As the baby boomers live longer than any generation before the need for a care giver is often a necessity. I worked as a care giver in Houston from 1991-1996 and wish to share my experiences. A lady from church – Elsie Turner – asked me 24 years ago this month if I would be interested in working for a friend of hers who needed assistance? Her friend – also named Elsie – had recently had surgery on her foot and her arm and needed someone to help her with basic household chores, cooking. What was more – Elsie Tharp lived within a mile of my apartment inside the 610 Loop. I replied I would give it a go and contacted Elsie. We agreed to meet and that was the beginning of a five year stint.
Elsie lived in a small condo – and owned two cats – Bootsie Girl and Muffin. Elsie had retired from Schlumberger several years before – after working as a secretary for 20 years. My first impression of Elsie was that of a depressed, beaten down woman who sat in a wheel chair, closed into a small 600 sq. foot condo in Forester’s Pond. Her body already displayed the effects of arthritis and old woman’s disease although Elsie was not old. She also suffered from Parkinsons disease. She was in September 1991 the same age I am now.
I felt very sorry for her as she did not have anyone to help and to quote the neighbors, “not even a family member.” Neighbors had assisted but it was clear Elsie needed full time care giving. We agreed on a low salary which was my way of helping her. I did not realize Elsie was in her own right financially independent and had valuable land in Louisiana. I would learn that later. For the time being I wanted to help her, to get her out of that condo and the sooner the better.
Elsie was a passive, low key personality and I was the complete opposite. I have never been one to work just for the money. I always considered any task I set my hand to do – to serve HIM by serving others. So it became with Elsie. She needed some prodding. When one does not feel well it would be easy to do nothing. I knew Elsie would never get well or have any hope of a happy life if I allowed her to sit and stare out the window. After a few weeks on the job I asked her if she would be interested in participating in a Parkinson organization? At first she provided her usual uninspired comments. I would learn that is a Parkinson symptom. I checked the phone book and learned there was a weekly Parkinson meeting which was close to her condo. I called and learned there were several meetings each week which would assist Elsie and provide an outlet for her. At first she resisted but I refused to allow her to vegetate.
We attended the first meeting which was a combination exercise and lunch. It became one of many for her as she truly did love attending and meeting other Parkinsonian patients. She began to thrive as best a Parkinson patient can. By the end of 1991 Elsie was well enough to drive herself to Mt. Belvieu and spend time with her sister and her family for Christmas. I did not know if the job was going to continue so I asked and her response – if you want to I am ok with it.
1992 was an eventful year for Elsie because I encouraged her involvement with First Baptist again. She had been a member of the choir and always enjoyed that outlet. We began to attend Wednesday night services and Elsie met and reconnected with many of her friends who seemed very pleased to see Elsie again. Elsie’s doctor appointments continued as did the Parkinson exercise meetings. Her health seemed to even out for the time being.
In August 1992 the Republican convention was held in Houston and Elsie along with First Baptist Church choir performed. It was a proud moment for me to see Elsie enjoy the event and appear on national tv. The next month I took a two week vacation to the UK. Elsie’s health had stabilized which provided a peace of mind for me while I relaxed.
1993 and 1994 saw little change in her health. She continued her outings and I took occasional vacations. I continued to assist her in other ways beside health care. Elsie and her sister had inherited some valuable land in Louisiana. At some point she and her sister sold a lot in Mansfield, LA to a bank for $25k. The two sisters split the money. I heard Elsie discuss the sale and the need to pay taxes on the profit. I learned the two had inherited 40 acres from their dad after his death in 1955. The land sat there unused and undeveloped.
Occasionally the two sisters would sell lumber and receive an income or allow an oil company to drill for oil. Other than that – nothing was done with the acreage. One day Elsie spent hours working on her monthly condo note. I asked if I could help? She handed the information to me and asked if I could make sense of it? It did not take me long to realize Elsie had been taken to the cleaners. She had been paying interest every month. After owning the condo for nearly 20 years she still owed $20,000 on a condo appraised at the time $25,000. I asked why she didn’t pay it off? She remarked she didn’t have the funds.
At that point I recalled the land in Louisiana and asked if she would consider selling any or all of it? She shrugged her shoulders and said she had not thought about it. I asked if she would mind if I investigated the possibilities? She agreed and I contacted a lawyer who leaped at the chance to purchase land from a gullible, trusting woman.
A few days later Elsie informed me the lawyer had offered her $40,000 and she had agreed. I stated we needed to get the land appraised and lost little time in contacting a realtor. He asked if any papers had been signed and I said no. Reggie contacted Elsie and her sister within a few days with the happy news – the land was worth $220,000. In other words Elsie would make $110,000 instead of $20,000. Despite this windfall she and her sister seemed rather put out with me. Go figure? Reggie encouraged Elsie to give me a finder’s fee and reminded her I was the reason she was $110,000 richer. She agreed and did fairly and squarely bless me with a nice fee. Her sister – who could best be described as an unhygenic and crass old woman – being 14 years older than Elsie – refused to split the finder’s fee. Whereas Elsie was clean and neat – Vivian was rather less than that. I happily accepted the funds, paid bills and gave money to my parents, my church and friends.
