Pages

Friday, July 21, 2017

(6) "THEY WON'T LET ME PUT ON MY CLOTHES AND GO HOME."

              Ed has been appreciating the opportunity to become better acquainted with his son-in-law.  When Frank needs to go to Home Depot for building supplies, he invites Ed to come along and keep him company. Getting him into the truck is a challenge.  Frank is used to picking Kathie up out of her wheelchair and setting her inside, but Ed is strongly opposed to having Frank pick him up in his arms.  It would be too much like wearing a bib when dining in public.
They have worked out an alternative strategy.  Ed stands up from his wheelchair, holding onto the open door of the passenger side of the truck.  Frank squats down and Ed sits on his right shoulder.  Frank puts his right arm under Ed’s knees and gradually stands up, grabbing on to the truck seat with his left arm for balance and leverage.  When he has straightened up to the point where his shoulder is level with the truck seat, Ed sort of slides over, with a bit of a boost from Frank.
On one of their excursions, Ed and Frank drive down to Hingham to see all the work Ted has done on the building; both are impressed.   It has been cleaned up and divided into separate sections, so that instead of one very dirty manufacturing operation, they now have suitable space for several more fastidious tenants.   Ed likes getting out and around, and thinks it’s good for Aliceann to have time for her own projects without worrying about what he’s up to or crashing down on.
* * *
            Ed and Aliceann now have their own “wheels” again—their looks-like-new white station wagon has joined the driveway ménage, consisting of Kathie’s hand controls-equipped car, Frank’s late model Ford truck, and Frank’s old Toyota truck, which he’s had since it was a baby and can’t bear to part with.  Aliceann regularly braves the small town back roads and finds her way to, in order of priority, the veterinarian, Dedham Medical, the beauty parlor, the supermarket, and several local restaurants.  This morning, while she is off on her errands, Kathie is in charge of fixing Edward’s breakfast.  As he sits at her table reading the newspaper, she sets light butter, a butter knife, jam, and a large mug of juice in front of him, and waits for his English muffins to toast. She brings the English muffins to him, goes to the microwave for his coffee, and returns to the table, ready to offer to butter his muffins.  She stops short at the sight of his solution to the buttering procrss.  He sticks the knife in the light butter (undoubtedly more tasty than the margarine Aliceann favors), puts a big gob in his mouth, closes his eyes with a beatific look, rolls the butter around on his tongue, and then finally, when the butter must be nearly dissolved, takes a little bite of his muffin.  She says his pleasure is palpable; he looks almost orgasmic. Reluctant to interrupt such a blissful moment, Kathie leaves him alone to his repast.  She understands better why he and Aliceann eat out so often in restaurants.  Here is one activity he can enjoy as much as ever.  

December 13, 1999
Today Edward is at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where he just had his second knee replacement with Dr. Scott, the same doctor who operated on him 15 years ago.   He is convinced he is at last in the hands of a doctor who accepts both his diagnosis and his prescription, and whose skill will enable him to stand and walk again without pain.  Still, achieving his goal is not being accomplished without anxiety and suffering.
Looking at his gray face and listening to his labored breathing, I think what a good thing it is that we don’t have a crystal ball: who would want to know what lies in the future?  The apocalypse, my born-again brother more and more frequently insists on telling me.
 Nonsense, say I (but not to him).  Time is running out, he warns on his Christmas card.  “At 78,” I respond mentally, “I’m well aware that time is running out.  I intend to see the ball drop on December 31st and for as many New Year’s Eves as I have left.”

