Monday, February 24, 2020

There Go I

The expression goes: There by the grace of God go I.  Well thankfully I don't believe in God or I would think somehow the great Daddy in the sky has spared me from death and/or life of living hell.  I like to think it was luck and sheer determination on my part but on the off chance there is a higher power I guess thanks is in order.

When I read this story it affected me in two ways.  One a survivor of sustaining traumatic brain injury.  I was LUCKY.  I was found in my car unconscious/comatose with a 4mm blood clot in the brain after the lunatic I was out with shoved drugs in my drink, shoved incessant drinks down my throat (although blood alcohol can rise due to Benzodiazepines in the blood system) then enabling me to get behind the wheel of a car which for the grace of god crashed into a pole.  I say that as I wonder had I got home in that state and seized or fell I would never be found for days/weeks/months or had he been with me what he would have done to me and again I would never know or be found.  So by the grace of God I crashed my car.  It however had a downside as it the medical providers at Harborview and the City of Seattle saw me not as a patient but as a drunken whore so once those labels are assigned you can never be healed.

And when I read this story in the New York Times I got it, I really did.  A loner, an outsider as in being Gay, financially secure and very bohemian with no family or partner to advocate or look out for or after.  And with a series of catastrophes he was found with a blood clot on the brain and when he came out of it he sustained one of the more significant types of TBI with short term memory damage. That could have been exacerbated by years of alcohol abuse and in turn the isolation post care without a clear treatment plan or course of action he further deteriorated.  You see that is why my Attorney Kevin Trombold believed that I the drunken whore did not need true legal advice and counsel and in turn cannot to this day explain how I highly functioned while his former associate, Ted Vosk, goes out of his way to explain his depression and rages as a symptom of Traumatic Brain Injury   and continues to try to inflict severe damage through alcohol abuse, car accidents, running accidents and attempted suicide by bear by running to Alaska and taking massive pics putting himself in danger.  I find it quite amusing and tragic all at the same time its Grizzlyman meets Into the Wild but this from a Harvard educated Attorney.  I wish him well on his efforts, hopefully soon he will get it right.  And I leave that to you to decide what that is, my choice is less kind.

I, on the other hand, took it as a challenge to recover and using varying strategies and techniques to stimulate the brain's plasticity I think I came back stronger than ever.  A bigger bitch but that my be do to the supposed care givers who were anything but.  As the saying goes: Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me.  I will never be fooled again, right Roger?

The story below is a man who had promise and again because of a lack of network and of course knowledge they simply cast him off to a facility where moments of lucidity are masked by lack of care.  He will only further deteriorate and decline and this in the shadow of Langone who has extensive programs and a facility dedicated to this type of injury.  C'est La Vie as this is where you are when you are an outsider, you are single, old, female, gay, alone or just disposable.  This is America and funny we have more Septuagenarians running for office than not.  Not all of us need to be in the shadows nor deserve to be regardless.

‘The Phantom of Ninth Street’: A Bon Vivant’s Lonely Decline

He lived every New Yorker’s dream life. And then it all slipped away.

By Michael Wilson
The New York Times
Feb. 20, 2020

When the police arrived at his apartment in Greenwich Village, Paul Pannkuk didn’t know what they were talking about.

Someone had entered the apartment next door, taken a random armload of the tenant’s belongings — photo albums, a doormat, a shoe holder — and dumped it all with the garbage in the basement. The burglar was captured on security camera, and he looked an awful lot like Mr. Pannkuk.

He told the officers he had no memory of the incident. He would never steal, he said.

He stood in his once-grand one-bedroom home, with marble floors and windows onto tree-lined West Ninth Street. The home’s former elegance was now hard to imagine.

The living room was dark, most of its lights missing. There was little furniture, and what remained was old and worn, with stuffing sprouting from holes. Newspaper clippings were stacked in tidy piles on the floor beside black-and-white family photographs.

On a side table was a sheet of paper with what looked like random doodles and reminders. In fact, it was a map of sorts for a man hopelessly lost, guideposts to his old life: “Morgan Stanley,” “Drake University,” the name of the composer of “The Music Man” (Meredith Willson). There was a verse from a child’s prayer: “If I should die before I wake/I pray the Lord my soul to take.”

