By Pamela Ryder
Down at the desk, they can always see you coming. They can see the visitors and the patients and the Call-Lights that blink above every door. There is little you can hide from the Desk People at the end of the corridor. There is little that they will not see.
Sometimes you must head down to the desk. You must speak with the Desk People about certain things, important things, such as What Is Going On With Your Father, and so forth. But they are very busy down at the desk. They are Short Staffed — as you have been informed — so you must catch them during a Lull. If you head down to the desk at a Bad Time, a Desk Person will say: Sorry but this is a Bad Time.
Shift change is a Bad Time. Doctors at the desk is a Bad Time. Sylvia the Unit Clerk currently away from her desk is a Bad Time. So you must be patient and you must wait.
There are different things you can do while you wait for a Lull at the desk. You can watch the Medication Nurse push the Medication Cart. You can watch the Aide/Tech/Attendant push the Utility Cart. You can watch the old man in rumpled hospital pajamas walk his walker to the Snack & Soda Vending Station where he checks the slot for change.
You can stand nonchalantly in the doorway of Your Father’s Room — Room 27 — as if you are on the look-out for Housekeeping to show up and fill the toilet paper dispenser or as if you are hoping Dietary is about to deliver Your Father’s meal-tray or the Volunteer with the smiley-face button will soon be handing out complimentary newspapers to people too sick to sit in an upright position and read without passing out.
You wait for things to die down, down at the desk, or for Sylvia the Unit Clerk — who is currently away from her desk — to return. You wait for someone’s Family Member — perhaps someone’s son or daughter — a daughter like yourself perhaps — or then again a daughter not like yourself — to have come and gone with Concerns and Issues addressed. That is when a Desk Person is more likely to say May I Help You when you need to find out What Is Going On With Your Father and find out things, such things as: Is today is the day Your Father is going for his scan thing? Such things as: Is his Doctor coming in or will it be the Covering Doctor who never met Your Father and will stand in the doorway of Room 27 for fifteen seconds and say: George Hirschberger? How Are You Doing, Mr. Hirschberger? And such things as: Why does Your Father get OJ — which is high in potassium — on his meal-tray when Your Father is Potassium Restricted, and why does he get granola crunch instead of oatmeal when his diet is Mechanical Soft, and why does the little menu-paper on his meal-tray sometimes say Hirshbine, Gabriel and other times Hirshbine, Pincus — instead of Hirschberger, George. Those sorts of things.
You must be careful how you walk down to the desk. Marching down there in the middle of the corridor as if you had some Unreasonable Demand creates an Adversarial Relationship with the Desk People. Walking close to the wall, however, appears to be less threatening. Not sidling along with your back to the wall as if you were an Unstable Person. No, that would seem too crazy — but just off to the side. Nonchalant.
Though you have observed that the old man — the one with the walker — goes wherever he wants and it doesn’t seem to matter. No one seems to pay him any mind. When he stops with his walker mid-corridor, bends over to pick up some bit of schmutz off the floor, and displays his suspiciously soiled pajama bottoms — no one tells him to get out of the way. When he sits in the Visitor Lounge at all hours, no one escorts him back to his room. No one puts him back to bed. No one seems to notice.
You, however, they notice. You they see coming down the corridor — they always do — but there are times you absolutely must go down to the desk. It is a bad idea to discuss your Concerns and Issues in Your Father's Room (27W — W being Window, D being Door), especially in front of Your Father — for several reasons. The first reason being that Your Father thinks you are Making Too Much Of Everything. The second reason being that Your Father thinks that you are creating an Adversarial Relationship with the Desk People, and he doesn’t want to be labeled a Complainer. The third reason being that you know that when a static sort of noise comes out of the little speaker on the wall, the Desk People are listening in on your conversations with Your Father. So you do not discuss Issues or Concerns with Your Father or even in Your Father’s Room.