             It is three days after the surgery, and Ed groans when he tries to sit up for a sip of Orange Crush.  Edward, stop your moaning!” says Aliceann.  Forgetting my role as the understanding and supportive pal, I say, “Oh, let him moan, Aliceann, he’s in pain.” 
             She says, “Well, when you have to listen to it day after day . . .”  My charitable inner voice reminds me that she is indeed the foot soldier on the firing line, but my former first-mate voice argues that some people respond sympathetically to other people’s pain.   With an effort, the former first mate bites her tongue (again), and the charitable inner voice tries to communicate understanding and sympathy for Aliceann.  
On our way back from Boston on the trolley (I am helping Aliceann learn the route so that she doesn’t have to drive the dreaded highways into big, bad Boston), Aliceann describes the way Ed hollered the day before, when his therapist bent his knee.  “You know, Barbara, Edward has a pain threshold about this big.”  She laughs as she holds her thumb and forefinger half an inch apart.
“Aliceann, you don’t know what he’s feeling,” I say.  But that’s the way Wife $2 reacts to anyone else’s pain unless it’s one of her “kids.”  If the doggies whimper, or the kitties burp, she hugs and kisses them and promises to take them to see the vet if they don’t feel better soon.
In one of our conversations before he came north, Ed had told me that Aliceann was very good to him, “but she’s not . . . what’s the word . . . sympathetic.”
“Do you mean she can be like Dick White?” I say.  “Kathie said hardly a day went by during her first marriage without his complaining one way or another about her wheelchair and how it had ruined his life.”
“She doesn’t say I ruined her life, but she gets impatient every time I fall down, every time she has to help me undress and get into bed.”
Impatient also sounds like Dick White.  He couldn’t stand the time it took Kathie to transfer out of her car, so she learned to tell him to leave her there and go along into the house when they came back together from some excursion.  It was easier to deal with the wheelchair herself than to watch him becoming increasingly frustrated with her slowness.  When they were going out somewhere, she used to hurry to transfer herself into the car before he even came out of the house so that he wouldn’t be pacing the kitchen, yelling, “Hurry, hurry, we’re going to be late!”  It was so difficult for him to deal with having a wife in a wheelchair that his main solution was simply not to go anywhere with her.  She even became used to eating her meals alone, because by the time she was starting her third bite, he’d be done and have left the table.  Given his impatience, not to mention his philandering, I think she would have divorced him much sooner than she did, if it hadn’t been for Sarah.
I first heard about Sarah in July of 1981 . . .     
Kathie and I were in her kitchen, unloading her dishwasher, when she said, “I’ve got some news for you, Mom.”  There was something about the way she said it—I sensed this wasn’t just any old news.
“Is it bad?  Should I sit down?”
“No, it’s not bad.  Dick has a baby girl thirteen months old.”
If there’d been a chair in the kitchen, I’d have sat down. “How do you know?”
“While he was away, visiting friends up in Maine, an envelope arrived in the mail, addressed to him.  When I saw it was from the welfare department’s Child Support Services, I knew what would be inside.”
“Thirteen months?”  I mentally counted on my fingers.  “He came back to you last spring and never said a word about expecting a child?  When was she born?  What’s her name?”
“She was born last June, and her name is Sarah.  And yes, he hadn’t said a word.   I said, `How long were you planning to keep Sarah a secret?  Would you still be keeping her a secret when she was ready to go off to school with braids and ribbons in her hair?  You weren’t ever going to tell our friends and relatives that you had a little girl?’  He said, `I was afraid you’d be upset.’  He said he was surprised at how well I was taking the news."
“I am, too, Kathie.  How can you be so calm?”
“Well, you see, Mom, I figure this is the closest I can ever come to having Dick’s child.  We’re going to ask for joint custody and if we get it, you’ll be seeing a lot of your new granddaughter.  Isn’t it exciting?”
I said it was exciting, all right.

Waiting in the future were dozens of court appearances, first involving visitation rights and eventually a divorce decree requiring Kathie to pay alimony to Dick, which he paid over as child support to Sarah’s birth mother.  Because Kathie had been paying the child support for all the years Dick was not employed, she had earned the obligation of continuing to pay it.  I was staggered to learn her legal fees over the years totaled $100,000.  Kathie met the expression on my face with a smile and the warm affirmation: “Sarah’s worth every penny.” 
December 30, 1986
Sarah invited Katie and Lauren to visit her in Westwood.   I was the designated driver.  The cousins looked cute in the identical jogging suits Maureen gave them for Christmas.  They played amicably together for a while, and then I took them to McDonald's.            
Whoever said, "Three's a crowd" must have taken three little girls to lunch.   They didn't really misbehave, but I soon remembered how glad I was that my children were grown.  I spent most of my time trying to squeeze out enough ketchup from 20 partially used packets so I wouldn't have to go back and ask for more.
"They're going to think you kids are eating it out of soup bowls."
            Lauren said in her reasonable way, "I think they would understand, Isha, that when little children are having their lunch, they often run out of ketchup."
I dropped Sarah off at Kathie's and drove Katie and Lauren home.  There was no problem keeping a conversation going.  I was plied with questions about the family, about Kathie's accident and Vonnie's accident and their fathers when they were boys and their great‑grandmother, Ernestine.  Lauren asked if it was true that Vonnie had acid sprinkled on her when she died.  That puzzled me until I realized she meant ashes.  I explained about cremation and Vonnie's wish to have her ashes sprinkled on the ocean.  Timmy and I had done this from the bow of his boat.
"So her star is in the ocean instead of the sky," said Katie.  Katie believes people's spirits are stars shining down on us.
"How old was your mother when she died?" Katie asked
            "Seventy‑nine."
The girls thought that was young.  (Katie's energetic great‑grandmother recently celebrated her eighty‑fifth birthday.)  How old was I? 
"Sixty‑six.  I'll be seventy‑nine in thirteen years, but I want to live a lot longer.  I want to see you children all grown up with children of your own."
"Don't worry,"  Lauren said soothingly, "when you die, we'll all go to your funeral."
"That will be nice," I said, trying to sound sincere.
             "Oh yes!" Katie joined in eagerly.  "We'll all be there and we'll put hockey sticks on your stone."
"I think I'd rather have a typewriter," I said.  "Maybe we could use it like a Ouija Board."
This opened up a whole new subject, one that I could discuss with more enthusiasm than the previous one.
                                     
