Tina Taylor said she never saw it coming. Neither did her younger brother, Clyde J. Coulter.
Taylor and Coulter were blindsided.
Six years ago they were the children of a physically powerful man – a cattleman, farmer and avid outdoorsmen. Clyde G. Coulter stood 6-foot-2, tipped the scales at 300 pounds and wielded a pair of sledgehammer hands shaped by a lifetime of hard work at his Rosedale farm. His demeanor was at times as firm as his hands, as he reared eight children on tough love with an emphasis on the love.
Clyde G. Coulter, then 66, could handle a hunting rifle with deadly accuracy, hook his share of monster fish and determine whether a cow was sick with a mere glance.
Then it all vanished.
“He began to lose his balance when he walked,” recalled Taylor, 52 and the eldest of Coulter’s eight children. “So we took him to a neurologist.”
Doctors diagnosed Coulter with acoustic neuroma after finding a non-cancerous tumor growing on a nerve that connects his ear to his brain. They scheduled surgery.
“They said a couple days after the surgery he’d be back to do the same things he did before,” Taylor said with a sigh. “But it never worked out that way. He was never the same again.”
Shortly after the surgery a staph infection attacked Coulter, placing him in ICU for the next four months. Suddenly, he was battling for his life.
“Everything stopped,” said Clyde J. Coulter, 47 and a civilian worker at Tinker Air Force Base in Midwest City. “No hunting, no fishing, no nothing. We took shifts at the hospital, and even though we couldn’t be in the room with him, we camped out in a small waiting room outside of ICU.”
Clyde Coulter left the hospital weighing 142 pounds and seemingly destined for a nursing home. High blood pressure and diabetes only complicated the balance of medication needed to keep his neurological problems in check. Doctors recommended Coulter be institutionalized because of his need for 24-hour care.
Coulter’s children faced a dilemma – one that will challenge an increasing number of Oklahomans in the coming years as baby boomers grow older.
“I told them he wasn’t going into a nursing home,” Taylor said. “They thought I was crazy. They told me I wouldn’t know how to give him all the medications and shots he would need. I said, ‘I’ll learn.’ ”
Taylor and her family made a commitment. They would step in as caregivers. Today, Taylor watches her father from 3 p.m. until 11 p.m. Carlos Coulter, her eldest son, stays with his grandfather until the morning when his uncle, Clyde J. Coulter, takes over. Clyde J. Coulter works a full shift at Tinker where he paints airplanes. He leaves work at 7 a.m. and drives straight to his father’s house in Oklahoma City.
The schedule is demanding, but one the family freely accepts.
“He was always there for us,” Taylor said. “Always there. No matter what the problem, it didn’t matter, he was always there.”
At one point the family turned to an adult day care center in Oklahoma City. The elder Coulter would attend a few hours a day. His son made the most of the break. He slept.
“At first it was hard to leave him,” Clyde J. Coulter said. “I’d say, ‘I’ll be back.’ Then I’d go to pick him up, and he’d be playing dominos. He’d always tell me to wait. He really didn’t want to leave.’’
Today, the side effects from a litany of medications often determine Coulter’s social schedule. His ability to attend an adult day center is not always a viable option. Even so, his children are able to occasionally take him to church and his Rosedale farm, where flashbacks will sometimes render him to tears.
The tears are now simply a way of life.
“We never thought we would be here,” Taylor said. “I don’t know why, but it seems like you never expect to be taking care of a parent. Then all of a sudden it happens.”