The job continued – became routine. 1995 saw a decrease in her health which was something we had been warned about. There is no cure for Parkinsons – and it is a progressive disease. Still I held out hope for Elsie’s healing. She deserved so much better and was a fair boss. She was not demanding. There was rarely ever a set time for me to come to work. I also earned extra money as a baby sitter and even brought the kids to meet Elsie from time to time. They found her fascinating. When I needed some time off she didn’t deny my request and paid for the time off. On occasion I would get a raise. I always tried to be fair and respect the fact she too was a single woman, alone in the big, bad world. I went to Australia and New Zealand in December 1995 and had a great time. The following month was the true beginning of Elsie’s slid into ill health and a point of no return.
MLK Day – January 1996 – another Monday for me. I arrived at work to learn Elsie was experiencing health issues. She had not had a movement all week-end and did not feel well. I contacted one of her doctors who recommended we go to the ER at Methodist hospital. We did and were there most of the day before she was admitted. Elsie was placed on a liquid diet which medical professionals sought to learn the cause of her problems.
I would spend all day with her and stop off at the condo to feed the kitties and take care of any mail, phone calls. After a few days of dieting I went to work one morning and low and behold Elsie was enjoying a hardy breakfast. What is this I asked? Her response – she was hungry and her room mate had checked out. Her breakfast was bought and Elsie asked the aide if she could eat the meal? When she was told yes so began Elsie’s first solid food in days. I contacted her doctor who put the skids on that. Within a short time the reason for her problems diagnosed – she had a blocked intestine which was the result of her female surgery 20 years before. Surgery was scheduled to be performed by legendary Dr. Lee Tuttle. The day of the surgery I arrived only to find her first cousin George Tharp in the waiting room. I also learned Elsie had given him Power of Attorney. I was dumbfounded as George was MIA and rarely if ever made an appearance in her life. Still what could I do? Her sister and niece were also present. Elsie’s surgery went well and I welcomed Friday and the week-end. I still checked on the pets and called Elsie everyday to learn how she was feeling.
I went to work the next Monday and what I saw at the hospital shocked me. When I entered her hospital room she was standing next to a nurse – or leaning against the nurse is the better phrase. A pool of dark, red blood was on the floor, Elsie’s blood. Elsie was as white as a ghost as one might expect. I demanded to see the head nurse whose comments that Elsie was not going to die infuriated me. It was certainly NOT Methodist Hospital’s finest hour. Out of desperation for my boss I contacted Dr. Dirk Kieback, for whom I had babysat. I explained the situation and his response was what I had hoped. He would contact Dr. Tuttle and ask him to intervene. Within a short time Dr. Tuttle arrived and ordered Elsie back into ICU. Her life was spared. She spent another three weeks in the hospital. Looking back I do not know if I did her a favor by demanding she receive sterling care? I know had she died at that time we both would have been better off. Much grief would have been averted.
Elsie’s health stabilized and I took a two week vacation to the west with a friend. I called everyday to check on her. I left Elsie in the hands of the part-time maid. Bad decision on my part because she was the type who did not act in the patient’s best interest and called Elsie the boss man. During one of my calls while on vacation I learned Elsie had another flair up with her foot. She went to the podiatrist who treated the infection. I was not satisfied and asked her to contact Dr. John Bishop – a legend in the world of feet. She didn’t want to and the maid kept saying Miss Elsie didn’t want to.
Upon my return I took one look at her foot and called Dr. Bishop who instructed Elsie to come to his office ASAP. Once we arrived Dr. Bishop diagnosed cellulitis and stated she needed to be hospitalized. She was placed on a Vitamin B drip. Dr. Bishop asked me to not hire that maid any more to replace me when I am off work. Hire someone as near like you as possible were his words. Elsie recovered and her foot was better. Her health was not. She continued to go down hill and it was becoming more and more apparent she needed full time live in, something she did not have room for.
A month after her bout with cellulitis – early one Sunday morning the phone rang and woke me. It was early – too early to get up for church. I answered and heard the voice of Elsie’s next door neighbor – Doug Harris – informed me Elsie had fallen and lay on the floor all night. He heard her cries for help and he wanted me to come over. I did and arranged for the maid to sit with her while I went to church. I was not feeling very well myself as I had developed a kidney infection. When my urine was the color of V H juice I knew it was time to go to the doctor. I did so and had to take a week off work as I could not drive nor did I feel well enough to work.
I checked on Elsie every day. Her surly cousin George and his equally surly wife were onsite when I called and informed me I could not tell them anything about her. Of course what those two knew about Elsie you could write on the balls of a neutered ant. Their crude behavior did not reflect their upper middle class life style. Another cousin Cary Tharp from Darian, CT was supportive of me and on my side. He thanked God I was there. Maybe she will have a chance with you caring for her he would say.