In general, you discuss more Innocuous Topics with Your Father. Such as: Will the Rangers make the playoffs? Such as: How hard it is to find a parking spot, or what the weather is like outside. You try not to discuss What Is Going On With Your Father with Your Father, because lately What Is Going On does not seem to be very good. You do not discuss how his bones ache from being in bed. You do not mention the red spot on his butt. You do not discuss his breathing problem or his heart thing or his blood trouble. You do not discuss Life Or Death. If Life Or Death Topics come up, you start talking about things outside the window, even though there’s not much of a view. Look, you say — See those trees across the parking lot? They’re already changing color, don’t you think? Or: Look at that cloud, you say — cumulonimbus, isn’t it? We’re supposed to be getting some rain.
Today there are certain things you must discuss down at the desk. You peek out of the doorway of Room 27. You wait until you see that other Family Members have dispersed with their Concerns and Issues addressed, that the patients’ buzzers are not buzzing, that the patients’ Call-Lights are not blinking, and that the Nurses have finished speaking to the Doctors about Medical Matters such as the benefits of consuming eight glasses of water a day not counting caffeinated, or the lack of decent Thai restaurants within walking distance. You wait until the Nurses are having fun spinning around in their swivel chairs, comparing shades of nail polish, and you make your move.
You head down to the desk. You pass the Visitor Lounge. You pass the Snack & Soda Vending Station. The old man is there, leaning on his walker and pressing the coin-return button. You see that his hospital pajamas are very rumpled. His hair is not combed. His beard is straggly. He pokes his finger into the coin-return slot. Don’t bother, he tells you. I already checked.
You keep on. Past the Staff Only Pantry and the Staff Only Bathroom. Past the elevator. You arrive at the desk.
A Nurse in a swivel chair makes eye contact. This is very good. Maybe she is new. You see that her nametag says Clarice Something RN, though you are not sure of the Something because you cannot Gaze at her nametag. Nametag Gazing is frowned upon. Verboten. This is because nametag wearers suspect you are attempting to remember an actual name for if-and-when you make an Official Complaint or try to pin something on them. Although you never would, because Official Complaints backfire, create Adversarial Relationships, result in Retaliation and more Unpleasantness for Your Father, and so forth. So while nametag Gazing is discouraged, nametag Glancing is perfectly permissible.
May I Help You? asks Clarice.
Well yes, you say, I hope you can help me. And you tell Clarice that Your Father has not been getting the correct meal-tray. Your Father, you tell her, has been getting a meal-tray destined for someone by the name of Hirshbine, Gabriel or Hirshbine, Pincus and not Hirschberger, George — not Your Father in 27W.
It’s a spelling error, says Clarice. Hirshbine, Hirschberger — all the same. It’s what
Dietary calls a Typo, says Clarice.
Now you are in a bad spot because you will have to Reiterate Your Concerns and possibly challenge the Typo Explanation.
Well — you tell Clarice in your least challenging voice — you are concerned because Your Father is losing weight. He’s not getting the right food, you tell Clarice. He’s not getting the kind of food he’s supposed to be getting.
He’s getting the right food, says Clarice.
You are now in an even worse spot — Reiteration failing — and it is time for a new tactic: Expressing Concern For Others.
Maybe — you tell Clarice — maybe the other patient — this Mr. Hirshbine — isn’t getting his food either. Could you check?
Check what? says Clarice.
Check on the Typo, you say.
Clarice then lets loose with a big Adversarial Relationship Sigh and picks up a clipboard. She flips through the pages. Hirshbine, Hirshbine, says Clarice while she flips. Nope, she says. No Hirsh-bine on record. We do, however, have a Hirsch-berger.
Right, you say. That’s My Father, you tell Clarice.
Hirshbine or Hirschberger? says Clarice. Who’s Your Father? Which?
You head back along the corridor. You pass the elevator and the Staff Only Bathroom and the Staff Only Pantry. You pass the Medication Nurse pushing the Medication Cart, and the Aide/Tech/Attendant pushing the Utility Cart. Next is the Snack & Soda Vending Station. You see that the old man is there with his walker and he is eating a Vending Station snack.
Expired, he says holding up a little bag of barbeque chips. Not kosher, he says, and loaded with sodium but keep it to yourself. And he gives you a little wink.