Ed is now in a nursing home in Dedham, close to the Westwood house, where he’ll need to stay the next few weeks for recuperation and rehabilitation.     This morning at 6 A.M. Kathie’s phone rings.  It is her Dad.  His voice is trembling, his words are more garbled than ever, he is trying to whisper, there’s terror in his voice, he can’t get the words out fast enough, he’s desperate for her help.  He gasps out the story: he had a terrifying experience during the night.  He woke up and saw a big male nurse coming toward him with a gun.  No, it wasn’t a gun, it was a knife. No, it wasn’t a knife, it was a hypodermic needle.  And he tried to protect himself, but the guy injected him.
“They’re trying to make a drug addict out of me!  It was awful. I had to force myself to get out of bed and barricade the door so that he couldn’t get me again.  I pushed the big bureau over there, and the other bed, and the wheelchair, and the two other chairs, and both nightstands, and the tray table.  It took me two hours, and my knee hurt so much, it nearly killed me.”
“Daddy,” Kathie says.  “You must have had a bad dream.  You couldn’t possibly get out of bed so soon after your operation and move furniture around.”
“I did, I did,” he insists.  “I remember the pain, it was completely real, and I had to do it because I was terrified.”
Kathie called the head nurse, thinking that maybe Edward has received some sort of prescribed medication in the middle of the night, even if he was only imagining getting out of bed.  She was told no—he had not rearranged the furniture and had not received any injection.
When Aliceann and I come to see him in the afternoon, he is still half-convinced, despite Kathie’s reassurances and his nurse’s, that he had been menaced during the night.  “It was so vivid, I remember every little detail.”
When Kathie visits in the evening, Ed seems calmer about his nighttime visitations but has new worries.  “How did that person get up there?” he asks, pointing towards the wall behind the television.  Is she up on a shelf?  Isn’t she going to fall?  And look at that suitcase.  Can’t you push it back so that it doesn’t fall down?”  At first Kathie thinks he’s hallucinating again, but then she realizes that the dark TV screen is serving as a mirror and reflecting people and objects from out in the hall.  He doesn’t seem to understand when she explains it to him, but does calm down again.
* * *
This morning Kathie gets another early morning call from her frantic father.  “You have to come get me!  You have to rescue me!  Call Dr. Scott!  They’re keeping me a captive here.  They won’t let me get out of bed, they won’t let me put on my clothes and go home.  Please, please, call the doctor and tell him what’s happening.”
Kathie explains that he isn’t a captive, he’s a patient in a nursing home.  Of course he can’t get out of bed and walk such a short time after his operation.  And of course he can’t go home yet, it’s too soon.  Dr. Scott has already told him he will have to stay in the nursing home and have therapy for at least another week.
 Kathie talks to the head nurse about Ed’s hallucinations.  The nurse claims that such apparitions are normal for an older person after surgery and will go away eventually.  Kathie tells her that Ed’s neurologist had asked to be informed if Ed had any hallucinations, and asks the nurse to call the neurologist.  The nurse says she does not have the time and does not want to bother the doctor.  Ed’s symptoms are perfectly normal.  Kathie says she will call the neurologist herself and asks for a copy of the medication order.  The nurse also denies this request.    
Finally, Kathie spends hours on the phone in a game of telephone tag until she is able to track the neurologist down herself.  He says he can’t adjust the medication on the basis of a phone call; he’d need to talk to the nursing staff and the attending surgeon.  So Kathie gets on the phone to Dr. Scott, who, defying all the contemporary norms of medical treatment, has given the family his home phone number.  He is distressed at what appears to be rigidity and unresponsiveness on the part of the head nurse, and leaves his warm home and Sunday paper to drive to the nursing home, where he tells the head nurse to shape up or he’ll ship Ed out and never refer another patient to the facility.  He also directs the nurse to fax a copy of the medication order to Kathie, who faxes it to Dr. Elias.  He and Dr. Elias confer and decide the hallucinations are caused or at least intensified by the medications.  The prescription is changed.  The hallucinations stop.  Ed does not have to wait for them to go away “eventually.”  Kathie restrains her impulse to make one more phone call and tell the head nurse to go soak her head.
* * *
Ed is no longer afflicted with midnight frights and Kathie is no longer afflicted with crack-of-dawn telephone calls, although Ed still looks shell-shocked when he talks about his visions.  “They were incredibly real.”  While free of hallucinations, he is still confused about a lot of things.  He tells Ted, and now he informs me, that he has contributed $30,000 to the $70,000 apartment carved out of Kathie’s house.  He is stunned when I correct him.  He struggles to figure out how he ever arrived at that amount, and admits he must be wrong.  He is mortified and keeps saying he should apologize to Kathie, and he doesn’t know how he will face Ted.

No comments:

Post a Comment