Last night was Shrove Tuesday, so of course I made pancakes for dinner. My day at work had been busy busy busy. Today, a big muckety-muck is rumored to be visiting our Ho(t)me(n) Depot, so the various Assistant Managers and Department Heads were scrambling to make sure every thing was perfect. I did my best to get into the spirit of things, but that whole dog-and-pony-show thing has always hit me as a little off. It's a game, right? Surely the muckety-muck knows that by letting folks know that he or she (in this case) will be coming, there's all this to-do beforehand. And if there's all this to-do beforehand, there's not going to be much in the way of an opportunity to gauge what goes down the other three hundred and sixty-four days of the year, right? But whatEVER. Being busy makes the day go more quickly.
Way Hot Man and I were supposed to meet up last night, too, since I have the day off today. But as I worked till 7 p.m., I rethought things and called him during my lunch hour to ask if we could hold off till Sunday night. After all, I had to go home to make pancakes for my father, so I wouldn't be available until 9 p.m. at the earliest. That was cool with Way Hot Man.
So the pancakes.
They were all stacked up, warm and golden brown. The chicken apple sausage I like to serve with pancakes was ready, too. I called back to my father to let him know that dinner was ready and started slathering mine with peach butter from a local farm stand.
As my father came into the kitchen, he lost his balance and fell. Hard. Going down like a ton of bricks.
"Daddy! Are you okay?"
He said he was, mostly. Although his left leg felt numb, he didn't have any strength in it. I massaged his left hip bone gently, it felt like the muscles were in spasm. I got down on the floor with him and had him put his arm around me, and I put my arms around him.
"One, two, THREE!"
My father weighed a ton, but I managed to hoist him up off the floor and onto the chair in the kitchen. Then, I scooched the chair across the floor to get him to the table. And then, my father and I enjoyed Shrove Tuesday pancakes while watching the election results on CNN. (How is it that Wolf Blitzer has a job? He should be teaching Social Studies in a junior high school somewhere.)
After pancakes, I cleaned up the dinner dishes. My father divided his attention between what I was doing and CNN. My father is for Hillary. Clearly. I don't like to dwell on the reasons for this. Suffice it to say that he refers to Senator Obama as "that black guy." My father is a man of his generation.
"How is your leg doing?" I asked.
My dad said that it still felt numb. And paralyzed. When he tried to move it, it hurt a lot. "Help me get back to my chair," he asked.
I tried to do a fireman's carry from the left side, but we didn't get too far. My father slumped through my arms and down onto the kitchen floor. "Ahh! Ahhh! AHHHH!! What the hell? How am I going to get to my chair?"
"Dad," I said, "I think I'd better call the ambulance."
"I guess you'd better," he said.
I dialed 911. Which seemed odd. All the time I was growing up, there was a little orange sticker on the phone with two phone numbers: "In case of fire, call 215 297-something-something-something-something, and for Police, call 215 766 something-something-something-something." This, of course, was literally the phone number of the local police and the local volunteer fire department. Waiting to answer the phone at the fire department would be one of our neighbors, who would respond by setting off the fire whistle, putting out the call over the radio, and calling other of our neighbors to get out of bed and get down to the fire house in Point Pleasant. Dialing 911 and talking to a 911 operator seemed like a foreign and un-Bucks County way to set this whole thing in motion.
I told the 911 operator that my father had fallen and he couldn't get up, that he had pain and numbness in his left leg. I gave my location--"we're at 4853 Tollgate Road, just north of Ferry Road"--and clearly this meant nothing to the 911 operator. I wasn't dealing with a neighbor here. "Township or Municipality?" he asked. Clearly not a neighbor.
Back in the kitchen, my father was struggling to keep himself upright on the floor. I fetched some pillows from the sofa and put them between him and the base cabinets so he could lean back into them. I ran out and put on the floodlight over the garage, and turned the porch lights on. Since it was trash night, I ran the garbage and the recycling out to the curb. I saw a vehicle with a search light scanning mailboxes making its way up the road in the foggy darkness. A police cruiser stopped out front and one of the local cops got out and came up the driveway, "What's the trouble?" he asked.
"Uh... I called for an ambulance," I said, maybe a little bit accusingly, "My father fell and he can't move his leg to get up."
"You did call an ambulance," said Officer Lawn, "But I got here first."
I flashed on a distant memory. Way back when then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani merged the fire department with EMS, my Awful Ex and I discovered a woman who had been raped and dumped out on our block in the West Village while walking the dog. I stayed with the woman while he ran back inside--this was before cell phones--and called 911. Within minutes, three fire trucks screeched to a halt and the traumatized woman and I were surrounded by a couple of dozen male firefighters in their turnouts.
