Couple now safe, but not together

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 4, 2005


Managing Editor

LAPLACE – Her apartment, neat as a pin, yet cluttered with the memorabilia of a lifetime, is sufficient to her needs. Lois Gingerich lives alone at Place DuBourg, surrounded by friends and comfort.

There are sitting rooms and gardens. Elevators make it convenient to move around. She can cook in her room or not. A daughter lives not far away, and she welcomes visits from her and her son-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchild.

Most importantly, she is safe.

Her husband, Carl, is safe as well, residing at Ormond Nursing and Care Center in Destrehan – an Alzheimer’s patient. It hasn’t always been that way.

Carl Gingerich was a man’s man. He worked in machinery maintenance and had a smattering of electrician and carpentry skills. Now, his every move is watched and he resides where he can be monitored and kept secure.

Lois hopes the couple will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in June. Originally from Pennsylvania, Carl retired at age 63 and the couple purchased a recreational vehicle and hit the roads of America.

They traveled the country for 13 years, making countless friends along the way and enjoying each other’s companionship.

They lived for a time in Kentwood and finally, they settled in LaPlace to be near their daughter, but when Carl was 75, he sustained a stroke.

“That morning he got up. He always got up before me. Usually, he’d go for a walk and then make the coffee. When I got up, he was sitting in his pajamas and there was no coffee. I asked him what was going on. All he said was, ‘I don’t know.’ It was like a wire disconnected in his brain.”

She struggled to keep him at home, caring for him, bathing and feeding him and trying to keep him safe.

“He wanted to be out a lot,” Lois recalled. “He just wanted to walk and walk.”

Carl was frequently disoriented and forgetful, making him a hazard to himself. “He always demanded to go visit the neighbors,” but she said the neighbors he wanted to walk next door to visit were in Kentwood, not in LaPlace.

Once, she added, he hurt himself in the kitchen and became angry and hard to control, which prompted her to call the sheriff’s office “to straighten him out.”

Lois continued, “You never knew what he would do next – you couldn’t leave him alone.”

Finally, she placed him at a nursing home, but security there was lacking. Once, he went missing and was discovered in the parking lot of a fast-food restaurant, having walked several blocks and crossed a major highway.

So, she transferred him to Ormond, where he has lived for the past four years. “It’s one of the nicest nursing homes around,” she commented.

Back in the better days, the couple were part of a group of friends. Nowadays, all the men but Carl and one other are still living. All the wives are still fine.

Lois is content, with the photographs of her grandchildren and great-grandchild, craft work made by her son-in-law, and her quiet life at Place DuBourg.

“Carl doesn’t know his own daughter now, and his speech is so bad, you can’t understand a thing he says,” Lois said.He has also changed a lot, being much thinner and frail-looking.

Once a robust man, now he’s a shadow of his former self. A photograph, though, shows a broad smile, reflecting the man he once was.