work work,’ like our kids call it (because it’s all work, of course, but writing I actually get paid for). Counting down the hours until dad gets home, cooking supper, the usual. My husband, David, came home, saying, I tried calling Ben, but he’s not answering.’ I asked him how many times he had called, to which he replied, ‘Six.’ Hmmmm, that’s not normal. We tossed out ideas of what could be causing him not to answer. Maybe he went to the Post Office to check his mail? Maybe he went to Market Basket because you know he never tells us when he needs groceries. Maybe he went to bed early or is doing yardwork? Its early in the evening, 6 p.m., so it’s unlikely, but possible. The hard stone of dread is starting to set in. Ben has heart problems, he’s elderly, he has polymyalgia and pulmonary hypertension. He sent back his oxygen and doesn’t use his CPAP, which puts an enormous amount of stress on an already frail body.

Someone has to go check on him. Again, we toss out ideas on who goes- me or him? Does he take one of the kids for the thirty-minute ride since he’s most likely okay? Maybe if we believe hard enough that Ben is okay and act normal, it’ll just be a normal visit. Erring on the side of caution, the kids stay home, and because its David’s relative, he goes alone. We knew that if Ben had fallen, he would be deeply embarrassed to be found by a woman, and we always try to respect his dignity. So, David goes. I feed the kids, get them ready for baths because they smell like puppies from playing outside.

My phone chimes a text. Its David, asking, ‘Can you ask Dana if he is over there?’ Well, sh*t. I really expected a text saying that Ben was fine and had accidentally turned his ringer off. I called Dana, my sister-in-law and asked her, with a negative response. Putting her on speaker phone, I texted David to tell him that Ben wasn’t there, and asked Dana to have David’s brother, Harvey, call him so that if he found something bad, he wouldn’t be alone. Harvey had already thought about that and was on the phone with him. Harvey and Dana had just seen him three days before and spoke to him the day before. The bad feeling kept churning and I even told Dana, ‘I really don’t want to say this, but I have a really bad feeling about this.’

Dana told me that she and Harvey were going to meet David, that they were not going to go inside because they knew that Ben kept a loaded pistol next to the bed. When they got there, they would call the police for a wellness check and let them know about the pistol. Overcome with gratitude, I hung up and proceeded with my evening, making sure my ringer was on because I’m famous for missing calls after forgetting it on vibrate.

About twenty minutes later, David calls again. Relieved to have an update on Ben’s status, I answer.

‘Becky? Becky! I’m shot!’

‘Wait, WHAT? Are you messing with me?’

‘No, I’m serious. He shot me.’

‘David, please tell me you’re not serious. Please tell me you are joking.’

‘No, the f****er shot me! He shot me through the door.’

Through my shock, its finally registering that he is frantic, breathing hard and ragged, and there’s a note in his voice that tells me he is scared to death. My brain kickstarted and I asked if he had called 911 and were, they are sending an ambulance. He told me that he had called Harvey first and told him to call an ambulance because Ben shot him, then hung up with him to call me. For several moments, all I could say is ‘I love you so much’ over and over. What do you say when the love of your life, your best friend, the father of your children is in so much pain, scared and there is nothing you can do about it?

Suddenly I realized that he was panicking too with an unknown (to me) wound- was he pumping his blood out right there in the yard? I don’t know a damn thing about this stuff. I gathered myself and said, ‘Babe, I need you to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth until you can give me some details. Tell me immediately if the police get there.’ There was nothing else I could do. Absolutely nothing. I looked at our children, our world, and as much as I loved them, I resented them in that moment. My husband was lying completely alone on the ground, had dragged himself away from the door in case Ben fired again, the police weren’t there yet, and we had no idea how bad he was wounded. I couldn’t go to him because they didn’t need to see their daddy that way. I couldn’t go to him and had no idea how serious his situation was. I had promised to be his help meet and had no tangible way to help him.

So, we talked. He calmed down enough to do an assessment on himself, find where he had been shot, determine that the bullet hadn’t gone all the way through, and be a lifeline for him in so much unknown. In that time, I hurriedly texted my mom and my stepson’s mom, ‘I need you to come over ASAP. Ben shot David,’ and had to wander around the house and dodge the attention of our children, who knew something was wrong but not what.

Ten horrific minutes later, he saw blue lights. The police had arrived, and I could breathe again. For a moment only, though, because the police officer’s first comment was, ‘Sir? Did you shoot yourself.’ I literally pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it in shock. Seriously?? As strange as it sounds, in that moment, I knew that David was going to be okay because if his response: ‘Why in the hell would I shoot myself?’ Crazy or not, that reply told me that David, my David, was back. He had snapped back into his usual competent self. He had snapped out of shock. I hear the officer tell dispatch that David had lost a lot of blood but kept quiet so that he could answer the officer’s questions. I quickly began packing a bag and gathering the things I knew we would need for a hospital stay and just waited. Just knowing that he was no longer alone was such a relief.

At last, at the twenty-minute mark, the paramedics arrived, and I knew that I would have to hang up. I cannot explain the relief when the paramedic said that he hadn’t lost much blood after all. My mom and Keagon’s mom would be there any minute and our children deserved to hear from me what was going on. I had ignored Dana’s calls several times while on the phone with David and needed to call her back, remain calm and help our kids through the shock of hearing that their daddy had been shot, and find out which hospital he was going to.

