Thursday, September 22, 2005

A Poignant Portrait

Blogroll Me!

The other day I posted about a fellow blogger's upbeat blog suddenly becoming a downbeat blog. Life had thrown him a curveball to deal with.

I opened my computer this morning to read this most recent post of his. And such is life--sometimes you don't go out with a bang, but rather, with a whimper.

Queens General

The doctor said his movements were just reflexes. But the Jamaican nurse said my father could hear if you talked to him. So, I did. I held his hand. I made some small talk. When I mentioned that we flew in on American Airlines, his favorite airline, I thought I saw my father’s head move slightly in approval.

Sitting here in my father’s hospital room feels like a scene in a movie — the scene where loved ones gather around someone who is unable to talk or breathe by himself. Movie scenes are the only real experience I have of these things.
It’s not looking too good. It’s still not clear if it was a heart attack or not. Whatever the reason, my father, Arthur Kramer, collapsed in the living room. He is over seventy and not in great health, so it was shocking, but not entirely unexpected. No, I’m lying — it’s always unexpected.
I’m not sure I’m ready yet to talk about my feelings. My head is spinning with confusion. My mother is much stronger than I am.
I would like to bring up my usual favorite subject — Sophia — and say how heroic she’s been. I was with Sophia when we got the frazzled phone call from my mother. Sophia and I were in midst of the most mundane moment possible — we were examining some fake Tupperware in the 99 cents only store to see if it would be a good container to hold some nuts. When the phone call came, I became a zombie. Sophia picked up the slack and called up NY, to talk to the paramedics working on my father. One paramedic said that it was hopeless and they were going to pronounce him dead. Sophia insisted that they keep on trying, and after a few minutes, they actually did revive him! It was like a miracle. Even if my father doesn’t make it through this, it has been wonderful to have this added time to be together and say goodbye.
While we were still in Los Angeles, we lost contact with my mother. My long-time friend, Rob, called around and found out that my father was admitted to Queens General Hospital. This was ironic since my father has worked at Queens General as a physical therapist for forty years. When we called the hospital for information, no one would give us any. Sophia called again and again and found Marina, a Russian-speaking clerk. This wonderful clerk said she would get the information for Sophia. Not only that, she said that since couldn’t use the hospital phones to call Los Angeles, she would buy a calling card at the gift shop to call back, if Sophia couldn’t reach her. What a terrific person!
We arrived in NYC in the morning. My father was in the emergency room, but doctors were not to be found. When a doctor finally showed up, he came with 7 interns in tow. Sophia thought that he was spending more time teaching his students than caring for my father, and spoke up, something my mother or I didn’t have the nerve to do. The doctor huffed and puffed, but Sophia was right. He apologized and promised to come back to give a personal consultation.
It’s really important to be proactive in a sterile hospital setting. It was amazing to have Sophia to talk to the medical staff and it was amazing to see how it changed things for the better. When she saw that my mother and I were scared to touch my father without a doctor’s permission, she showed us that we could talk to him and hold his hand. She’s still the only one who is not afraid to wipe his brow, massage his neck and put his head in a better position. She was so knowledgeable about things that some of the doctors assumed that she was a doctor herself.
Eventually, the nurses realized who my father was — someone who worked at the hospital for years. Many didn’t recognize him without his large black "Woody Allen" type glasses. When they knew he was "one of their own," they all promised to give him the best attention.
Things are not looking good for my father. But I’m glad to have people around who are loving and collected. Like Sophia. Like my long-time friend Rob, who came visiting today. And that Russian clerk. I remember during the Katrina disaster wondering to myself why some just stayed in town, doing nothing. But very few of us are ready for a disaster or tragedy in our life. It just comes, sometimes even when you’re in the middle of examining fake Tupperware at the 99 cents only store.

Sophia and I went for dinner across the street — at the Hilltop Diner, which ironically, I wrote about a few days ago. My Dad likes this place because it is close to the hospital. After the cat scan, the doctors told us that the prognosis was "very grim." There was severe damage to the brain and kidneys. We had our first big cry.
Despite it all, things haven’t been totally depressing. My father wouldn’t want it that way, and it is not my mother’s personality. We snuck in some food from the Hilltop Diner and ate in my father’s room. We told him that he would have liked the pot roast.
Afterwards, my mother and Sophia went home to rest. I decided to spend the night near my father.
I haven’t read any of your messages yet, but I know you have written. One of my mother’s friends called my mother, asking about my father. "How did you know?" asked my mother. "It’s all over Neill’s blog," she answered.. "And so many people wrote such beautiful things."
So, thanks.
And by the way, my mother doesn’t call my blog a "bolo" anymore. Now she calls it a "blodge."
Like, I said before, my father was a pretty happy and friendly guy. He wouldn’t want gloominess, even with the grim outlook. If anyone wanted to do something to make him happy, it would be to watch one of his four favorite movies:
1) The Guns of Navarone2) Gunga Din3) The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly4) Lawrence of Arabia

Finally, read your comments. Thanks again… everyone. It was so touching.
My mother spoke with a rabbi about the inevitable. My uncles are coming to town. Moore stress!
As I type this, I am eating pizza — the hospital cafeteria is a pizzeria! How New York is that?!

This afternoon was extremely emotional. Word got around the hospital that Arthur was in ICU. One after another, doctors, nurses, and staff came to visit my father. They called him a "sensitive person," "dedicated to the hospital," "always there to help everyone who asked and everyone who didn’t," "a godsend to his patients," "funny," "a man who was the president of the Jewish doctors and nurses organization AND was the yearly Santa Claus," and "someone who flirted with all the nurses. (that one sounds familiar!)" I actually didn’t realize how loved he was by people at his work, almost as if he had another family apart from us. I didn’t know that he was so involved with the hospital auxiliary that provided funds for things the hospital couldn’t afford . I was also surprised that everyone seemed to know me because I was apparently the only thing he talked about (other than the flirting).

The neurologist spoke with the family. The hospital did more tests and the doctor said that the damage to the brain was even more extensive than they thought. All the other doctors agreed. There was no chance of him ever regaining consciousness or any awareness of things around him. We said that we knew that my father would never want to live this way. We had to sign all sorts of papers to allow them to disconnect the support tomorrow.
Afterwards, my uncle, his wife, my mother, Sophia, and I went out for dinner at one of Dad’s favorite diners and we shared funny stories about his life.
Tomorrow morning, we’re going to say our goodbyes to a kind and generous man, Arthur Kramer, my father.