I will, you say.
You suspect that the entire snack selection is expired. Not that there’s much of a soda selection either. In fact, the soda selection is limited to one kind of soda: Pepsi Cola. Only Pepsi Cola. And Pepsi Cola you happen to hate.
Black Cherry, Cel-Ray, or Orange? the old man says, nodding to the Vending Station.
On me, he says.
And since it’s all Pepsi Cola and nothing but, you go along. Sure, you say, OK. Black Cherry would be nice.
Because a Black Cherry would be nice and you have no idea what Cel-Ray is anyway.
One Black Cherry coming up, the old man says, and with that, he keeps on holding the walker with one hand and smacks the front of the Snack & Soda Vending Station with the other. And not even a very hard smack.
The Snack & Soda Vending Station makes a rumbling sort of noise and the soda light flashes. You hear a thud-thud-thud — and a can of black cherry pops into the chute.
There you go, the old man says, handing it over. Nice and cold.
He wipes his hand off on his pajama top. Hirshbine, Gabriel, 57 W, the old man says and puts his hand out for you to shake.
But most of my associates call me Gabe, he says. Or Pincus, if you prefer.
You look at the hand of Hirshbine, Gabriel or Hirshbine, Pincus — the hand he has extended for you to shake. It is a very wrinkly old hand. Wrinkly and spotty. And not a very clean-looking hand. There seems to be some kind of dirt under his nails — you hate to think what. This hand of Hirshbine is not a hand you would like to shake. But you do.
Mr. Hirshbine, you say, My Father is George Hirschberger and he’s getting your meal-tray; he’s getting your food by mistake.
Ah! says Hirshbine. So it shouldn’t go to waste. And please, he says, better you should call me Gabe. Or Pincus. Either.
You head on into Your Father’s Room.
Your Father is sitting up in his bed, eating a blintz. Blueberry. Sour cream on the side.
Where’d you get that? you ask Your Father.
The Doctor—you just missed him, Your Father says.
The Doctor? you say. Doctors don’t just show up handing out blintzes.
Then some guy, he says.
Which guy? you say.
Some old guy, Your Father says.
Transport arrives with a wheelchair. The Transport guy looks at the card in his hand. He looks at you. You George? he says.
No I’m not George, you say. Do I look like a George? I’m George’s daughter. George Hirschberger is My Father, you tell the Transport guy.
Your Father tries to sit up a bit in his bed, and gives the Transport guy a feeble little wave hello. I’m George, he says.
A crackling noise and the sound of static come out from the intercom grill, and then the voice of a Desk Person: Transport? That you in 27?
Yeah, says the Transport Guy. I’m here for Hirschberger, George.
No, says the Desk Person, not Hirschberger.
My card says pick up Hirschberger, says the Transport guy.
No, says the Desk Person. Disregard. It’s a Typo.
There are New Issues, as well as some of the Old Issues, you must address down at the desk. And sure, sure — Unpleasantness will ensue. But you have to take your chances. You head on down to the desk.
You pass the Visitor Lounge and the Snack & Soda Vending Station. You pass the Medication Cart and the Utility Cart, the Staff Only Pantry, the Staff Only Bathroom, and the elevator. You arrive at the desk.
You think that this is not a Bad Time, since Sylvia the Unit Clerk is at the desk. But Sylvia is not answering her phone. Sylvia is allowing her answering machine to pick up and say: I Am Currently Away From My Desk.
There are Nurses at the desk. However, the Nurses are occupied with Hospital Topics, such as which Doctor has the most charisma, and which one has the least, and which nurse would do the doctor with the least for, say, a million dollars? And you do not say Excuse Me, because Excuse Me can be considered an Interruption or an Offensive Remark. And you do not say Can Someone Help Me? — as that would imply Impatience when you already know the desk is Short Staffed. And anyway, you understand that Good-Natured Banter among the Nurses helps relieve the Pressures and Stresses of their jobs.
