Saturday, August 12, 2006
If I can get through a day like Friday, I think I can pretty much survive anything.
My father had to go back to the hospital on Friday, little more than a week after he had been released from a seven-day stay at the VA Hospital.
I try not to think about things like bad omens, hexes, evil eyes, and the like, but any day where you hear Abba's 70's musical nightmare "Dancing Queen" twice is less than five hours is bound to suck in major ways. And Friday was such a day.
The day started out very badly, when I heard my father fall down in the bathroom at about 6 AM. I was half-asleep but I knew the sound and I ran in there and found him curled up on the floor twitching and shaking as if he were being eletrocuted.
It was horrible seeing him like that, confused, frightened and helpless. I got him to a chair, saying "Dad, Dad," over and over, but he just stared at me like I was speaking a foreign language. Finally he started to respond and I got him back to bed.
Now I should have taken him to the hospital right then and there, but he kept on insisting he was all right. So I let him have his way, like so many times before.
Up until then, I had been feeling pretty confident about caring for my father. I had given him his first shave earlier in the week. It was something I had been dreading, but given his unsteady grip, there was no other way.
As he sat on the bath chair I ran a disposable razor down the length of his face. I wished I could shave away the years as easily as I took away the whiskers, so that when I was done, I'd be looking at younger version of my father. But wishes don't carry much weight in the real world.
I decided it was best to work from home and when Mary came over to start her shift, she wanted to take him to the VA for a check-up. When they got back, she told me my father had a broken bone in his cheek, but no other signs of damage. He looked like a battered prize fighter.
I had a date that evening with a woman I had met online. I had arranged to have Edith, our weekend caretaker, stay with my dad while I went out for a few hours. As I finished off my day's work, my tenant's son came downstairs to tell me the electricity in his room had blown out yet again.
This has been happening a lot lately and it was making me very nervous. Our handyman Tony had said the recent heatwave had caused Con Ed to cut back on the power to Brooklyn, but the heatwave was over before Friday and they weren't using the air conditioner upstairs.
I went downstairs and threw the circuit breaker back into position. There was a nasty snarl and the circuit slammed back down again. Okay, you bastard, I thought, I'll fix your ass. And I threw it back up. And it came down again.
There Was Something In the Air That Night
I spent a good part of Friday afternoon going up and down the cellar steps till I finally got over the denial and realized the house was on the injured list, too. The house is old, like my father, and they're both breaking down.
Tony doesn't do electrical work so I ended up calling this company that installed my basement windows over the holidays and asking if they knew any good electricians. They said gave me a name and he's coming tomorrow. Please, Dear Lord, don't let him be a schmuck.
I kept wondering if I should postpone the date for Friday night, but the last time I did that, the woman never got back to me for a second attempt. I figured the electrician couldn't make it until Monday, Edith is watching my dad, what could go wrong?
I found out a short time later when I met my date at Ground Zero and took her to a Mexican place near Battery Park City for drinks. We had a nice chat and then "Dancing Queen" came on the sound system. I had heard this tune earlier in the day while shopping and I mentioned this to my date.
My cell phone went off. Notice I don't it rang, I say it "went off"--like a hand grenade. It was my sister telling me she had just called 911 for my father.
I began telling my date what was going on when my sister called again and to say they were going to Lutheran Medical Center. I told her I'd met her there, explained the situation to my date, and got the check.
There's a kind of mindset you need to survive in the emergency room. You have to be in a sort of waking coma, where you're functioning, asking and answering questions, but you're not screaming and yelling, why, God, why, even though someone very close to you could be dying.
I found my sister inside the ER standing next to my father, who was in a nearby bed, attached to various machines. His blood sugar had dropped, probably because he doesn't eat enough, and there was a chance he might have had a stroke. His face had swelled up even more in the last few hours.
So we waited, dashed home to get a list of his meds, ran back and waited some more. The ER waiting room has got to be the most depressing spot on earth, especially on a Friday, when everyone on earth except you and the rest of the poor bastards around you is out having a good time.
You're sealed off in this glass booth, like you're all diseased, and you stare up at the TV not really taking in any of what you're watching while someone you care for is hanging by a thread.
While my sister and I were standing next to our father in the ER, this young Russian man was sitting next to us, singing softly with his face in his hands. It sounded like an old folk song and it constrasted with the various beeps, clicks, and bells going on around us. His father was in the neighboring bed and was very ill, he said, but he still tried to give us some encouragement.
"It's all in God's hands," he said.
We finally left and made plans to return the next day. Beautiful weather on Saturday, perfect for a beach or a picnic, but we were going inside the hospital for the whole day.
Now I thought Friday was a nightmare, but it turned out to be a warm-up for Saturday. We found my father to be vague, sickly and downright vicious. He was yelling at us and we were yelling back and I got so angry I wanted to walk out. He's always relied on shouting at or hitting people to get his way, but I was not in the mood for his psycho tough guy act this time.
"Hey, guy," I shouted, flipping him the bird. "Can you see this?"
I wanted to be split into two people at that moment, with one version serving as the loyal son, while the other one took off for California and never came back. That's just one more worthless wish.
My father was rambling, making no sense, and it was very scary.
"Is mom worried about me?" he asked, even though she's been dead for the last four years.
"Dad," my sister told him very gently. "Mom's gone. Remember?"
"Oh," he responded. "There's no future in the grave."
"Truer words were never said," my sister replied as she took her seat.
We finally gave him his dinner and got the hell out of there.
It's 2 Up in the Morning, Baby
On the way back to my sister's car, we walked by a film crew that was shooting a rap video at a bodega at Third Avenue and 53rd Street. There was a crowd forming and a mini-traffic jam as drivers slowed down for some rubber-necking. I peered through the bodies and saw somebody with an air celebrity sitting in front of the bodega.
"That's Fat Joe," a young man said to me with a note of reverence.
I don't know Fat Joe that well, but I figure he's got to be better than Abba.
It's hard to imagine something more unlike my father's muscial tastes than hip hop or rap. My father loved Roger Miller and Bobby Darin. So even though Fat Joe and company were just a few blocks away from his hospital room, they were working their magic on a whole other planet.
We went to a newly opened Asian restaurant one Third Avenue where I had too much Prosecco and didn't care. As a joke I told the waitress about Fat Joe and not only did she know him, she said her sister has a photo of herself and Fat Joe together. I suppose it's a small world when you're a Fat Joe.
I went home, wrapped myself around the DVD player and watched a few hours of The Shield.
My father was a little better today. He slept much of the day and was fairly agreeable while I fed him. On Monday I have to call the social worker at my dad's senior center to get started on the Medicaid application for my father. His doctor has already told us my dad belongs in a nursing home and the nurse at Lutheran told Mary the same thing.
Whatever happens, it's not going to be an easy time for my family.
I read that Mike Douglas, the old talk show host had died on Friday, on his birthday, no less. Another sign that day was cursed.
I remembered watching that show for years. He used to have a guest host sit with him for a whole week. I remember William Shatner and Mamma Cass, among others who had that honor. One time three Carradine brothers appeared on the show.
Mike Douglas seemed like a sincerely nice man and I was sorry to learn of his death. I dated a woman in college whose old aunts used to refer to him as "Mike."
I saw this on Mike today, one of them would say, and you were supposed to know which Mike they were talking about. Now everyone seems to know who Fat Joe is, though I'm a little confused.
I'm sure those old ladies are gone now, Mike is gone, and it looks like my father is not far behind. I'm not going to blame Abba for my troubles, but it sure is tempting.