Notes from the Home - November 29, 2015

     The phone rang at eleven o'clock a couple Monday nights ago. I didn't hear it. Or, maybe I heard it just enough that I was more alert when the phone rang again a half hour later. The ring was muffled, though. I had left the phone in my pants pocket. By the time I'd figured out where the phone was and managed to get to it, it had stopped ringing. The phone was kind enough to inform me that Al had made two calls and that there was a voicemail message awaiting me.
     "Tom, Al here. I need your help. I fell and can't get myself up. I called the desk about three times and nobody answered the goddamned phone. Get your ass up here. Now!"
     I opted to call the desk. Warren answered and said he'd check on Al right away. I thought about going to Al's room. Then I thought a little more: It would take me fifteen minutes or more to put on socks, pants and shoes, by which time Warren would have Al back in bed, and I would disturb him. Or Warren would have called the EMTs, and I would be in the way.
     Al was taken to the emergency room. He had gotten out of bed, stood up, lost his balance and fell. He managed to get the receiver for his cordless phone, and dragged himself across the room to the kitchen area, where there was a light on, and he could see to dial. In the process, he had scraped the skin off a large part of his right hand and wrist. His swollen right hand seemed to indicate that he'd also smacked it against something when he fell. And he had a large bump on the right side of his head.
     The next morning, several of us gathered in Al's room to see how he was doing. He was tired, confused, achy, but anxious to talk about his experiences with the medical professionals.
     "Those people don't know shit. They took me into the emergency room, and I told the goddamned nurses they had an hour to take care of me. If they weren't done in an hour, tough shit, I was going home anyway.
     "They asked me what was wrong. I told them there was only one goddamn thing wrong. They asked, 'What's that?' 'I haven't had an erection in thirty years. That's what's wrong. Now, bandage me up and get me the hell out of here.'"
     Whether because the nurses just slapped something on Al's hand and wrist in order to get rid of the old fart in timely fashion, or because Al had been fussing with the band-aids and gauze for several hours, the dressing needed to be changed in the morning. That job fell to Pat, who works in home health here. As she tended his wound, Al told her about the incompetent emergency room nurses. "I'm almost ninety-two fucking years old. I shouldn't have to put up with that shit."
     A while later, a recently hired secretary came by and asked Al if he had pressed the button yet. "What goddamned button?" "The check-in button." "I don't know what the hell you're talking about. What the hell is a goddamned check-in button?"
     The previous week, Covenant Woods had installed new emergency pull-cords in every apartment: one in each bathroom and one next to each bed. On the pull-cord boxes in the bathrooms there is a button marked "check-in". The residents have been asked to push the check-in button each morning before 10, in order to let the home health people know they are up and about.
     The poor secretary tried hard to explain that to Al. Unfortunately, she couldn't get more than four or five words out before a disgusted look spread over Al's face and he'd interrupt with a, "I can't hear a goddamned word you're saying," or "That's bullshit," or "They're trying to spy on us, aren't they," or "If they want someone to press the goddamned button, tell them to get their asses up here and press the fucking thing themselves."
     "Al," I said, "I'll give you a call every morning and remind you to push the button."
     "OK, but I still don't understand why I'm supposed to push the goddamned thing in the first place."
     The hospice nurse came by in the afternoon. She didn't stay long. Al told her to "get the hell out of here, and don't bother coming back." And she didn't come back for a week. Even then, she returned because Chelsea demanded that she come and take a look at Al's hand and wrist. She also insisted that Al allow the nurse examine his injuries.
     Chelsea is Annie's (the assistant activities director) daughter. She is a private caregiver for one of the Nells - there are a slew of Nells here, it must have been the most popular girls name in the South in the 1920s and 30s - and is studying criminal justice at Columbus Tech.
     I think Al is smitten with her. "That Chelsea is an excellent driver," he says. And that is high praise, indeed, from Al. Normally, he is extremely critical of other people's driving. Before Al gave his car away, he and his old Army buddy, Ken, went out to lunch almost every day. Al drove, of course. These days, Ken has to do the driving, so they go out once a month, if that.
     "I don't know about Ken," Al says after every trip with Ken at the wheel, "the son of a bitch is going to get us killed. He's got dementia - bad!!! - and he can't drive worth a shit anymore."
     More than once, he has told me that Penelope can't drive, that Annie can't drive, that Antoinette can't drive, nor can anyone else who has given him a ride. Chelsea is the sole exception. She says Al does point out her driving deficiencies when she's taking him to the bank or the store. But once they're back at Covenant Woods, it's "that Chelsea is such a wonderful driver."
     Al struggled for a week after the fall. His wrist was a bloody mess for several days, and his head ached. Even when he is the picture of health, Al constantly analyzes his aches, pains and discomforts. The knot on his head was a source of great concern. "I think it did something to my brain. I can't remember shit anymore." Of course, he couldn't remember much before he knocked his head.
     He is improving, not back to normal, but heading in that direction. He tires quickly and is often back in bed when I check on him in the morning. I know Al has been up, because the day's newspaper is on the floor next to his recliner, and he is wearing slacks and a shirt.
     Saturday morning, Al was fast asleep when I went to see him. As I eased the wheelchair toward the bed, his eyes opened ever so slightly. "Tom? Is that you?" he rasped. He raised himself up just a bit to get a better look and mumbled, "Gawd, Tom, you're a damned ugly sight to wake up to."  

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