Doctors arrive at the desk. But it would not help to ask a Doctor about What’s Going On With Your Father. The Doctors are discussing their own Medical Topics: the failure rate of penile implants; the elimination of algae in their waiting-room fish tanks; how tasteless store-bought tomatoes are right now even though they look so red and shiny. So you nicely stand and wait. You are not sighing loudly or clearing your throat. You are not clicking clicking clicking a ballpoint pen, not putting your finger on the hang-up button while Desk People are talking on the phone. You are not Making A Scene. Not saying Can’t I Get Some Fucking Help Here? Not shoving a computer monitor with attached mouse and keyboard off the desk and into someone’s lap. No.
The Doctors disperse. A Nurse sits down in the swivel chair farthest away from you. Her nametag says Enid Something RN. Enid does not look up.
Hi Enid! you say. As if you and Enid Something are old pals.
Enid looks up.
Can I help you? she says.
Well yes! you say. I hope you can help me. My Father was supposed to have a blood test before breakfast but no one came to take his blood. Is it possible that someone might have possibly, inadvertently, unintentionally, accidentally forgotten to take his blood? Because now My Father’s lunch-tray has arrived — well, not exactly his lunch-tray. A lunch-tray. Someone else’s lunch tray. And My Father is still afraid to eat and mess up the blood test.
Eat, not eat — it doesn’t matter, says Enid.
Now you are in a bad spot again because you happen to know that this blood-test eating-thing does matter, and you will have to Reiterate and Challenge. However, Feigning Stupidity at this point can also be effective, so you must present yourself as a confused, ignorant, Overly Concerned Family Member relying entirely on this nurse’s professional expertise.
You say: Don’t some tests get messed up if the person eats? I don’t really understand all this Technical Stuff like you Nurses do. I’m just going by what the Doctor told My Father.
You throw in that thing about the Doctor because this can be Intimidating and yet Productive.
Who’s Your Father? Enid says.
You head back. You pass the elevator. You pass the Staff Only Bathroom and the Staff Only Pantry. You pass the parked Utility Cart with no Aide/Tech/Attendant in attendance. You pass the Medication Cart and the Medication Nurse. Next is the Snack & Soda Vending Station. Next is the Visitor Lounge.
Mr. Hirshbine is in there, leaning back comfortably in a vinyl chair. He is drinking a Cel-Ray Soda. He has an unlit cigar in his mouth.
Good evening Mr. Hirshbine, you say.
Well, Hello — says Hirshbine — You’re the daughter, correct?
Yes, you say. I’m the daughter.
A very good evening to you, says Hirshbine. And give my regards to Your Father.
Yes thank you, you tell Hirshbine.
One thing before you go, says Hirshbine. I was wondering, he says, holding the cigar in his fingers. Would you happen to have a light?
You head on into Your Father’s Room.
Your Father is sitting up in his bed with a dish of gefilte fish on his bedside table. Horseradish on the side.
Where’d you get that? you ask Your Father.
Some old guy, he says.
Some old guy? you say. Some old guy giving out gefilte fish?
Right, Your Father says.
So this old guy — what did he say? you ask him.
He said it was a mitzvah, Your Father tells you, and digs in.
Transport arrives with a wheelchair. It’s the same Transport guy, but the wheelchair is strapped-up with a green oxygen tank and plastic tubing and a clear plastic mask.
The Transport guy looks at the card in his hand and he looks at Your Father and says:
You Hirshbine? Time for your scan thing, Mr. Hirshbine!
Hold on, you tell the Transport guy. This is not Mr. Hirshbine. This is Mr. Hirschberger. George Hirschberger.
No, I don’t think so, says the Transport guy. He’s Hirshbine, Gabriel. I’ve got it right here: Hirshbine, Gabriel. Let’s go Gabe! the Transport guy says. Hop aboard!
But I’m George, Your Father tells the Transport guy.
This is George — My Father — you tell the Transport guy. And this room is 27W.
The Transport guy backs up the wheelchair a little and sticks his head outside the door. He checks the room number on the wall. He takes some white cards from his pocket and shuffles them around.
