Friday, February 23, 2007
Flashback: Dont Die, Honand Thats an Order.
[Memories from more than fifty years for my kids and grandchildren].
The night Father was brought into Resurrection hospital, I spent the night dosing on the hard-wood couch in the anteroom; at dawn with a crick in my back, I went to a vending machine for coffee and inquired at the desk. I was allowed a peek into his room; he was sleeping under an oxygen tent with machine lights popping on and off. This was long before the era of bypass surgery which I myself experienced under relatively calm conditions almost forty years later. I talked things over with the resident physician on the floor; as far as could be ascertained, he was not in immediate danger of death but very noncommittal. I phoned Mother, reported what I had seen and told her I was going home to shower, shave and change my clothes. We agreed to meet in the hospital anteroom at 10 a.m.
When she entered the anteroom, she looked a lot better than she had the night beforeless agitated with more acceptance. No sooner had we gulped coffee from the vending machine than Conley appeared. An embrace for a greeting, then his diagnosis. Father will never work again; if hes luckyvery luckyhe will eventually leave the hospital but there is no telling when. The heart attack was truly massive; so massive that it was anomalous he was still alive. He has not been a particularly good patient; he detests the oxygen tent, punches his fist at it. His emotional upset is a great worry because anything that sets him off could well kill him. Conley was in a quandary: to tell him this could induce panic which could kill; not to do so could allow him to fret excessively which could kill.
My God, is it that precarious? she asked.
That means he may never leave the hospital, may die here.
Well, said Conley, I am not a heart specialist but I have seen a lot of cases like this. The heart is a wildly unpredictable thing. There are people given up for a fatalthe next attackwho are still around. But theres no use kidding ourselves, hes critical and if he goes home and I say if he will have to live a very sedentary existence. Resuming work at his office is entirely out of the question. I have retained a heart guyBill Mammoser, who will talk to you in a few minutes. Well down the road there will be surgery to alleviate the strain on the heart, with veins taken from legs and arms to send the blood re-circulating and remove traffic on the blockage. Its not here yet. Before you see Mammoser, you should go in to see Harold. I dont have to tell you to avoid any kind of agitation. Its critical. Im not going in because he knows Im a scold.
We entered the room; he was awake, heavy dark circles under his eyes. He said nothing, noticed us and drove his fist into the oxygen tent. All my life I had heard them call themselves Hon for Honey.
Hon, I dont want you to do that, said Mother.
I hate it.
I know you hate it but its keeping you alive, allowing you to breathe more easily. She blew him a kiss.
I cant even kiss you with this thing. Rotten godamn thing.
I dont want you to say these things because youre not to get excited.
Dont care, Hon.
Listen to me. You do care. Or you ought to. The important thing is that we have you and you have us and an oxygen tent is not going to get in the way. Where did you get so foolish as to let something like an oxygen tent which is for your own good anger you? Dont you want to continue to be with us and talk about things with us getting your thinking about things?
Of course you do. Did you say hello to your son? He slept on a hard bench in the anteroom all night because he loves you.
Hello, Tom. Im sorry you had to do thatand he began to weep softly.
Listen to me, she said. Listen to me. You stop that this minute. I wont have it. You have your mindand its a great mind. You have your sense of humor and its a great sense of humor. You have your insights which are great insights. You have your son and hes a great kid. You have me; well, maybe Im not great but pretty good. I passed a room down the hall where a man is like a vegetable, waiting to die. You have your faculties. Did you ever think about thanking God for that? Did you ever think of saying a prayer of thanks? Ill bet you havent. I will not have this anger!
He writhed in pain and the machine burped a red light sending a stream of medical attendants rushing in, brushing us aside.
Iwanther! he said waving his arm at Mother.
Move over to him, missus, said a very young doctor with peach-fuzz on his cheeks, while we work
They put a kind of clapper on his chest, contracted it and his body convulsed; his eyes stayed open.
Hon he said.
She said: Yes.
Hondontdiebefore--me. Dontyoudie and thats an order.
The peach fuzz guy smiled as he worked, repeating: thats an order.
Of course Im not going to die, she said. I have to be around to take care of you.
Afterward, Mamosser, the heart specialist, said, he had another serious one while you were there. I dont know how many more he can take.
Mother said, then he must have the last ritesconditional, of course.
He had it last night when he had another spell.
You didnt tell us he had another spell.
2:30 a.m. I was with him; Im afraid I was too busy to wake your son in the anteroom. We were pretty busy around this bed last night. I called the chaplain who gave him the last sacraments.
I wish you had awakened me, I said. Thats what I was there for.
Believe me, we had our hands full.
How long has he got?
I cant tell you. He might stabilize and be around for quite a while.
Hell never leave the hospital then, she concluded.
My opinion is no.
Another doctor came to us. Hes asking for Mrs. Roeser.
We went in.
Sorry for that interruption, he said. Feeling o.k., Hon?
She said, tip-top. How are you?
Going to take your advice. See, when I get worked up thats when the bad stuff happens.
You got it. Listen to me and youll be okay. Ive been telling you that for 43 years.
You think Ill ever get out of here?
She said, I know so.
Whats happening in the world outside, Son?
Martin Luther King is tearing up the Democratic party. Lyndon Johnson seemingly cant control him. Hes ripping at the fabric of the big cities which are run by Democrats.
Theres going to be a political realignment. The blue-collars in the postage-stamp-sized neighborhoods are going to come over to our side and the richthose rich on inheritanceare going to the other side. Well win the presidency in 1968but with whom?
Nixon, I suppose.
God I hope not. I look at that man and see disaster. He has no firm consonants.
But theres nobody elseRockefeller isnt viable.
What about Reagan? Doing a great job in California.
Hell try but wont get it.
Too bad. I want to live long enough to see Reagan president.
Mother said: You will.
Hon, I dont want to be rude but I cant keep my eyes open.
Good night, said Mother.
Im staying in the anteroom, I said.
No. I dont want you to! Go home to your family.
Tonight will be the last night. Ive got to go to work tomorrow.
Let him do what he wants, said Mother to him. Go to sleep now. I will blow you a kiss through the tent.
Isnt it awful?
Not awful, she said. It keeps you going.
I know so.
And so it went--from July 5 to August 9, 1966 when all ended. But we talked a lot before.