Wednesday, November 22, 2006
I'll Be There
There's something so depressing about Coney Island in the off-season.
The place exists for summer, sunshine, and people, but lately it's been sorely lacking all three.
Sure, there are some people on the boardwalk and I guess the Polar Bears will start coming around to go swimming. But it's not the same.
I've been spending more time out there since my father suffered a stroke last month and went into the nursing home for treatment. Sunday is my usual day and I'll be there again tomorrow with my sister to visit him for Thanksgiving Day.
My usual routine is to get there in the afternoon and wheel him downstairs to the lobby, where we play cards for a while. Last Sunday he wanted me to take him outdoors, but I told him it was too cold.
"I don't like this atmosphere," he said. "I want to get out of it."
"I don't blame you," I said.
My father will be coming home next Thursday, a week after Thanksgiving, and I can't say I'm looking forward to it. I've enjoyed being on my own around here and I know when he returns he's going to need constant care. We're hiring people, but I don't think it'll be enough.
I guess I'm being selfish, but my father is still not in the right frame of mind. Some days he thinks he's in a hotel, other days he thinks he's in a library.
He refers to my mother in the present tense, as if she's still alive, and it breaks my heart every time. I stopped telling him that she's gone because it just seems to confuse him and he never remembers anyway.
My sister and I got a first class scare this week when some schmuck at the hospital who calls herself a social worker said my father was being discharged this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, a holiday weekend.
Needless to say when my sister called me with this bit of news, I freaked. I was in the middle of very difficult story and I had to drop that and deal with these bureaucratic bungholes at the nursing home.
We weren't ready for him. We don't have the staffing step-up, his room hasn't been prepared, we just can't take him now. And why the hell did they tell us he was being discharged on Nov. 30 if they weren't going to stick to that date?
They were talking about my father as if he were a package being delivered by Federal Express--only the FedEx people are far more professional.
I left a rather vicious voice mail message for the social worker, then I said, screw this, I'm not going to argue with this scum bucket. I'm going to the top.
So I called the hospital administrator and did my best Joe Pesci impersonation and told her that they would not be discharging my father ahead of schedule and that there would be serious consequences if they tried.
Ride At Your Own Risk
"Oh, no," she said, "there's been a mistake. I don't know why the social worker said that."
Really? I've got a few ideas, especially since my sister butted heads with this very same bitch last week about how they were treating Mary, my father's aide, when she came to visit him. They knew she wasn't family, so some of the staff were talking to Mary like she was a dog.
In fact, Mary called me from there about a week ago and told me what was going on. She got so upset she started crying. Now Mary is one tough cookie so to hear her reduced to tears was pretty upsetting. But she made a valid point.
"I can't fight with them," she said, "because they'll take it out on your father."
You mean the hospital staff would actually punish an 85-year-old man just to be mean and spiteful? Oh, no, never say it! That could never happen, not in a million years. (Are you getting the sarcasm here? Good, I knew you would.)
Anyway, we got squared away on my father's discharge date and I felt compelled to explain to this woman that we wanted our father to come home (lie) but we needed more time (true).
I took my father back to the dayroom on Sunday and got ready to leave. As I was stepping onto the elevator, I heard one of the aides shout "Jim!" and I saw my dad getting out of his wheelchair and getting into another chair at his table. The hospital wants the stroke patients in their wheelchairs at all times for fear they might fall.
The elevator doors were closing as the aide ran over to my father and I thought about hitting the button and going back into the dayroom to calm things down. But I didn't.
I walked back to the train station along the boardwalk. Yes, there were a few people around. A woman was walking her dog, which was sniffing at the furriest cat I have ever seen in my life. The thing looked like a porcupine. Maybe it was just the particular breed of cat, or maybe the cat had lived through enough Coney Island winters that it grew a heavy coat for protection.
I walked by the go-cart track on the way to Surf Avenue. All the carts were in storage and the place seemed deserted, like a ghost town, but there was music coming from somewhere.
Just my luck, it was Michael Jackson singing "I'll Be There." I thought of how I had quickly left the hospital, how I hated going back there, and how I dreaded my father's return home. I didn't feel particularly good about myself.
There were signs all over the go-cart track. Absolutely No Bumping, one of them said. Ride At Your Own Risk, said another. They sound like good life lessons. Especially that last one. You ride this life at your own risk.
There were actually two game stands open--the BB gun range and some basketball game and the barkers both perked up when they saw me.
"Don't go by, give it a try," one of them said.
I kept going, walking by the big clock that counts down the days to July Fourth, when Nathan's holds its annual hotdog eating contest. It was 226 days and 19 hours on Sunday, so we're even closer as I write this.
And come tomorrow we'll be closer still.