So where is Hirshbine, Gabriel? he says and he looks at another card. Or Hirshbine, Pincus, he says — Where’s he?
And right then comes the static noise, the crackling from the little intercom grill and the voice of a Desk Person: Transport, that you in 27?
Yeah, says the Transport guy into the intercom. Where’s this Hirshbine fella at?
Hold on, says the Desk Person. We’re checking.
So you hold on. You and the Transport guy hold on while they’re checking. The Transport guy looks out the window. Nice day, isn’t it? he says.
Sure is, you say.
Look at them clouds, says the Transport guy. Ever see clouds like that?
That one there, says the Transport guy. That one there looks like something. Like cotton candy maybe or a blob of sour cream, he says.
There’s more static noise. The voice of the Desk Person comes back on the intercom. Who’s it you’re looking for? Hirshbine? Is that the name?
The Transport guy checks his card. Yeah, that’s it. Hirshbine, he says.
There’s no Hirshbine, says the desk Person. Probably a Mix-Up. Or could be a Discharge or maybe an Expired.
Fine by me, the Transport guy says into the intercom.
Have a nice day, he tells you and rolls the wheelchair out the door.
They always see you heading down the corridor, heading for the desk. And it is becoming more difficult to find out What Is Going On With Your Father because it seems that what is going on with him is not very good. And it is becoming more difficult to find a Nurse at the desk who will help you find out What Is Going On because — as you have been informed — it is now Sylvia the Unit Clerk who is supposed to provide Visitor Assistance if she is not currently away from her desk. Sylvia is supposed to say May I Help You while the Nurses are busy with Nursing Functions such as: the prevention of red spots on patients’ butts, or administration of medications from the Medication Cart, or ordering take-out Chinese.
And sometimes, these Nursing Functions can be quite complicated. Ordering take-out Chinese for example. This can be tricky because free delivery is only for orders over $15, and it takes a while for enough people to agree that they are in the mood for Szechuan Spicy Wonton or Kung Pao Delight.
So you decide to find out about Your Father from the Aides/Techs/Attendants because they are more Hands On. And you know which ones are Aides/Techs/Attendants because they wear their nametags turned around so you can’t see their names, making Nametag Gazing not an Issue. But often it is difficult to locate the Aides/Techs/Attendants. They don’t hang around the desk. In fact, where they actually are seems to be unclear. Sometimes they can be found going slowly up and down the corridor, pushing Utility Carts stacked with linen and waterproof pads and butt-wiping cloths and butt-cleaning sprays and butt-soothing lotions to prevent red spots. Other times they are hiding out in a patient’s room with the door closed so it appears as if they are Providing Privacy — giving a patient a bed-bath or a bed-pan or so forth — when what they are actually doing is watching Dancing with The Stars on the patient’s wall-mount TV — when a patient would rather be watching something else — such as Hockey Playoffs, for example. And since you can’t find a single Aide/Tech/Attendant anywhere, this may be one of those times.
You have no choice — You must head down to the desk. You pass the Visitor Lounge and the Snack & Soda Vending Station. You pass the Utility Cart.
You see Mr. Hirshbine is midway down the corridor, leaning on his walker beside the Medication Nurse and her Medication Cart. You see that he is opening and closing the little drawers of medications. And this you find absolutely amazing, because — as you have been previously informed — interfering with a Nursing Function such as administration of medications from the Nursing Cart — or even getting near the Medication Cart — is absolutely Verboten.
But there is Hirshbine, mumbling to himself, rummaging around in the Medication Cart drawers. And this is even more amazing: the Medication Nurse doesn’t seem to care, not a whit. Not even when he sticks in his fingers — those fingers of his — and pokes around.
He picks out some pills. He slams the drawer shut.
What’s wrong, Mr. Hirshbine? you say, not getting too close.
A headache you wouldn’t believe, says Hirshbine.
