Sunday, May 23, 2021

Not Even Not Zen 221.27: Wake for Robert Gallagher, Part 27

Robert Gallagher, Wake

Catching Ill

It started with a phone call. My mother complained to me that my father had collapsed at home.

"He's fallen down again," she said.

"It's happened before?"

"Oh, yes. This is the third time. It might be more. He could have hidden some of the espisodes from me. It's getting dangerous. What if it happens when he's on the ladder? He goes up on the roof all the time."

"What does his doctor say?"

"He won't see a doctor."

At this point, I remembered being in the car when my father had what appeared to be a mild heart attack. He'd been driving, so he pulled over onto the shoulder. For minute, whatever was happening paralyzed him. His breathing got fast and irregular. Then he sighed. The problem passed. His breathing relaxed. He swung the car back onto the road. The rest of us in the car protested but he refused to surrender the steering wheel. While the family talked for a minute, he drove home. His only concession to the incident was a promise to see a doctor. But when he felt better, he didn't make the appointment.

I'd seen another incident once when I was working in his basement. He'd been sitting down. It hadn't seemed as bad. Visibly, the problem had extended for thirty seconds. During it, he breathed funny and couldn't get out of his chair.

"When did he last collapse?" I asked my mother.

"While we were raking leaves. I asked him not to help any more. Can you come by this weekend and help with the leaves?"

"What if he tries to pitch in anyway?"

"Do you mind calling the ambulance?"

It turned out that my mother felt she couldn't call the doctor. When she'd tried to do it before, he'd gotten furious and had extracted a promise that she wouldn't try it again. So my mother and I arrived at an agreement. If I saw my father collapse, I would make the call from her home phone. (This was before cell phones and also it was during the days of ambulances as a public service, paid for by tax dollars. The cost was not an issue for my father, only the loss of control.)

My mother's idea was that my father was pretty often irritated with me anyway, so if I sent him to the hospital, that would be fine or at least no worse than usual. Plus, a doctor would finally diagnose his problem.

When the weekend came, we worked most of Saturday without an incident. My father didn't get up until late. After announcing that he would treat everyone to dinner later, he put on a sweater and joined us.

"Take it easy, Bob," my mother warned him.

"Oh, Ann." He shook his rake. "You worry too much."

My mother and I had picked up speed in our raking, blowing, and bagging. The family had an acre of oak trees to care for and I'd gotten a little too into the toil of the afternoon, maybe. I'd been race-dragging the tarps to the ditch at the back of the property. Everyone was keeping a fast pace. I tried to maintain some awareness of my dad but part of me felt that he didn't need much attention. He wasn't working hard. He was talking and smoking and raking. Everything was fine.

When I returned with one of the blue tarps, I laid it on the ground next to him. He cracked a joke, turned and started up the ramp at the back of our deck. Then he passed out.

It was odd, to have it happen so suddenly. He was laughing and puffing. Then his consciousness left him and his body rolled to the ground.

"Did he hit his head?" my mother asked.

"I don't think so." He hadn't, I knew. He had even managed to lay his head into the soft grass.

"I think he's breathing."

At this point, I knelt and felt for his pulse. In his neck, under his jaw, I could feel it. I turned him on his side.

"Call the ambulance," my mother said.

"Okay." I ran around to the other side of the house.

The phone conversation didn't take long. The dispatcher said she could send the crew from Shady Grove. In her next breath she said they were on the way, less than ten minutes out. She talked me through a description of my father's symptoms. I guessed that he had diabetes but that was based on his family history, a few symptoms, and mostly my suspicions from thinking about the circumstances. I had to admit he had never been diagnosed. My other guesses were a stroke or his heart. She had me re-list his symptoms.

"Those sound like useful details," she said. "The ambulance crew is listening on the line. They already know what you told me."


"They'll keep the possibilities in mind, don't worry."

"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" someone screamed and made me jump. As I turned, I already knew who it was. My father had regained consciousness. He stood in the open front door. Behind him, I could see the ambulance pulling up to the end of the driveway. The conversation had taken less than ten minutes.

"I'm calling the emergency number. You passed out."

"I told your mother! I'm not getting into any ambulance."

"Well, they're here."

"They can't take me. I won't go." He turned to face the driveway. As he did, his legs wobbled. I saw what was coming in time to drop the phone and make a fumbling grab for him. He passed out. Most of his body hit the floor. I clutched his sweater and caught the back of his head.

"Is this the guy?" A man from the back of the ambulance strolled over, dressed in white. "Wasn't he yelling at us a second ago?"

"He keeps fainting," I replied.

His partner came up and nodded. "This is the guy."

They rolled out the stretcher. It took a minute. The assembly was bigger than I'd imagined from my lifeguard training. Beneath the flat surface lay a heavy-duty cart that could change heights with the press of a button. One of the men did, in fact, press the button to lower the stretcher.

"You're his next of kin, right?"

"I'm his son." It was a weird question. I wasn't really sure how to answer.

"That's good." He and his partner nodded. Together, they turned, grunted, and lifted my father. He had lost a lot of weight in the past year. They didn't have much trouble with him. Then the EMTs strapped him to the board. One of them did most of the work. The other leaned closer to me.

"Will you ride with us?" he said. "Someone from the family should talk to the doctor. Anyway, you can sit next to him and talk if he wakes up angry. Better to have you to explain. Someone else can follow you to Shady Grove."

We clambered in. My memory of the ambulance is one of calmness inside, a quiet space and slightly too cool. The air conditioning was working hard. The windows were dark. Light shone through them with a tint of blue. My father shivered. After the driver had taken us a couple miles south, my father woke up.

"Where am I?" He seemed lost for a moment. He wan't angry, just puzzled.

"On the way to the hospital," I said. "We need to know why you keep passing out. I think it's probably diabetes."

"Ugh." He turned his head to the side. "Okay. Might as well."

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