Dad called last night from his assisted living apartment sounding like a frog with a sore throat. I asked how his appointment had gone with the doctor but couldn’t understand his croaking answer. He had called the night before saying he couldn’t take it anymore. Pain was stabbing him inside his head like a knife was poking at him inside his ear. He wanted me to come and get him and take him to a doctor right then. Dad is 91 and moves with a walker. I told him it was 9 P.M. and at this hour you could expect a three to four-hour wait in the Emergency Room. He said he wasn’t up for that and handed the phone to Mom. She doesn’t remember Dad going to an appointment today, and reminded me the in-house doctor was a quack and was involved in a fraudulent plot with Medicare. She said the nurse had just given him Tylenol.
I had heard about the quack before. The couple assigned to the same dining room table as Mom and Dad had been discussing this doctor during their meals. Last week Jack, Eleanor and Dad diagnosed Mom’s sore throat as whooping-cough and prescribed an antibiotic as the only cure that would work. The quack didn’t agree when he looked down Mom’s throat and prescribed a Tylenol and frequent gargling with warm salt water. The dining table’s pseudo-clinicians weren’t surprised with the diagnosis. They advised Dad to call me to bring Mom an antibiotic…which he did.
I stop by to see them this morning…without the antibiotic. A nurse flags me in the corridor and explains that Mom fell last night. An aide found her around two A.M. lying on the bathroom floor. She hit her head and has a large lump. They will do a neuro on her this morning. “What’s a neuro?” I ask. She tells me whenever a resident hits their head they check their eyes for tracking and ask pertinent questions for answers that could indicate a concussion. The nurse asks me to wait while she finds something they have been holding for me.
She is back in no time with the two plastic bottles I had purchased for Mom several weeks back. “Please don’t furnish these items to your parents again without prior approval.”
“Okay,” I say, identifying the dry skin lotion I had purchased for Dad’s back. Mom told me what brand to buy because it worked before when the skin on his back got dry, itched and drove him crazy. I had seen him scratch his back with a hand over his shoulder, a wooden ruler, and the end of a fly swatter. One time I saw him wiggling against the closet molding to scratch the itch. That reminded me of the pigs on our farm scratching their sides on a wooden fence post Dad had erected in the barnyard. Dad had covered the post with a burlap bag and poured crankshaft oil over the burlap. After that our pink pigs had black spots along their ribs and hocks and the itching was reduced.
“Why is this lotion so bad?”
“Your mother came down to the nurse’s station last week reporting that your father was in pain. When we checked him his shirt was off and his back had bright red scratches all over it. You Mom said she had accidentally applied alcohol to sooth his itching instead of the cream.
“Oh no,” I say. “The alcohol was to give to the laundry lady to get blood out of some clothes.”
“Well, that’s when your father first started to scream in pain. Your mother tried to correct her mistake by applying this lotion you provided, but it is loaded with alcohol too. That’s when she asked us for help.”
When I arrive at their apartment Dad is curled in bed and Mom is stretching a blanket around him so taut he looks like an Egyptian mummy. I ask her about the fall but she barely remembers slipping on the bathroom floor and hitting the tile with her head. Dad remembers hearing her fall and says he pulled the emergency cord for help.
Mom does remember that someone will examine her head this morning. She plans to tell them if they look in one ear and see blue sky on the other side, they shouldn’t worry because it’s normal. She lifts both shoulders and drops them like there’s nothing to be done about her mental state. I laugh. I’ve heard this joke before.
“Dad, did you gargle with the salt I brought you two days ago?”
“Not yet,” he says.
The nurse knocks and enters their apartment. She tells me Dad refused to see the doctor yesterday.
“Why didn’t you keep the appointment I made for you?” I ask. No answer is forthcoming from the mummy…he may have fallen asleep. The nurse says the doctor will be in on Thursday and she has made an appointment for my father. “Dad,” I shake him awake. “I’m going to tell that big muscular aid that if you refuse to see the doctor on Thursday he’s to wrap a logging chain around your ankles and drag you down to her office with the lawn tractor.”
He smiles. “I promise I’ll see her on Thursday.” His eyes are closed when he speaks. “Donna, they just gave me two Tylenol. I’m going to sleep for twenty-four hours.”
“That’s all right, Bill,” she says. “Go ahead and sleep. The dishes will still be waiting for you when you wake up.”