You proceed down the corridor, expecting some degree of Unpleasantness down at the desk. You suspect that you have been labeled a Complainer. Which could be why it is so hard to find out What Is Going On With Your Father or have your Concerns and Issues addressed. Which would be completely unfair. Because, after all, you have made every effort to show your appreciation. You have, in fact, purchased snacks for the Staff. That nice cookie assortment, for example. And the giant jar of salsa and big bags of multigrain organic chips. And you always write a note: Many Thanks from George Hirschberger--Room 27W. You write this for Your Father because his hand shakes when he is writing. You write this so when they see Your Father’s Call-Light on they will remember the snacks and will say That’s Who Gave Us The Snacks and they will hurry in to see What’s Going On With Your Father. And they will treat him — treat Your Father — with kindness. Sure.
In addition to the snacks, you have consistently said Thank You for every kindness — few and far between as they may be — and have never ever worded a request as a Demand or even as a Threatening Direct Question. You have never said, for example: Who the hell left My Father lying in piss? Don’t you know he can get a red spot lying in piss? No. You say: My Father seems to have spilled his urinal — as if it is all Your Father’s fault. You say: Is there someone available that can help me clean him up? — as if you are perfectly happy to help them do their jobs. As if you were not a family member, not a daughter. As if you are absolutely willing to wait and to give them a hand because — as you have been informed — Your Father Is Not The Only Patient On This Floor.
You have been willing to roll up your sleeves and pitch right in and help these hefty women, these big-bicepted rubber-gloved beefy bitches who are half your age and double your size. You have shown them that you still have some strength left in your post-middle-aged bones when you reposition Your Father since he seems to be getting weaker and he seems to be having more trouble moving himself around. That you are more than happy to be washing Your Father’s dick and the crack where the poop and pee collect since he is having more trouble with poop and pee. That you have no qualms, none at all, and no shame whatsoever about any of it, and neither does he, neither does Your Father. And sometimes when his butt is hurting or his bones are aching and Your Father needs rolling over toward the window, you talk about the things he can see out there — outside the window — not that there is much to see. You say: Look at that big tree out there. Oak, I think. Or: Did you ever see such a skinny new moon? Or: Doesn’t that cloud look like a person? And you hope that he is thinking about trees and moons and clouds, and not about his daughter doing these things. And that he is not ashamed — that Your Father is not embarrassed or ashamed at all, no not one bit.
You continue on down to the desk. You fear something Unpleasant could happen. Or Adversarial. There have been times when you get close to the desk and you can hear Desk People speaking quietly — as if they don’t want you to hear — don’t want you to know What Is Going On With Your Father.
As luck would have it, a Lucky Thing happens on your way to the desk: the Evening Overhead Announcement comes on. Attention All Visitors, Visiting Hours Are Now Over! Drive Safely And Have A Nice Evening! So you pretend to make a beeline for the elevator in a slightly hurrying yet nonchalant manner on the right side of the corridor — the elevator side. Going Down? you say to the people in the elevator, and Hold That Please? and you quick feint to the left, pull an about-face to the desk, and bingo: you’re standing right in front of a Desk Person — a Nurse sitting in a swivel chair.
Her nametag says Meredith Something RN, and since you have abruptly landed here right in front of her, Meredith Something has no choice but to look up and say: May I Help You?
How are you this evening? — you say.
Meredith does not say how she is this evening. No. Instead she says How May I Help You — adding How this time in a broken-record sort of voice which you take to mean: don’t assume this pleasant how-are-you shit will work on me so get to the fucking point because you heard the fucking announcement: Visiting Hours Are Now Over.
Well, you tell Meredith, the first thing is you would like Your Father to get his own meal-tray, a meal-tray with his name on it, not the name Hirshbine, Gabriel or Hirshbine, Pincus.
Someone already checked into that, says Meredith. They told me that somebody already told you: It’s a Typo, she says. Anything else?
