A Series of Unusual Phone Calls
(Al has been coughing up blood, some days more than others, for several weeks. Initially, the doctor thought the cause was a sinus infection and prescribed an antibiotic. The pills haven't helped. Last week, Al went back to the doctor, who did more tests and discovered Al had had a mild case of pneumonia recently. He now thinks that might be causing the bleeding.)
At ten o'clock Tuesday night, the phone rang. After two nights of very little sleep, I had gone to bed early and was sleeping soundly. So soundly the ringing didn't rouse me, but the beeping and buzzing telling me someone had left a voice mail did. It took me a minute or two to realize the source of the beeping and buzzing had been the phone and not something out of a quickly forgotten dream. On my third attempt I correctly entered the password for my voice mail and was told, "you have one unheard message. First unheard message:
"Hi, Tom, it's Penelope. Al called me and said he's been coughing up more blood and thinks he needs to go to the hospital. Can you go up and check on him?"
That woke me up. Getting to Al's apartment in a timely fashion, however, was out of the question. On the best of days, it takes me fifteen minutes or more to get into my socks, shoes and a pair of pants. Rushing only slows me down. I called Al, but he didn't answer.
Penelope is the Activities Director here. I was Plan B, I hoped. She must have called the desk, but Alisha had been on another line or had been away from the desk. Penelope surely left a message. My task was to make sure the message got through. I called the desk, John answered and said they were aware of the situation, had called 9-1-1, and Alisha had gone to Al's apartment and would stay with Al until the EMTs took him away.
Alisha answered my call to let Al know I was thinking about him and wished him the best. I could hear him sputtering, stuttering and swearing in the background. A few minutes later, the Columbus Fire Department EMTs pulled up outside the B Building. By 10:30, Al was on his way to St. Francis Hospital.
This morning, I stopped by the desk and asked if there was any word on Al. They had done a CAT-scan, run several tests and admitted him, Sarah said. I thanked her and went out to enjoy the overcast morning, Halfway through my second lap of the Covenant Wood's complex, the phone rang.
"Well, good morning, Tom."
"Good morning, Al. How are you feeling?"
"I spent an hour-and-a-half in the emergency room. last night. Worst god-damned hour-and-a-half of my whole god-damned life."
"I went in there wearing my jeans, a belt and two diapers. They put me in a bed and stuck about seven tubes in my arm - every fucking one of them in my left arm. It swelled up like a balloon; it's still god-damned swelled up. Then they covered me with a bunch of damn sheets. I couldn't move. I told them I had to urinate. They cut off some of my pants and part of the diapers. I still had a bunch of sheets on me, and I could hardly move. Then I couldn't find my penis and ended up pissing all over myself."
"Sarah told me they admitted you."
"Yeah, I'm in a room in the new part of the hospital. It took them twenty-five minutes to get me over here. I could have god-damned walked over here in ten. These god-damned doctors, all they want is your money,"
"Are they treating you all right?"
"They brought me breakfast earlier. The coffee was cold, the sausage didn't have a god-damned bit of flavor, and the cantaloupe and mush melon were so hard I couldn't chew the fucking things - and I had my new teeth in."
The conversation continued in this vain for another ten minutes before Al said, "There I go, running my god-damned mouth. Tom, you're supposed to be my mentor. Why don't you tell me to shut the hell up? Penelope said she'd come see me today. Tell her, I want her to get me out of this god-damned place."
Back inside, I found Penelope at her desk. As I thought she might have, she had gone to check on Al while he was in the emergency room. When I told her Al's opinion of the service, she rolled her eyes. "It turned out, the emergency room doctor he saw is Jim and Tillie's son-in-law. [Jim and Tillie live here.] Once he found out Al is from from Covenant Woods, Al got the VIP treatment."
At twelve-ten, according to my microwave's clock, as I was searching the refrigerator for a luncheon treat, the phone rang.
"Well, hello, Tom."
"Hey, Al, what's going on?"
"Some god-damned doctor came to see me this morning. You know what he wants to do?"
"No, but you're going to tell me, aren't you?"
"Tomorrow morning, he wants to run some god-damned tube down into my left god-damned lung to see what's going on."
"That's good, isn't it?"
"The blood isn't coming from my god-damned lung. They took a bunch of fucking pictures of my lung. There was a lot damage to my lung when I got blown all to hell in Vietnam. But the god-damned blood is coming from my god-damned head."
"How do you know?"
"Think about it. It's the only place it could be coming from. I'm 91-years-old, and I know my god-damned body. The blood is coming from above my god-damned eye."
"So, how's everything else going?"
"Some people came in here this morning and started asking a lot questions. I told them to get the hell out. They don't know what they're doing. I told them I want to go home. Then an orderly brought me lunch. I'm not god-damned hungry. Hell, I just ate two hours ago. Maybe I'll have the soup they gave me, but that's all."
"Why don't you try to relax?"
"Relax? What do you think I'm doing? I'm sitting here in a chair with my feet up on the bed."
"Good. Aren't you supposed to elevate your feet has much as you can?"
"That's because my god-damned feet swell. I'm just sitting here, not doing a god-damned thing, with my lunch on my lap. I keep telling them I want to go home, but they won't listen."
"Anything I can do for you?"
"Tell Penelope to find our what room I'm in. I don't know what god-damned room they've got me in."
"She said she's going to come see you later. She'll know which room it is when she gets there. Look, I better let you go. You need some rest."
"Thanks for putting up with me. I'll see you when they let me out of this god-damned place. Take care, you old rascal."