Something Joshua wrote (about his bad mood and its relationship to his self imposed exile in Wales) jogged this odd memory of my father.
At seventy Arturo’s heart disease got the upper hand and he had his first bypass surgery. Over the next two years he was in and out of the hospital, but that first surgery is the one that burns brightest in my memory. When I went in to see him in post op intensive care the doctor warned me that he would be cold to the touch — they chill down the body for bypass — and not to be alarmed. But still, I was alarmed, because my father was one of those human furnaces, he generated such heat. And so it was a difficult week. I spent a lot of time at the hospital, got to know the nurses, tried to insulate them where I could from my Father in a Bad Mood.
One morning I came onto the ward and I heard my father shouting from down the hall. You just want a look at my ass, you fairy! Send me a real nurse. I want the blond!
The nurse — his name was Michael — comes out of the room and I’m standing there blushing and in agony. Many apologies follow, but Michael just laughs. We love it when he gets all cranky like that, says Michael. It means he’s feeling better today. And look. Then he fishes a wristwatch out of a pocket and holds it up.
My father had a million wristwatches. He could not pass a guy on a corner selling watches from a trenchcoat. It wasn’t so much the watch as the bickering that he liked. So he had this large collection of knock off watches, and he had brought a box of them to the hospital with him to give away like candy.
To Michael he had given a fake Lady Bulova watch. I cringed, but Michael was pleased with its campiness, and so everybody was happy.
That’s a nice story. I was too young to have anything but waiting room memories of my father’s open heart surgeries. But right before he passed away, he was hospitalized for complications related to being on blood thinners and the other abuses a body takes when it’s had repeated heart surgeries. It’s amazing how many different experiences of a hospital room there can be. I mean, how many different ways hospitals can be physically set up, different ways they handle patients, handle visitors and relatives. Not to mention all the ways staff can vary. And then the age you are at when you encounter a hospital. Makes me realize that “Going to the hospital” is a new experience each time a person goes there for whatever reason. Each baby I’ve had was born at the same address, but the hospital they were born out of was different each time due to construction, policy or staffing. Just proving again that the only truly predictable thing in life is change. The policy changes are the most fun to contemplate (for my first, baby had one ankle bracelet, mom had one bracelet; for the second, baby had two anklets and mom and dad each got a bracelet; for the third, same as the last, but much less frantic about loss of anklets when the baby loses weight). And the reason behind this policy change on identification of the baby? One mother breastfed the wrong baby one night, noticed a difference and was naturally concerned! Huge policy review resulted, and from then on, people in my city joked about having to bring a “bingo dabber” with them when they go to that hospital for a birth.
My dad is the sort of man who has no nerves, I swear he feels no pain. One example is when his gall bladder was full of gangrene and he only felt sick to his stomach -emergency surgery ensued. Dad had a quadruple bypass when undergoing testing to determine if he was a good candidate for transplant surgery found out he’d had a silent heart attack. Dad sorta remembered an episode of heartburn… So when Dad underwent a kidney transplant (from Mom no less) we weren’t sure what to expect from him when we saw him after surgery. Dad (who’d had some alternate type of anesthesia due to his lack of kidney function) was sitting up in bed and joking with his doctors and nurses an hour after surgery-the doctors had to mention to their students that this was NOT the normal response to surgery. Mom was what we expected, sore and tired, barely telling us she was okay before she went back to sleep again.
They were on different floors during recovery and Mom kept complaining that Dad kept calling her while she was trying to sleep. We then knew she was finally feeling better.