Well yes, one other thing, and you tell Meredith that you try to get here at mealtimes to help Your Father with his meal-tray — well not actually his meal-tray but a meal-tray — but sometimes you can’t get here on time. Your Father has trouble with his hands, you tell her. Your Father’s hands shake. And tonight Your Father couldn’t open his milk container, couldn’t unwrap his disposable napkin, couldn’t lift the cover off his Heat-Keeper Dinner Dish, couldn’t get the top off the tapioca cup, couldn’t pop the lid off his Heat-Keeper Coffee Container, couldn’t peel the little square of paper from the pat of Butter Substitute, couldn’t hold his crappy plastic disposable fork in his hand since he never received the Adaptive-Device Fork he was supposed to get in order to dig into the slab of non-kosher meatloaf, reconstituted instant potatoes, and the gray-tinted green beans. And since you, his daughter, arrived too late to flip/uncover/unlid/peel or pop — since you didn’t get here in time to unwrap/chop/feed or cut, Dietary came and carted away his meal-tray totally untouched. Your Father didn’t get any dinner! Hard to believe, isn’t it, that such a thing as this — a patient not getting nourishment — could occur in a Cutting Edge, JD Power Award-Winning Top Hospital such as this. So you made an attempt to find Your Father’s Nurse yourself. You really did. You checked the wipe-off whiteboard in Your Father’s Room where the Nurse writes her name with big red markers so the patient knows who his Nurse is, even though the wipe-off whiteboard is clear across the room and too far away for Your Father to see. And when you checked the wipe-off whiteboard, it said YOUR NURSE TODAY IS: JUDY.
So you looked for JUDY. You really did, but you couldn’t find any JUDY anywhere. No sign of a JUDY. This JUDY is nowhere to be found, you say.
And Meredith Something RN at the desk looks at you and says:
Maybe JUDY is On Break.
Maybe JUDY is the Float and not the Regular JUDY.
The whiteboard JUDY could actually be JUDITH.
JUDY was yesterday and the whiteboard wasn’t updated and the big red marker is out of ink.
So, you say, Who Is It Today? Because you really need to find out who can help Your Father at mealtimes when you are late.
And before this Meredith Something RN can say Who’s Your Father — which is what they always say — though you are sure they actually do know who Your Father is but they say it anyway just to Bust Your Balls if you had balls — before she has time to pull the Who’s Your Father crap, you beat Meredith Something RN to the punch. You pipe right up and say: My Father is George Hirschberger in Room 27W.
And then, as if you have some degree of Short Term Memory Loss and have forgotten that you have been down to the desk loads of times asking What Is Going On With Your Father, or as if you are accusing a Nurse of not remembering that for the past nine days Your Father has been in Room 27 — 27W in fact — W for Window and not D for door — as if it were all of this — this Meredith looks up and says: I Know Who Your Father Is.
You head back to Your Father’s Room. You pass the elevator. Then the Staff Only Bathroom. Then the Staff Only Pantry. You pass the Medication Nurse pushing the Medication Cart. You pass an Aide/Tech/Attendant doing nothing. Then there’s the Snack & Soda Vending Station. Then there’s the Visitor Lounge.
Mr. Hirshbine is in there, lounging on one of the vinyl chairs. He is looking very comfortable in those same old pajamas. He has his feet up on another chair. He is drinking an orange soda. He has his unlit cigar in his mouth.
And now there is something else Mr. Hirshbine is doing. Mr. Hirshbine is taking a pack of matches out of his pajama-top pocket, and then Mr. Hirshbine is lighting his unlit cigar.
No one comes running down from the desk. No one is shouting: Put That Out. No one is making an overhead No Smoking Announcement.
And Mr. Hirshbine is smoking his cigar.
You return to Your Father’s Room. Your Father is sitting up in bed and he is eating lox on a sesame-seed bagel. Cream cheese. Slice of onion.
Don’t ask, Your Father says.
Transport arrives. It is the same Transport guy. He sees you and he says: You again.
Looking for Gabriel Hirshbine? you say.
No, says the Transport guy. Definitely not.
How about Pincus? Pincus Hirshbine. You looking for him?
Hell no, says the Transport guy. Don’t even mention Pincus Hirshbine, he says. Don’t get me started about him.
Now you absolutely must get to the desk because there is a new Concern that must be addressed. This new Concern concerns Facilities Management and/or Maintenance and you happen to know they are Unavailable On Weekends. And here it is already Friday late afternoon.