Mr. Pannkuk had once lived in comfort approaching extravagance, split between the Village and the Hamptons, his future secured by a career in finance many dreamed to have in 1990s New York. He traveled the world, returning to the city to share his stories with his friends.

Most of those friends were gone now. He had driven them away. At the age of 68, he was on a path many single New Yorkers dread. He was alone, with no one to take care of him, the mysterious occupant of Apartment 1A. But he was too far gone to realize what was happening. His brain no longer worked the way it once did.

His story is one steeped in kindness and frustration and hope misplaced, framed by addiction and a shattering accident on the eve of a new start. It is the tale of a recluse in plain sight, a man left to compulsively wander the place he called home. A friend gave him a dubious title: The Phantom of Ninth Street.

Mr. Pannkuk was a product of the midcentury Midwest, born in 1948 in Mason City, Iowa. He attended Drake University, in Des Moines, studying economics and foreign policy before going to work for the World Bank in Washington, D.C., in 1979.

By the mid-80s, he had moved to New York City with a career on the rise, first as an analyst with Standard & Poor’s, and then — as his cheat sheet reminds him — with Morgan Stanley. He became that firm’s manager of risk in its dealings with some 85 countries on three continents, traveling frequently and living for a time in London.

“Very smart, extremely well read,” said Susan Saxe, a former analyst at Morgan Stanley who worked with Mr. Pannkuk in the ’80s and ’90s. “He knew what was going on in the political regime of any country you could think of.”

His sister, Jan, lived in Illinois and spoke to Mr. Pannkuk often by phone. She knew little of New York, and imagined his days and nights busy with high living. She was not far off.

In a corporate world that leaned steadfastly straight, Mr. Pannkuk was a regular at the city’s gay clubs. Tim Riordan, a Manhattan schoolteacher, met him at a gay bar in the ’90s, “in a long, kind of serpentine coat line at a dance party,” he recalled.

“Mr. Pannkuk was very fun-loving and loved to dance,” Mr. Riordan said. “He mixed the corporate world very well with the world of gay men.”

He lived for several years on the Upper West Side, and in 1990, he moved downtown, buying the one-bedroom on West Ninth Street. Years later, real-estate agents would call the block, between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas, the “Gold Coast” of the Village, but in 1990, it retained some of the scruff and bohemian flair of the ’60s and ’70s. He loved his new home.

He also painted — “impeccable reproductions of Picassos,” Mr. Riordan said — and mounted the large works in his living room. “People would walk by at street level and stop dead in their tracks, thinking the owner had an original in there.”

Barbara Martinez, a musician who was raised by her mother, said Mr. Pannkuk, a family friend, was like a father figure. She remembered his annual Christmas parties: “Lots of silver and white balloons,” she said. He had shelves filled with dozens of Champagne flutes.

At some point in any story about Mr. Pannkuk, the teller invariably arrives at a memory of clubbing or having long conversations over drinks — always over drinks. In his younger days, it seemed harmless enough. “When I met him, he drank a fair amount of wine,” a longtime friend, Pablo Scheffel, said. “But we all drank a fair amount of wine.”

As the years passed, the fair amount increased.

In 2005, after 13 years with Morgan Stanley, he left the firm. He was vague when he explained his situation to friends — there was a new boss he didn’t get along with, he said. But some suspected that he was let go. Ms. Saxe, his colleague at Morgan Stanley, had been unaware that his drinking had become a liability — “until, at some point, I knew it had gotten the better of him.”

He was just 56. He started his own consulting firm, and created a LinkedIn profile with blurbs from former colleagues. (“He was a terrific boss and a patient mentor, with great insight into human nature as well as economic analysis.”) He bought a baby grand piano, playing for friends by ear. He had a dog.

And he drank. “Early retirement didn’t serve him well,” Mr. Riordan said.

Adam Cohen, an artist, met Mr. Pannkuk in 2008 through a dating site. “Everything was revolving around a drink,” he said. “‘Let’s meet here for a drink.’ ‘After the gym, let’s have a drink.’”

He was a regular presence at the Lion, a restaurant down the block from the apartment, and French Roast, around the corner. “He’d spend a thousand bucks a week on drinks and lobster pot pies,” Mr. Cohen said.