The woman and I looked at each other and she said, "What the hell did you call the fire department for?"
I didn't. Clearly, the merger was not going well.
And now, I called for an ambulance and I got one of the local constabulary, a body I don't hold in the highest esteem, captained as it is by a kid I grew up with who spent his teenage years dealing pot. Remembering my father sitting on the floor of the kitchen, I suppressed the urge to present my license, registration, and proof of insurance, and brought the cop inside.
"Why did you call the police?" my father asked.
Both we Kramer men turned accusing looks at the cop.
"The ambulance is on the way. It's a foggy night, so it might take them a few minutes to get here."
"Damned good thing I didn't cut an artery or I'd be a goner," my father offered.
The cop and I started moving furniture to clear a way for the EMS folks. Sure enough, an actual ambulance came creeping up the road and after some discussion with the cop, backed into the driveway. The ambulance crew consisted of a man and a woman. And the guy was quite a looker: shaved head, compact muscular body with a nice gut, three piercings in his ear with the captured beads I'm more used to seeing on nipples.
"Well hello," I greeted him.
And he totally knew what was up. "Uhhh... Hi. Ummm... We're responding to a call?"
"Right! My dad! He's in here."
EMS woman did that what's-your-name?-what's-your-date-of-birth?-who's-the-president? thing with my father, who responded to that last question with "Bush. But only for another eleven months."
(All the while, CNN was still on. "Dad! Hillary got Massachusetts, but they declared Connecticut for Obama.")
EMS man (Woooof!) and I managed to get my father onto the guerney and they loaded him into the ambulance. I went back inside and called my brother to let him in on the news, then drove to Doylestown Hospital. It was after ten o'clock, so Starbucks was closed. And I could really have used a latté.
At the hospital, my father was in the hallway on a new guerney. Apparently it was a busy night at Doylestown Hospital. Probably all those Republicans having strokes because of John McCain's sweep. My father was really starting to hurt. No one seemed to be paying much nevermind. In one of the rooms, I heard listened as an inmate from the local prison, attended by two corrections officers, had a tube stuck down his nose and into his stomach. ("See Dad! It could be worse!")
After about an hour, my father was taken across the hall for x-rays. I sat outside reading House & Garden wincing as I heard the two young women who were the x-ray techs barking orders at my poor old dad. Who the hell raised them?
Luckily, my father's nurse, Nurse Bill, was a strapping young puppy with a sweet disposition. He took vitals, put in the IV line (I turned away at Nurse Bill's suggestion not wanting to add to their patient load by passing out) and promised my father that he'd get him something for the pain.
Nurse Bill was good as his word, and managed to get some morphine pumping through my father's veins in a jiff.
Finally, my father was seen by the ER physician, who looked over my father's charts, asked some questions, and explained the process to us: "After we get the x-rays back, the house physician will be by to review them, and he'll sign the order to admit, then we'll take you upstairs and get you settled in a room. If it is a break, that will mean surgery tomorrow."
A break? I hadn't been thinking of a broken him. I thought what we had here was a leg twisted out of joint. Does a man with a broken leg sit down and feast on pancakes? Are my pancakes that good?
Oh right. Endorphins.
A broken bone triggers a huge release of endorphins. All through dinner, my father was probably flying. Now that they were fading, he was really starting to feel the pain, and was already requesting more morphine. Which was readily given by the excellent Nurse Bill.
A room finally opened up as a guy who had had a seizure was dispatched towards home, and my father was moved in. I helped Nurse Bill maneuver the guerney. A woman with a voice like she was addressing a class of boisterous second graders came in and did an ekg and there were more blood draws.
Finally, at about one in the morning, the house physician came in. I didn't like him as much as the ER physician, whom I liked a lot. House Physician was shouting. Literally shouting. "How are you doing, Mr. Kramer?" he bellowed. I wondered if he was hard of hearing. I did this de-escalation tactic I had picked up at some point and lowered the volume of my voice, almost to a whisper, and that seemed to have some effect on the man's volume.
Speaking so that they could probably hear every word out in the lobby, House Physician gave us the news: My father's leg was broken just below the hip bone. That meant surgery tomorrow. After surgery, my father would be discharged to a nursing home for rehabilitation.
My father broke his hip. Discharged to a nursing home.
All of a sudden, my life is different.