Life can blind side you and it certainly did on October 4, 1996 – Friday. I went to work just as I always did. I drove Elsie’s car to work as I had worked late the night before and needed a ride home. I walked to work everyday and left my car at the apartments on Bancroft. I had brought my cat Shamrock to work to be with Bootsie Girl as Muffin had recently died. The maid was on site and had also begun to work for Doug Harris. The day was sunny, some clouds. Around mid morning two men whom I did not recognize stood in front of Elsie’s condo. This was not unusual as Elsie’s condo was across from the laundry-mat and folks frequently stood outside as their clothes washed. I asked them if I could help them? They said no.
The clock had not struck 12 noon when George Tharp and Doug Harris arrived with a security guard from Preferred Security – a company owned by Mac Haik. The five entered the condo and demanded I leave. I asked Elsie what was going on? She was sitting in her rocker and said nothing, looked down at the floor. We went into her bedroom and I asked her what was happening? She shrugged her shoulders. The security guard followed us in. He refused to leave even though she asked him to. George Tharp and Doug Harris refused to leave. At that point Elsie tried to hand me two weeks pay. I asked what was happening again? No answer. I then went to Doug Harris’s condo to get a reply from the maid Bea Harris – no relation to Doug. She said she couldn’t get involved and kept calling them the boss man. At that point the security guard attacked me and hand cuffed me. I again demanded to know what was happening? He threatened me and pulled me outside to the fence where he placed the cuffs. A neighbor asked what was happening? I told her I did not know! I asked her to call the cops which she did.
I heard George Tharp tell the maid he would see her that night and she agreed. He was hiring a person to replace me. Bea was illiterate, did not have a high IQ and was to boot a traitor. I had always made sure she had a job with Elsie – and that was the thanks I got. Within a short time Officer Chris Sharman #4820 arrived. He instructed the security guard to unhandcuff me which happened. The officer entered Elsie’s condo and spoke with those onsite including Elsie. I did not know til several years the substance of those conversations. Officer Sharman did allow the neighbor to drive me and my cat Shamrock home. The short distance to my apartment – the neighbor did apologize and kept remarking how sorry she was this had happened. She was sorry.
My life was shattered. I could not work and was encouraged to hire an attorney and sue the thugs. Finding an attorney not so easy as I soon found out. I only saw Elsie one more time. She had the maid with her at a Wycliffe banquet. It was with some resolve I did not pick up a knife and made quick use of a traitor. Elsie and I did keep in touch via the mail. She would contact me when another neighbor Dick Hedges died. She did not fight my unemployment which I received for six months.
I finally filed litigation and had Mac Haik served. All of this came out of my pocket. I still did not have an attorney. Elsie died in December 1998 – little more than two years after I was betrayed. She was in assistant living. Her condo was sold before she died. In 1999 I finally obtained the services of an attorney and unfortunately my case ended up in the court of Civil 280th and the incompetent Tony Lindsay – wife of former Harris County Judge. I paid an expert witness $400 to comment on my case. She interviewed both Bea Harris and George Tharp. She described Bea as about what you would expect and George Tharp as very uncooperate. The same was said about Doug Harris.
By the time my case worked its way to a deposition – and to court the scales of justice not in my favor. The judge would not even allow it to go to trial. She demanded I accept a settlement of $3,000 – $1,000 went to the attorney who dropped out on me just before the hearing. I stated I did not understand the wording in the settlement and the judge remarked she was not going to teach me law. If you believe my civil rights were not trampled on – think again. I had asked for $100,000 – which surely reflected the emotional suffering I had experienced. I was depressed and diagnosed with PTSS. I asked more than once why they did not kill me? I did learn the security guard was fired and several years later I meet Officer Sharman who explained what he recalled about that day. He stated as soon as he entered Elsie’s condo he realized she was being controlled. He asked why had they done such a thing to me? George Tharp and Doug Harris said I had stolen from Elsie? The officer asked Elsie if that was so? She said no. He then told everyone he only wanted to hear what Elsie had to say and everyone else needed to be quiet. It became apparent to him very quickly she was not able to fend for herself and allowed others to made decisions for her. She was frail and it was not a good situation. He also thought it was a good thing to get me away from there and instructed the neighbor to take me home. He thought the entire situation was terrible. We agree. So do I and so does everyone with any decency. I stayed in Houston until 2001 – then moved back home. My attorney who dropped out on me – withdrew from the case was later disbarred. Unfortunately Judge Lindsay remained in office til her retirement or she broke a mirror – whichever happened first. I did not return to Forester’s Pond until 2006. I walked to Elsie’s old condo. I saw the neighbor who had driven me home that day in 1996. Nothing had changed except everything. Doug Harris long gone. A number of neighbors had died. An entire neighborhood who didn’t know Elsie now held court. Elsie’s 600 sq. foot condo is currently appraised at $75,000. It was a pity her tepid comment to me that she might leave the condo to me just talk. It would have been a nice cash cow. It would have made up for the abuse and the crushing despair I felt and still feel when I think of those days, of my time as a care giver for Elsie Mae Tharp, born November 21, 1927. It might have come close.