The young nurse had insisted that an 80 year old man also had that gurgling breath, and he’d walked out of the hospital days later.
Could this have been all it took to convince her? Safe, to leave her precious father wrapped in such an aluminum straightjacket, tiny vessels soaking up three antibiotics at once, smiling through his semi-coma, occasionally snapping a command to the reality closing in on him, then bubbling back to his dreamworld? “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know”, rang the childrens’ voices on the CD by the window. “Shaddup!” barked Dad. Back to sleep.
The Bach Air had come off better than she’d expected, with a strange, transcendent serenity uncommon in her fraught performing realm, and now she was home free to concentrate on rescuing the man who’d sung to her over a baby bottle more times than she knew how to count. Almost a blessing in disguise, this nursing home induced pneumonia, one more chance to be legally discharged from the heavily medicated Presbyterian hell hole.
She’d kissed his forehead goodnight, telling him she’d see him in the morning, peeling off the yellow sterile gown and gloves, picking up her ski jacket from the hallway floor, and making that foot trip to the elevator for the eighteenth time that week.
The morning was a crisp one. Her first thought: Pink Floyd, Tribute concert. Just squeak through that one, then home for a week of reprieve from the Sibelius symphonic to break him out. The Hoyer lift was ready; it wouldn’t take a day to dismantle that old shower and install a pre-fab walk in unit. She’d be ready. Dad had more than earned his right to send his soul across the bar from the front porch, sitting in the full sun he loved so much, singing to himself.
The phone was ringing as she stepped out, sliding the glass door shut, a strange simultaneity with a sudden, exhaling and unmistakeable thought, almost a voice: “You won’t be remodeling this shower.” And, running in a wrapped towel to the living room, leaning down, hair dripping on the oak floor, pressing the speaker button, hearing the nurse: He’s taken a turn; you’d better come. He may pass.
She’d called earlier. How was he? Hooting with glee through the phone, that’s how he was, the dementia permitting him a morning of pure delirium, the nurse mentioning an elevated heart rate, but otherwise stable. No; the doctor hadn’t been in yet. When was he expected. Oh; rounds late morning. She’d asked that he be told she’d be there in about an hour. Important to meet this anonymous physician, this randomly assigned hospitalist in charge of the last day of her father’s life.
Who knows why the toothbrush, the lipstick, and a brush through the hair. Who knows why the extra forty nine seconds. But the elevator full of people, and then her own voice, hysterically pleading that they let her off first, her father was dying, and running like a child down to the end of the hall to the last room before the stairs and throwing herself down near his ear, “I’m here, Dad!” and recognizing the stillness. Looking up, the two “patient advocates” standing side by side against the wall, soulless, at ease, pewter pillars, the female alien, the bearded one, the two of them. Who had been there to witness the last three catch breaths? No response. The pretty nurse’s natural compassion, a practiced sympathy. No response. Everybody in the room was already dead.
April 9, 2011. Anthony “Tony the Barber” Scanzillo, passed into the arms of his Savior. He was 95 years old.
© Ruth Ann Scanzillo
4/9/15 all rights. The author’s story. Thank you.