Friday, April 28, 2006

Goodbye, Mr. Fink


My father may have cancer.

I can't believe this is happening, and God willing, it may not happen yet, but his doctor is concerned enough to order the necessary tests.

I spoke with Dr. Pearlman, my dad's doctor at the V.A., on Tuesday about my father's growing problem with incontinence.

My dad has been soiling himself on a pretty regular basis now and I thought it was one of the signs of Alzheimer's, or a symptom of a stomach virus. But I never thought anything like this.

Dr. Pearlman noted that my father has also been losing a great deal of weight, something like 20 pounds over the last six months.

That in itself is so hard to believe because my father has always been overweight, always eating too much, always eating the wrong foods, and always getting angry at my mother when she tried to get him to slim down.

My father did not want to hear it, as he larded on the butter or had another dish of ice cream. Now his clothes are hanging off him and Dr. Pearlman fears it may be a sign of colon cancer.

"I hope I'm wrong," he said.

Me, too.

I was at work when he told me this and I almost started crying. After my mother's long, painful death, I prayed to God that, when it was his time, to please take my father as quickly, quietly and as painlessly as possible. I didn't want to see him waste away to skin and bones in some awful hospital bed.

It's too soon to say if that prayer has been answered or not. We went to the V.A. this morning so my father could get an MRI, where the attendant slid my father into this tube, not unlike a casket, now that I think of it, and told him to remain still for 45 minutes.

I was convinced my father would blow it in some way, his world-renown temper would go code red and he'd storm out of the place, cursing and waving his cane in the air.

However, the attendant had a great bedside manner, unlike the idiot cleaning staff, who told us the MRI unit was closed just so we wouldn't walk on their freshly washed floor.

This fellow, in sharp contrast, was courteous and professional. He put my father at ease and when the test was over he gave my dad a smart salute. My father returned it with a slightly trembling hand.

We're supposed to get the results on Monday. Whether this will tell us everything or require additional testing, I don't know.

Let us pray.

Tossing and Turning

This has been a tough week, as I am still battling this cold or whatever the hell it is. I thought I was getting better, but then on Thursday at 2 a.m., I woke up and had terrible coughing fit, hacking like a three-pack-a-day smoker.

It felt like I was never going to stop, as I bounced up and down on the mattress, cursing all the way. I don't handle being sick very well, I'm afraid.

It's bad enough being sick on my own, but I feel like I can't help my dad when I'm like this. I'm worried I'll give him my germs and I just don't have the energy I need to take proper care of him.

As I was trying to get back to sleep I heard my father get up and walk around the house. I waited for him to go the bathroom and return to bed, but he kept walking, until he finally opened the door to my room.

"Robert?"

"Yes?"

"Fink opens at 10 o'clock."

Now that may sound like a code used by a spy in a sixties espionage flick, but I actually understood what my father was saying. Fink, was Mr. Fink, the neighborhood pharmacist, who had a drugstore at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 68th Street, less than a block from our house.

I say "had" because Mr. Fink left that place something like 35 years ago and is probably dead now. Yet my father spoke as if the man was still dispensing pills and advice to anyone who walked into his place.

I freaked, as I often do when my father goes off like that, and I assured him that Mr. Fink was no longer in business, and would he please go back to bed because I had to get up and go to work in a few hours.

It didn't occur to me until the next day that my father was trying to help me. He must have heard me coughing and, though his perceptions were off, he wanted me to get medicine and get better. He was still being a father in spite of all his problems; he was still trying to help his kid.

Way Back When

It's funny, but earlier that day I was thinking about Mr. Fink myself, as I came home from work and walked down 68th Street. I looked at the grocery story that occupies that place where Mr. Fink once had his drug store and wondered what happened to him.

Mr. Fink was part of a vanishing breed, a pharmacist who ran a pharmacy and nothing else. This wasn't a mega-mall chain store, like we have today, where they sell snow tires, greeting cards, laundry detergent, and paper clips, in addition to filling prescriptions.

No, Mr. Fink was an old school neighborhood druggist. His store had shelves that went to the ceiling, each one lined with dusty bottles, and he had one of those ladders on wheels that he pulled to wherever he had to go.

Mr. Fink--we always called him "Mr. Fink"--was a small balding man with glasses, who looked a bit like a turtle. He always a spotless white smock that told everyone he knew his business. People used to ask him for medical advice when they concerned about something, but not sure they wanted to go to a doctor.

One time I sprained my thumb playing football on the street and my hand swelled up. My mom took me up to the drug store so Mr. Fink could take a look at it. He suggested I bathe my hand in warm water and Epsom salts and try not to do too much for a couple days.

I remember walking into the store one time and Mr. Fink popped up from behind the counter like a jack-in-the-box. I suspect he was sleeping back there, and at the time I smirked about it.

But now that I'm an adult and a certified working stiff, I don't blame him for taking a break. If it's a slow day, there's no need to stand at attention for the full eight hours.

My brother Peter worked for Mr. Fink for a while, making deliveries on his bicycle. He used to go on about how cheap Mr. Fink was, but I can't recall any examples. One time my father sent up there and told me to say to Mr. Fink that "Fink means good bread."

I didn't know it at the time, but that was the slogan for the Fink Baking Company, an old New York business. But Mr. Fink got it, and he laughed politely. All I knew of the word "fink" is from what I heard in the gangster movies, where anyone who spoke to the cops "finked" or was a "fink" or, in extreme cases, he was a "rat-fink."

I used to wonder how Mr. Fink could stand having a name that conjured up such treachery, but he seemed to get by.

As I think of him, I'm reminded of the other small businesses in my neighborhood back when I was growing up--the hardware store on the next block, the butcher shop across the street, the jewelry store run by a hunchbacked man we called "the Hunchback," though not to his face, of course.

Here and Now

Maybe I'm on a nostalgia high, but it seems like my neighborhood back then was a lot like a small village, with all it's little shops and simple people. I was a child then, of course, back when my mother was still alive, my father was big and strong, and no one ever said the word "cancer."

Mr. Fink is gone, just like all those other stores, and while we do have a lot of local businesses mixed in with the chain store menace, none of those from my childhood have survived. And all of the men on this block from my father's generation have died.

My father had another accident today after we got home from the V.A. I made him change his underwear and put on a new diaper, and I'll have to give him a shower. We haven't told him about Dr. Pealman's concerns, as it would only confuse and upset him. God willing, there won't be anything to tell him.

Too bad Mr. Fink isn't around anymore. I could sure use his help right now.

2 comments:

DesertPeace said...

WOW! What a moving episode. The way you write this make it seem as if we are sitting together and you are talking to me.
So sad about your father. He is suffering enough, he does not need anything added to it.
The episode with Fink is precious. As sick as Dad is hes love for you comes through. He was concerned about you so he got out of bed to tell you when the pharmacy opens. OK.. it was the pharmacy of years gone by... but he meant well.
I hope you are right Rob, I hope the doctor is wrong. I will keep dad in my prayers, and you as well.'Bless you!

Rob K said...

Thanks, Peace, your prayers and good thoughts mean so much to me. We're all hoping for the best. Take care of yourself and God bless.