My father has been in one of those "holes in the donut" famous in our healthcare system. He has some significant health problems--spinal stenosis greatly impairs his mobility--but nothing that rose to a level where Medicare would jump in and pay for him to get home health care. Thus, taking care of my father has fallen entirely to me. Which wasn't too burdensome, as it mostly meant things like fixing him dinner every night. But that said, my father is pretty much unable to bathe himself. And me bathing him would be tough emotionally on everybody involved. And he has trouble making it to the bathroom "in time." Now, there is private home health care available. It's called custodial care, and my father would have to pay for that himself. In fact, four years ago, I did my research and stopped in and paid a visit to the Area Agency for the Aging and found out that there were a host of services, from hot home-delivered meals to transportation anywhere he wanted to go, available to my father. But his response then was, "I don't need that. I have you."
"But Dad," I countered, not very effectively, "What about when I go away somewhere?"
"Just don't go away anywhere."
Over the past four years, this cycle of his increasing need, his unwillingness to look to anyone but me for help, and my acquiescence to all of this--after all, he is my dad--have lead to the Whatever Happened To Baby Jane-type relationship that the two of us now enjoy.
So now, my father had broken his hip. And after surgery, he'd be going to a nursing home.
And after that?
Would my father be coming back to 4853 Tollgate Road?
Several months ago, I explored local assisted living options for my father. Two things became clear. Assisted living would be great for my father. He wouldn't be lonely because there would be folks around all day to watch television with and talk to. And by pressing a button, some nurses aide would hop-to and do his bidding in a way that I know he secretly expects from me. I know my father pretty well, and I can only imagine that he would flourish in an environment like that. But the other thing that was clear was that even at gunpoint, I would never ever be able to get my father to go for something like that.
But now, with his broken hip, my father is going for something like that.
What's my life going to be like?
Yesterday, projecting myself into the future, I saw it this way: I work at Ho(t)me(n) Depot; I come home and make my father dinner; I watch some television; I go to bed. Day after day after day after day. Interspersed with increasing rarity with opportunities when I'm able to get away from here if only for a few days. Or even for a day.
But now, it's just me and Faithful Companion here. And it'll be just us here for the next several weeks at least.
I can make stuff I like for dinner (my father won't eat anything with cheese, mushrooms, garlic... the list goes on). I can linger at Starbucks. If I had a gym membership, I could go to the gym. I can have guys over.
Suddenly, my life is resembling that of a forty-three year old.
It's all different now.
And another thought swimming through my head.
Last night, sitting there next to my dad in the hallway of the emergency department of Doylestown Hospital, I had this sense of being outside myself, observing myself. There I was, talking to my father, holding his hand, tenderly stroking his hair, trying to keep his spirits up. I think I caught looks of admiration from Nurse Bill and even from the two corrections officers.
"Job well done."
It's like this.
I try to be a good man. I try really hard. Even though I have serious doubts about this whole global warming thing, and even though my reading of the science shows that to the extent the climate is changing then human activity brings little to bear on that, and even if there is a small percentage of climate change attributable to human activity, of all the millions of people on the planet, does it really matter that I bring my own damn bag to the supermarket so when I'm asked "paper or plastic?" I can answer neither? No. It's absurd. But I do it anyway.
And four-and-a-half years ago, when I sat there with my father on the bed in the guest bedroom as they were taking away the body of his wife and he asked me to give up my life in New York City and move back here to sleep in my childhood bedroom and take care of him, I said, "Okay."
And the past four-and-a-half years have brought crushing loneliness and despair and a sense of being abandoned by God, I'd wake up feeling like I could cry because my life was frittering away as I tended to the needs of this grumpy ingrate of an old man who happened to be my father. And don't think that the past four-and-a-half years haven't taken me to some very dark places in my heart, places with ice cold bitterness and hatred, because they have.
But day after day after day, I found a way to make it work. Again and again I found my way out of the bout of misery or despair or anger. Last night, after Shrove Tuesday pancakes, it was my plan to surprise my father by making him a batch of brownies while I watched the Super Tuesday results.
And why do I do all this? Why did I sign up for this in the first place?
Because I want to be a good man. I want to do what's good and right. I may often fail, but I always try to do my best.
And why? Not for the accolades. Not so that other people will think me good. And absolutely not because I think of myself as good. (I am weak flesh. I've done some terrible things to people who didn't deserve it. I can be cruel and petty and mean-spirited and self-seeking.)
I want to be a good man because... because I want to be a good man. Maybe it's the Episcopal Church or the Boy Scouts or whatever the hell that instilled this in me. I have no idea.
And looking back over the past half a decade of my life, I can't help but thinking, "You did a good job there. Job well done."
So now, it seems, there's a new chapter of my life beginning. What will this be like?