Good son that he is, Russ was at my door at six-ten Friday morning, ready to be his old man's chauffeur du jour. The time had come to have my Baclofen pump refilled, which involves a trip to the Emory Clinic in Atlanta, one hundred miles to the northeast. To make the nine o'clock appointment we had to get on the road by the dawn's early light. The cool, overcast morning was ideal for rolling down the windows. And we rolled along merrily. The one traffic tie-up we encountered unsnarled moments after Russ' little, red Aveo arrived on the scene.
Emory's rehabilitative medicine department is no longer in the hospital's main complex. Russ likes the new location, because it is right off the interstate and he doesn't have to navigate miles of surface streets to reach it.
Maybe it is a sign of age, but the new place gets my vote because of the restroom, specifically the handicap stall. It is large enough that once I maneuver the wheelchair into it there is enough room left for me to do the things I need to do in order to do the thing I came to do. That isn't the case with the handicap stall in the other location.
Our stay in the waiting room was short, just long enough to let everyone know how hopelessly 20th Century I am. There were eight of us seated there, and the other seven were caressing Smartphones or similar devises. My flip phone was embarrassed and refused to come out of my pocket.
"Mr. Harris," a nurse said. Russ and I turned toward her, and she told us to follow her. Once she had shepherded us into the proper room, she reviewed my medications, took my temperature, my blood pressure and respiration. "Every thing looks good. The doctor will see you in a minute," she said and walked out.
Dr. Milton was in a chatty mood. While pushing a sensor over the pump on my right side, just above the waist line, he asked where I lived before coming south. When I told him, Ashtabula, Ohio, he said, "So, you're an Ohio State fan." "No," I said. "I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, and all my sports loyalties remain there."
He smiled and said he is from Detroit, but also a Pirates and Steelers fan. "It must be the colors. I like the black and gold." In 1979, he was a freshman at Wayne State. "We were all watching the World Series, and I was the only one rooting for the Pirates. Most of them were Tiger fans and thought I should be pulling for the Orioles, since they were the American League team. But my team won."
Back to business: The doc stuck a needle through my skin and into the pump to retrieve the Baclofen that was still in there and then filled the pump it with a new batch. That done, he handed me a bunch of papers to take to the check-out window, where a young lady and I set the date - for my return visit that is.
Russ steered the Aveo out of the parking lot barely forty-five minutes after we had pulled in. The quick in-and-out visits are great. But the long drives there and back are a bear.
In the previous installment, I complained about sitting with Jim at dinner. According to Stacey, however, Al and I have mellowed Jim. "He used to be so mean," she said. "We [servers] were talking about it the other day. He's been so much nicer since you guys started eating with him."
Jim faced a new challenge the other night: eating while Al discussed his bowels.
"I had a movement this morning," Al said as we were eating. "Do you ever measure your movements, Jim? I do. This one was eighteen inches - one was nine inches, one six inches and one three inches. And yesterday I had one that was a foot long. I must be cleaned out now. How long is the large intestine?"
An oh-good-god-man-can't-we-talk-about-something-else-anything-else-anything-at-all-besides-this look came over Jim's face. Al did tweek the topic, but only very slightly.
"A few years ago, they put some sort of attachment on my toilet seat, so I could sit up a little higher and make it easier to get on and off the commode. Well, there's been an odor in my bathroom. I think it is coming from the toilet seat. I called Shirley and asked her to put in a work order for somebody to come and clean the damn thing. I don't know if she didn't put in, or maybe nobody wants to fool with it. I got tired of waiting, got a screwdriver and took the damn thing off.
"I found out where the odor is coming from - all the caked-on shit. Between the toilet seat and the part they put on, everything was covered with dried shit. I spent an hour-and-a-half scraping it. And I still didn't get all off."
It was vintage Al. I'm not sure Jim was ready.
Saturday afternoon, Al called and asked me to come up. The monthly bills were getting the best of him. AARP wanted eighty-three dollars for its roadside assistance service, but Al no longer drives and doesn't own a car.
"I called the sons of bitches, but I couldn't understand a goddamn word they said. I told them I'm ninety-one and can't hear shit. Then I told them to go to hell and hung up."
One of these days, the computers that have replaced switchboard operators will be programmed to respond to "Speak up, goddamn it!" Until then, Al will be frustrated every time he phones a business or organization.With a little help from his friend, however, he was able get AARP to cancel the coverage.
"Now, look at this credit card bill. Master Card says I owe a hundred-fifty-some dollars. I don't owe any hundred-fifty-goddamned dollars. Where the hell they get that from?"
"You're right, Al," I said after looking at the bill. "They owe you the money."
The problem began a few months ago when Al sent Master Card a check for nearly forty dollars more than his balance. The excess amount showed up as a credit balance on the following month's bill, and Al paid it. The next month's bill, of course, had a credit balance twice as large as the previous month, and Al paid it in full. Which is how his credit balance reached its current level.
"Let's call the bastards and tell them I want my goddamned money back."
Rather than spending the afternoon talking to the goddamned bastards, I suggested Al spend his way back to a zero balance. He reluctantly agreed. Tuesday morning, Antoinette took him for his weekly grocery excursion at Publix.
"I bought seventy dollars' worth of shit. I swiped the credit card through the machine, and it worked. But I don't know. I'll probably get a call."
He hasn't yet, but he has given away about fifty dollars' worth of groceries. "I can't eat all that shit. If I don't give it away, I'll end up throwing it away."
The sun blazed and the thermometer hovered notch or two above ninety when I went out after dinner one evening. Down in the duplexes,
Janet sat smoking a cigarette in the shade of her carport. She saw me
coming, got up and marched down the driveway.
"Where's your hat?" she demanded.
"I don't have one."
"You don't have one? Well, you better get one."
"I don't wear a hat in the summer."
"Well, start wearing one. When sun is this hot and bright, your head gets hot and you'll have a stroke."
"I'll look for one when I go to the store," I said, trying hard to sound sincere.
"OK. I'm done scolding. How are you?"
"I'm fine. Yourself?"
"I shouldn't tell you this," she said looking down and shaking her
head. "I'm having trouble with diarrhea. It's been almost constant."
Once she had said that Janet immediately steered the conversation to
things that delight her. She smiled and said she was going to plant a
garden. She'd talked to the maintenance men, and they are going to pull
out the evergreen shrubs the previous tenants had planted front of her
half of the duplex. And they are going to contact the sprinkler people.
The sprinkler in Janet's front yard sprays her kitchen window. It is
aimed that direction in order to water the soon-to-be-removed shrubs.
Until the spray is adjusted, she can't put the hummingbird feeder her
grandson gave in front of the kitchen window, where she wants it.
"It would be knocked around every time the sprinklers come on."
Then she turned to squirrels. She is fascinated by way they get up on
their haunches and sit like dogs begging for food. They remind her of
"I love all the little creatures," she said. "A
few days ago, there were a squirrel and a bird - I don't know the names
of all the birds here - sitting side-by-side on Dorothy's bird feeder.
It was so cute, they didn't pay any attention to each other. They just
sat and ate. I feed the squirrels every day."
Neither of us
went to the Town Hall meeting, where Roger and the staff talk about what a
fine job they're doing, and the residents tell them how it could be done better.
Rumor has it though, Roger asked the residents not to feed the
squirrels. I didn't mention that to Janet.
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