Al managed to get out of St. Francis Hospital on New Year's day. He called from the hospital at nine that morning to express his displeasure with the medical community in general and the hospital staff in particular. He'd been there four days, and he was ready to leave.
"I slept on a gurney for three nights, because they didn't have a room for me," Al said. "If I had to urinate, I had to press a button. Then a nurse brought me a bottle to piss in. To piss in it, I had to get over on my side. But the god damned gurney was so damn narrow I could hardly move, let alone get on my side. I ended up pissing all over myself and all over the fucking bed.
"And the god damned doctors don't know shit. They keep telling me they can't find anything wrong. Bullshit! Damn it, there is something wrong. That's why the hell I'm here. I think they run tests just so they can charge people for them.
"I have to get out of here. Get a hold of Penelope right away and tell her I need to talk to her."
And so, 2015 was barely nine-hours old when the year's first dilemma arose: Do I wait an hour or two before calling Penelope, in case she had celebrated with gusto Wednesday night, and risk the wrath of Al? Or do I risk incurring Penelope's wrath by calling her immediately? Well, William Congreve, the man credited for the line, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned," died three centuries ago and never met Al. I called Penelope.
"There's nothing I can do for him," she said. "But I'll give him a call."
Later in the day, as I was thinking about getting ready for dinner, Al called. "Tom, I'm back. Penelope just dropped me off."
Al hasn't told me how he obtained his release, although I image more than a few medical professionals were told to "go to hell" in the process. Al is home now, but the raging storm of complaints continues unabated.
"I don't know why the hell they didn't do a colonoscopy and find out what the blockage is," he told me Friday. "I've been trying to have a movement all day. There is a lot of pressure right here," he said rubbing the area around his belt buckle. "I sat on toilet for forty-five minutes after lunch, but nothing happened. Shit."
On the other hand, Al has signed on with Hospice Advantage and seems reasonably pleased with it so far.
"A lady from hospice was here a few minutes ago. She asked me a bunch of questions, and she listened to what I had to say," Al told me. "She told me, if I need anything all I have to do is call them. They're going to pick up a prescription for me tomorrow.
"And she helped me get a bath. There I was, butt-naked, and she helped me get in the tub. She helped me clean myself. She has nice fingers."
Last week, Annie drove Al to Publix. During that journey of less than a quarter mile, Al criticized Annie for obeying the stop sign at end of Covenant Woods' drive - "What are you stopping for. There's no one coming" - for ignoring the first entrance to the Publix parking lot and using the one a hundred yards beyond it - "Why didn't you go in back there. This is the wrong one" - and for parking in the "wrong" place, even though Annie let him out at the door to the supermarket and picked him up there when he came out. Annie and Al made another trip to Publix Friday, and Annie reports that Al didn't complain at all, never, not once.
I dropped in on Al Saturday evening. He cast more aspersions on doctors, nurses and just about everyone else in the health care biz. He also bemoaned his life without a car - a day or two before Christmas, Al gave his car to a friend in Savannah. Among other things, he wouldn't be able to go to the store and pick up strawberries, blueberries and tomatoes until at least Monday. Well, I had all those things, and I went down to my apartment and went back up to Al's with the three things he said he wanted along with a few bananas, some apples and a couple oranges.
"But now you don't have any of this stuff," he said.
"So? I'm going over see Russ and Karen tomorrow. On the way back, I'll ask Russ to stop at Publix and I'll replace it all."
With that, Al reached in his pants pocket, pulled out two fifties and handed them to me. "Here, give this to Russ and Karen for all the help they give you."
That's the kind of guy Al is.
Isabelle is in hospice, and Al has been in the hospital or eating in his room, so it has been just Burt and me at table A-2 at dinner. That ended Friday, when Leon joined us. Leon is a recent arrival at Covenant Woods. He is loud enough that I had heard him from several tables away on a couple of occasions. I was hoping he wouldn't notice the two empty seats at our table. He did.
The first words out his mouth weren't "Hi, my name is Leon." His first words came as he stared at me while sitting down.
"Where are you from?" he asked in his harsh, gravelly voice.
"I grew up in the Pittsburgh area. . ."
"What I want to know," he said, cutting me off, "are you Jewish?"
I'm not Jewish, but I have been asked that question a million times. Hell, in my time at West Virginia Wesleyan College, people called me Jew more often than they called me Tom. But Leon's "are you Jewish?" sounded more like an accusation than a friendly inquiry.
Before I could spit out, "Are you with the Gestapo?" Leon hastened to say, "Not that it makes any difference, but you look like a damn Jew."
Not that it makes any difference, but Leon sounds like a damn bigot.
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