“He identified a lot with his job. It gave him his identity. He never replaced that,” Mr. Scheffel said. Except, of course, with alcohol. “He told me he would get up at 3 o’clock in the morning and start drinking.”

He would drift from bar to bar. Ms. Martinez, who grew up thinking of Mr. Pannkuk as a part of the family, had a key to his apartment, and would sometimes find him incoherent or passed out.

“He would go on binges,” she said.

The night that changed everything

Six years after he left Morgan Stanley, with no progress toward finding work or keeping vague promises to cut back on his drinking, his friends intervened. In 2011, a group gathered at his apartment and told him he needed real help. He didn’t disagree. Ms. Saxe had found a rehabilitation facility in Connecticut. The night before he was to go there, she called and told him she would pick him up in the morning. Mr. Pannkuk said he would be ready.

The next day, a Saturday in October, Ms. Saxe arrived at West Ninth Street and rang his buzzer. No answer. She feared he had started drinking again, so she headed to the Lion. He wasn’t there. She passed by French Roast and his other haunts, but she didn’t find him.

She returned to the apartment. Worry grew to fear when she heard Mr. Pannkuk’s dog barking inside. She called 911. Firefighters arrived and banged on Mr. Pannkuk’s door, and when they got no answer, they broke it down.

Ms. Saxe was horrified at what she saw. Mr. Pannkuk was lying unconscious on his marble floor, bleeding from his head.

Paramedics arrived and loaded him into an ambulance. Ms. Saxe fought to stay calm. “They were looking around for his shoes, and they pulled out some fancy pair of shoes, and they made a remark about them,” Ms. Saxe said. “I said: ‘You have to understand. He was always so beautifully dressed.’”

He ended up at Bellevue Hospital Center, where doctors discovered a traumatic brain injury caused by his fall.

Mr. Pannkuk seemed to have damaged his medial temporal lobe, a zone in the brain deep behind the ears, where new experiences are converted to long-term memory. His injury permanently disrupted this function. In practice, Mr. Pannkuk is incapable of creating new memories.

Doctors at Bellevue fitted Mr. Pannkuk in a helmet while he healed. He believed he was in London, oblivious to reality. He spent months in the hospital that way.

Ms. Saxe called Mr. Pannkuk’s sister, Jan, after the fall to share the news. “I was shocked,” Jan said. “He was so close to going to a facility that was going to help him.”

She had her own set of health issues within her family in Illinois, but she traveled to New York and visited him at Bellevue. After stopping by the apartment to fetch clothes, she walked the streets of Greenwich Village. “It’s just one bar after another, basically,” she said.

Her brother returned home in 2012 to Ninth Street a very different man. He was no longer able to hold a conversation, losing the thread almost immediately, starting over several times in a period of a few minutes. He had magazines and the newspaper delivered, but he could not comprehend what he was reading.

Worried about his finances, Jan took control of his checking account and the amount of cash available to her brother at the A.T.M., putting him on an allowance.

She soon discovered that he was drinking again, his debit card charges betraying him and listing two, three, even four bar tabs a day at his favorite Village spots. It is not unlikely that he simply forgot earlier visits that day, and entered the bar each time as if it were the first.

She could also tell when he used an A.T.M. He tried to withdraw cash several times a day, even when the account was empty, having forgotten earlier attempts. The pings from the bank brought her comfort.

“I know he’s OK,” she said. “He’s walking around.”

But his old circle of friends were increasingly frustrated.

“I had a relatively young daughter at the time, and I felt I was maybe investing too much time in him,” Ms. Saxe said. “I stopped going around to see him.”

Mr. Riordan would stop by and ask the doormen how his friend was getting along, but he found himself reluctant to ring his bell. He once happened upon a wild-looking Mr. Pannkuk — who in the past had been known to return to his stylist after a haircut if it wasn’t to his liking — shambling along the sidewalk.

“I watched people’s faces as they approached him,” he said. “He was an eyeful — people were having second takes. Little did they know he was about to take a right into a very chic apartment.”