Dana was frantic when she answered- they had gotten there about ten minutes behind the police and the entire block was cordoned off. They had no idea if David was alive, if Ben was okay, nothing. Being the trooper she is, Dana related the message to Harvey, set about flagging down an officer, found out that David was being life flighted, and followed the ambulance to the local high school where the helicopter would land and let me know that they were taking him to Lafayette General. Harvey stayed behind to wait to see Ben and adjust to the relief of knowing that David would be okay.

Now I had to look our beautiful children in the face and tell them that their daddy had been shot and tell them that he would be okay, declaring it in faith because I refused to speak anything else into existence. They had mixed reactions. The boys took it so well- a lot of shock, mixed with an optimism that made me so proud. Our five-year-old daughter, though, was deeply offended that someone would shoot her daddy, which was just the amount of levity I needed to get through the conversation. Her response of, ‘You can’t just shoot people,’ was so true that it made all of us laugh, and she had a point! After making sure everyone was calm and answering all of their questions, I could finally go meet David.

Arriving at the hospital, I was escorted to David’s tiny ER room, and I’m not sure that I can ever explain the joy that rolled through me. Seeing with my eyes that he was alive was the confirmation that my heart needed to let go of fear. He was so pale, his face was drawn, and he was wracked with pain, but that look on his face when he saw me? Everyone should have a partner who looks at them that way, and I’d lay money on that same look being on my face, too. That man is my man and at that moment, I could have ripped Ben’s arms off and beat him with them. I can understand so many reasons for why this happened, and my heart broke for what he was going through, but if he had been next to me, I would have smacked the crap out of him.

The doctor was there and told me that the bullet had gone between his ribs, through his liver, and had not exited his body. We later found out that it had gone through the back of his ribs also and was settled in the muscle tissue of his back. The bullet was going to stay inside because of the risk of retrieving it. The bullet had not broken any of his ribs on the journey and the liver heals itself, so David had been shot in the most perfect way possible to not have long term damage or even be affected after the wounds healed!

David was hospitalized for two days and other than being in extreme pain, his recovery was ideal. His breathing was very shallow and rapid due to the pain that he was in and so I asked repeatedly about the signs and symptoms of pneumonia so that we could be on guard. On the third day, we were able to go home. His follow up with the hospitalist wasn’t for another two weeks, which seemed entirely too far away to me, so I mad David a follow up appointment with our family doctor at the one-week mark. Lo and behold, we found out at that appointment that he had developed fluid in his lungs because his pain had not been managed properly. That was not Dr McNally’s biggest concern, however. David had symptoms of PTSD that he wanted to watch closely.

In the meantime, we had learned that Ben was being charged with negligent injury and was released to Harvey and Dana after they removed all of the weapons from his home. They were told that a judge would likely order it anyway, and Ben loudly declared that if he was going to be doing crap like that without knowing about it, he didn’t want them anymore anyway.

David’s healing went extremely well once the fluid was addressed and his pain was managed, freeing me to take care of the paperwork and logistics of a medical leave. We found out that he did not qualify for short term disability nor did Ben have homeowner’s insurance. Immediately Dana began putting plans into consideration for fundraisers, finding out how much our out of pocket expenses were with our insurance, and David’s coworkers passed the hat for a donation. We had so many wonderful people offer help and prayers, and the hard truth is that having medical insurance saved our bacon. The bill from the hospital was almost $32,000 before insurance was applied. The air med bill was more! We decided on a GoFundMe, I created it, then went back to just being what David and the kids needed me to be.

It is astounding how much I didn’t worry about finances in the midst of all of this when I had zero guarantees for an unknown amount of time. I believe that there was so much gratitude in my heart for David’s survival and healing that there simply was not room for anything else. So many prayers had been whispered and cried out on behalf of both David and Ben that it was as if the worry and fear had exited with each breath of amen. It simply was not there anymore. Not for the out of pocket bills that have yet to arrive nor the loss of an entire month’s income nor for his finished recovery.

You see- today we get our new normal in return for our faith. Today, David went back to work. He got up as usual, went to work, and when he walked in, was greeted with a round of applause. Today, that ‘normal’ is more precious and valuable to us because we know how easily it can be taken away. We know that it is a gift, the regularity of routine and security and comfort in the everyday things. Instead of ‘have’ to go to work, David ‘gets’ to go to work. Instead of ‘have’ to figure out bills, we ‘get’ to problem solve together. Instead of crying out for comfort, we get to rejoice in grace that was poured over our family.

And Ben? He gets his happy ending, too. He was referred by his doctor for a psych evaluation, which determined that his instability was due to sleep deprivation and was referred to an outpatient program that involves being picked up every weekday for group therapy sessions and regular sessions with a psychologist to deal with unresolved grief. He gets his healing, too.

David and I discussed this story at length and the lesson most important here is that people, most importantly the older and elderly be aware and honest with themselves and their families about their health. We had no idea that Ben was having these spells and because he didn’t like being reliant on us, Ben didn’t admit it to himself either. David did everything right, and Ben loves him completely. He never, ever would have harmed David, but he looked him in the eyes and shot him through the door. Even if Ben wasn’t a gun owner, it could have been a knife or a bat or even a lamp because Ben had zero awareness of what he was doing. He was the definition of a responsible gun owner and homeowner, but his health status robbed him of his decision-making skills and set him in a place that he never would have imagined in his worst nightmares. Please, in honor of David and Ben, have these hard conversations. There are so many programs and options for the elderly and mentally unstable that don’t have to steal your dignity or freedom. Talk to your family and your doctor. You are loved and your health is worth honoring. Your family wants you here and whole for a very long time and you are worth knowing and being cared for.”

Courtesy Rebecca Gotte

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