You are concerned because Your Father’s Call-Light is not working. No light flashes outside Room 27 when you push the bedside button. When Your Father pushed and pushed and pushed the bedside button because you were not here, because you were late, because he couldn’t reach the urinal — oops oops oops he had an Accident in the bed. And you are concerned because lying in urine can cause a red spot.
So you head for the desk.
You pass the Visitor Lounge and the Snack & Soda Vending Station. You pass the Medication Cart with no Medication Nurse and the Utility Cart with no Aide/Tech/Attendant. You notice that there isn’t much Staff around — probably a combination of the weekend plus Short Staffed.
You pass the Staff Only Pantry, the Staff Only Bathroom, the elevator. You arrive at the desk.
The Nurse is not looking up. She is doing Pretend Paperwork. You wait. Gazing is Verboten, but she is not looking up. So you are able to Gaze at her nametag for a few seconds longer than is usually permitted and you see it says: Judy Gomznftic RN. You wonder if this is possibly the wipe-off whiteboard JUDY, but that was yesterday. You consider addressing this Judy, but you are likely to mispronounce her nearly vowel-less last name and possibly create an Adversarial Relationship with Judy — which should be avoided just in case she winds up on Your Father’s wipe-off whiteboard and decides upon Retaliation. So you just say: Judy?
But Judy does not look up. She does not say, Yes! Hello! I’m Judy, or even May I Help You?
No, this Judy keeps right on writing and she says:
I am not the person taking care of Your Father.
Your Father has been assigned to some other Nurse.
You need to talk to someone else about Your Father, not me.
Oh! You say. Well this is not actually a Nursing Function Issue. It is more of Facilities Management or a Maintenance Issue. And you tell her that Your Father’s Call-Light is not working, and it being Friday night and Facilities Management or Maintenance being Unavailable On Weekends, you would really like to have his Call-Light working. In case he needs something. In case he can’t reach his urinal. In case he has an Accident in the bed or he spills his urinal and the bed gets wet which can make a red spot or make a red spot redder. In case he needs to roll over. In case his meal-tray does not come and no one happens by with a blintz or a bagel or a latke or a noodle kugel or some gefilte fish. In case Something Is Going On With Your Father. Something with his bones or his blood or his breathing, or something unforeseen.
And this Judy, Judy Gomznftic, Judy Gomznfuckit, Judy Gofuckyourselfwhydontyou says: Who’s Your Father?
You head back to Your Father’s Room. You pass the elevator, the Staff Only Bathroom, the Staff Only Pantry. You pass the Medication Cart and the Medication Nurse. You pass an Aide/Tech/Attendant not pushing the Utility Cart.
Next is the Snack & Soda Vending Station. Next is the Visitor Lounge.
It is dim in there — in the Visitor Lounge. Mr. Hirshbine is in there standing at the window in the last light of the day.
You can see that Mr. Hirshbine is wearing fresh pajamas. His hair has been combed. His beard has been trimmed. His hands are clean.
And you see that Mr. Hishbine has a prayer shawl draped across his shoulders. You see that he has candles. You see that he has matches.
The sun is just near setting. The hills beyond the parking lot almost seem to glow.
It is colder now — you know it: by the gusts that are rattling the window and by the leaves that are rising from the trees.
Mr. Hirshbine sees you in the doorway. Ah — the daughter — says Hirshbine. He gives a nod towards the window. Such a view — he says — you shouldn’t miss it.
You look out past the window, past the parking lot, to the hills and sky. You see that the clouds are low and moving. That they have turned the colors of the leaves that are turning early. That they are impaled on shafts of gold, and through and through are pierced with light.
Shabbat Shalom, says Hirshbine and he turns back to the window.
He picks up a candle.
He strikes a match.
There are no stars — not yet — but a crescent of moon is rising. And it is bright, and as pale as bone.
Copyright © Pamela Ryder 2013
Pamela Ryder's fiction has been widely published. She is the author of Correction of Drift: A Novel in Stories and A Tendency to Be Gone. Mitzvah is part of a new collection.