By 2017, he was destroying that apartment from within. He carried his valuable books and treasures from his world travels to the basement for disposal, Mr. Cohen, the artist, said. He threw away his television, his stereo, even his light bulbs, casting the apartment in dim shadows. He threw away food he didn’t remember buying, filling his refrigerator instead with rows of plastic cups of water.

Mr. Cohen began visiting once a week just to make sure Mr. Pannkuk was eating. Ms. Martinez, the friend who looked to him as a father figure, dropped by the liquor stores and the Lion; she claimed to be his daughter and begged them not to serve him anymore.

It was in this period, in the spring of 2017, that Mr. Pannkuk was arrested after throwing away his neighbor’s belongings. In all likelihood, he probably believed he was in his own apartment, and treated those things like he did his own property that he did not recognize.

I first encountered Mr. Pannkuk after reading a police blotter that detailed the bizarre burglary. Why would a 68-year-old man steal random stuff from his neighbor? And then just put it in the trash?

I knocked on his door and was invited into his dark, curious surroundings, where the disheveled man before me told me the same facts about himself, over and over. Morgan Stanley. Drake University. An old friend he expected to arrive any time now. Morgan Stanley. Drake University. Old friend.

He said he was aware of having been hurt in a fall, but that it was minor.

The victim in the burglary case declined to be interviewed for this article, and it’s unclear why he chose to press charges, but in doing so, he set into motion events that pulled the recluse from the shadows and into the city’s view.

Mr. Pannkuk’s sister and friends contacted for this story agreed to speak about his past and present with the understanding that no article would be written until his situation stabilized. Jan, his sister, said she saw an opportunity to share her brother’s story with others facing addiction or brain trauma issues.

After his arrest, Mr. Pannkuk was appointed a lawyer, and while the criminal charge was later dropped, the matter of what to do about Mr. Pannkuk lingered. In 2017, his case was referred to Surrogate’s Court, where he sat in silent bewilderment as his lawyer and representatives from the city and the Mental Hygiene Legal Service, which represents the disabled in need of care, discussed his future before a judge.

The primary obstacle to bringing Mr. Pannkuk the aid available to many New Yorkers was his wealth, as manifested in the apartment on Ninth Street. He had too much money to qualify for free assistance, and not enough for live-in care.

“There are a lot of difficulties going on in your life right now,” Judge Kelly O’Neill Levy told him in September 2017. “The court finds that the appointment of a guardian is necessary.”

At the same time, the apartment building, a co-op, was threatening eviction proceedings against Mr. Pannkuk. His guardian, Sabrina E. Morrissey, a Manhattan lawyer who worked with clients from vulnerable populations, represented him and his wishes to stay in the apartment, but in reality that appeared less and less of an option. His sister and Ms. Morrissey agreed: It was time for him to go.

Late in 2018, his guardian led Mr. Pannkuk, 70, from his apartment of 23 years to his new home. He had no idea that he would never be back. His apartment was going on the market. It would sell quickly for $1 million.

The income from the sale would go to pay for an assisted-living facility in Queens, a journey of some 17 miles, but a world away.

I have visited a few times over the past months. He has a room on a special unit for residents with memory issues. To get to that wing, you pass through a door designed to keep residents from wandering off. It has an alarm that is disarmed with a code that Mr. Pannkuk, if he learns it, is unlikely to remember. The hope for residents like Mr. Pannkuk is that, over time, they become more at ease with their surroundings and come to think of it as home.

Earlier this month, I arrived, and he smiled brightly when he heard his name called.

“Aren’t we in Queens?” he asked, correctly, before inquiring about the status of the impeachment hearings against President Trump.

He sat in his room’s sole chair and crossed his legs. Behind him, three of his prized paintings from his apartment, the Picasso reproductions, leaned against a blank wall. A health aide knocked and offered him a bowl of rice pudding. Mr. Pannkuk asked if she would please put it in the refrigerator.

“I’ve been to London, France, Russia,” he said, and for a moment, he looked like any other retired executive, thinking back over the good times. “I’ve been to India.”

Then, inevitably, that look of comfort shifted to one of urgency, and the room around him changed from comfortable studio to forbidding cell.

“You know, my apartment is in Manhattan,” he said. “I’d love to go home.”

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