Christmas 2014 was delightful. Karen's mom, Penny, and step-dad, Mitch, were down from Indiana, and her sister, Colleen, was up from Florida. Tuesday afternoon, Russ fetched his old man and hurried him to their place for a taco dinner. There are many, many very nice, very interesting people at Covenant Woods. Talk to any of them long enough, however, and the subject of the conversation will turn to the state of their health, or to the state of world, both of which, they will tell you, are going to hell in a hand basket. It was nice to just talk about stuff, and hear a few embarrassing tales of Karen's youth. Mitch is a rabbi, and Tuesday was the last day of Hanukkah. After dinner Penny lit the eight candles of the menorah.
Wednesday, Christmas Eve, we exchanged gifts. But before we did, we enjoyed a dinner of brisket, Swiss chard, asparagus, and cauliflower. I went home with a new seat pad and arm rest for my wheelchair, along with four books:Allegheny City: A History of Pittsburgh's North Side; Their Life's Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers; 399 Games, Puzzles & Trivia Challenges Specially Designed to Keep Your Brain Young and Will's Best: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The New York Times Puzzlemaster.
There were also four books under the tree for Russ. They were all on the same subject: baking. Russ didn't bake anything for the Christmas Eve dinner, but he did make the custard we had for dessert. With hundreds of recipes now at his disposal, I see no reason why I shouldn't expect something from the oven every time Russ comes over. He did put his skills to work on Christmas morning, making a pancake breakfast for us all.
Saturday, we had visitors from Birmingham: Jim and Susan. We sat around my apartment for a while, then moved to Russ and Karen's. While there, I realized how antiquated my flip phone is. Jim and Russ got their phones to do things by talking to them. When the discussion turned to lunch, we decided O'Charley's was the place to send Russ to pick up our order. To expedite the ordering process, Karen accessed O'Charley's menu on her phone, and we each perused it. My phone told me later that it felt so inadequate. Even so, spending several hours with Jim, Susan, Karen and Russ was a wonderful way to end the week's holiday festivities. Before everyone went their separate ways, we vowed to do it again in a few months when the Pratts of Orofino come to Columbus. "Is that baby still coming in April?" Susan asked.
After Russ brought me back to Covenant Woods Saturday, I took my shoes off and was about to stretch out on the bed when Al called. "Tom, I need to go to the hospital." He didn't, however, want to call 911. Earlier in the week he had given his car to a friend from Savannah. "I tried to call Penelope, but I couldn't get her," Al said.
"Well, call 911," I said.
"But I don't want to make a big fuss."
"I guess I'm going to have to. OK, I will."
Al is a man of his word. But I was skeptical enough to put my shoes back on and head to his apartment. I knocked once, pushed the door open and saw Al in his chair with the telephone held firmly against his ear. "Here, you talk to them," he said, handing me the receiver. "I can't hear a god damned thing they're saying." All I could hear when I took the phone was a dial tone. I called 911 and asked if they were sending an ambulance for Al. "We have already dispatched someone. They are on the way."
Al did not receive the news of the EMTs impending arrival calmly. In the manner of the nervous, obsessive-compulsive housewife characters on old situation comedies who ran madly about cleaning the house and putting everything in order before the cleaning lady arrived, Al ran about madly trying to get everything in order before the EMTs got there. "Sit down and relax, Al." "I've got to get this done." Then he'd stumble, catch himself and say, "See that? I'm in a hell of a shape." Fortunately, the ambulance arrived before Al could work himself into a heart attack. "Here's my key. You hold on to it in case I don't make back. You know where everything is." No I don't, but I took the key as Al got on to the gurney.
At three minutes to six Sunday morning, my phone rang. "Tom, Al here. I got back about five this morning. Twelve hours in the damned emergency room. All they did was keep moving me back. They told me to see Stein this week. Those doctors don't know shit. Stein won't do anything. I need to lay down and get some sleep. Why don't you come up for a while?"
"You need some sleep. I'll come up later."
We bickered over his getting some sleep, and eventually Al relented and said he was going to bed. Three hours later, I went to check on him and return his key.
"If I needed to piss I had to press a button, and they would bring me a plastic bottle," Al told me, restarting the narrative of his emergency room experience. "I had to turn on my side so I could piss into the damn thing. How the hell are you supposed to turn over when they put all those fucking tubes and wires in your arms? They even put some god-damned thing in my finger. Bunch of damn idiots. Those doctors don't know shit."
The doctors might not know shit, but Al left them plenty to study. "They gave me an enema. Shot the stuff right up my ass. Then I filled that pot with the runniest, blackest shit I ever saw."
Al finally got himself into a reasonably good mood by cursing the medical profession. And he did say he enjoyed talking to the women who tended to him through the night. And they enjoyed him, too. "One of them came over and told me, they had never seen anyone like me. And the EMTs that brought me back this morning were both women. God damn, they were strong. They didn't have any trouble at all moving me around."
Al's plans for the day? "I'm going to stay here and read the paper. I've got plenty to eat, drink and smoke."
Sunday afternoon, Al was pushing the walker he occasionally uses toward the activity room. He looked good and was in a pleasant mood. Then he ran his hands over his stomach and down toward his groin. "It doesn't feel bad," he said. "There isn't a lot of pressure. But I don't know, I haven't had a movement today."
Apparently, filling the pot at the hospital doesn't count.
One afternoon a week or so ago, I was on my way to give Al some information he'd asked me to get off the Internet. In the hall by the laundry room, Herb was looking through the magazines in a small basket on an end table put there for the convenience those doing their wash. A short, stocky man, Herb is bald save for the fringe of white hair that starts about an inch above his ears. He is alert, moves about quickly and has that everyman look of the guy who played whats-his-name's neighbor on oh, what was the name of that show? You know the one I mean; the one about some guy, his wife and their kids. Everybody watched it.
Or maybe Herb was a feisty union steward in a steel mill. Clad in blue jeans and a T-shirt, he looked the part.
"Do you know where I am?" he asked as I came by.
"By the laundry room."
"How do I get to my apartment?"
"What apartment are you in."
"I don't know," he said just before the light came on. Herb pulled a key chain from his pants pocket and showed me the plastic disc with his room number on it.
"That's in the C building," I said.
"If you can wait a few minutes, I'll take you there."
When I returned from giving Al information he'd asked for, Herb was still going through the magazines.
"Ready?" I asked.
"Just a minute," he said, grabbing four or five old issues of Reader's Digest to take with him.
We took the elevator down to the first floor and started up the long hallway to the lobby. "Doesn't that chair of your go any faster?" he asked. There were a lot of people in the public areas that afternoon, and eventually he couldn't go any faster than I was going. But halfway down the hall to the C building, Herb realized where he was, darted around me and blurted out a quick thanks. I followed at a respectful distance, just to make sure he went to the right room. He did.
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