Al called at six-thirty Tuesday morning. He said he was dizzy, his heart was beating very, very fast, he was having trouble catching his breath, and his hip “hurt like hell.” He said he had called the desk and a nurse’s aide was on her way to see him. I told him to try and relax.
A half hour later, the phone rang again. “Tom, Al here, I need you to come up, right away.” It was not a request. It was an order, given in true lieutenant-colonel fashion, by a man who is used to having his orders obeyed. You can get the man out of the uniform, but you can’t get the uniform out of the man.
Al was sitting upright in his recliner when I arrived. “My head feels like it’s full of something,” he said. “When I got up this morning, I was so dizzy I didn’t think I’d be able to make it to the bathroom. My heart is fibrillating all over the place,” which he illustrated by making fluttering motions with right hand and waving it all over the place. “Something’s going on; I can’t figure out what it is. That girl they sent up here didn’t know how to take my blood pressure. And my hip hurts like hell.”
“Are they sending another aide up?”
“They said they would.”
“Well, just relax. She’ll be here soon.”
Al lowered the recliner, laid back, closed his eyes and took a deep breath or two. Then he opened his eyes, looked around, and said, “I’ve got to get rid of all this shit.” I urged him to relax, and he did for thirty seconds or so. “That god damned pill girl. She couldn’t even take my blood pressure. I should have just called 911, myself.”
“It will be OK, Al. Take it easy. Someone will be here in a minute.”
A few seconds of relaxation, replete with deep breaths and shut eyes, and then the fulminating resumed. “I don’t know why I bother with doctors. They never tell me anything.”
“Easy, Al. It’s going to be all right.”
“Damn it, I don’t why I just didn’t call 911. That’s what I should have done.” And with that, Al got up, found his keys and handed them to me, along with a recently filled prescription for hydrocodone. “Here, I probably won’t be coming back. I’m ready to go, anyway.”
A tap on the door announced Pat’s arrival. She took Al’s blood pressure – 154 over 97 – and his heart rate – 127. “These are kind of high. Do you think we ought to call 911?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Are they all that bad?”
“Al, all you’ve been saying for the last fifteen minutes is that you should have called 911 in the first place,” I said.
“Yeah, maybe you should call them, Pat.”
The EMTs arrived twenty minutes later, twenty minutes that Al filled with castigation, vilification and vituperation, interspersed with short periods of faux relaxation. When they got there, the EMTs parked the gurney in the hall and asked Al if wanted to be carried to it or if he would walk. Al opted to walk out. He got up slowly, took a minute to get properly balanced, and started toward the door. He stopped at the small table on which he has an array of candy – bite-sized Mounds, Reese’s Cups, Dove chocolates, and caramels. Al grabbed a caramel, asked the EMTs if they wanted some and told Pat and me to help ourselves.
I stopped by the desk at noon to ask Shirley if there was any news about Al. She said there wasn’t. And there wasn’t any when I stopped and asked on my way to dinner. At ten-fifteen, I was in bed reading myself to sleep when Penelope called.
“I’ve got Al,” she said. “And we’re going to need his keys. We’ll be outside your door in a couple minutes.”
I told her to take her time. I no longer spring quickly from my bed, or anything else for that matter. By the time I got my BVD-clad body out of the sack and draped a shirt over it for sake of decency, Al was at my door, smiling and looking chipper. I asked him if he was all right.
“They said they didn’t find anything,” he said. “They did an MRI of my brain. My brain wasn’t the problem. Fibrillation was my problem. They X-rayed my hip and said it looks good. These doctors don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”
Wednesday morning, I went up to check on Al and to return his hydrocodone. He spent ten minutes telling me he’d had it with doctors. “I’m not going to go see them. The hell with them. I’m ready to leave all this.” He was equally forthright in his determination to get rid of his car “before I kill somebody.” He went on to talk about his experiences the day before, which led back to the subject of doctors. “I’ve got a couple appointments – one Thursday and one Friday. I guess I’ll drive to them.”
Exactly what ails him remains a mystery. But Al has derived a great enjoyment from sharing his adventures in the emergency room with anyone who will listen. I don’t know if Al made it to his doctor appointments, but he has driven over to Publix several times.