By Henry Stimpson
My father just threatened another resident – “I’ll kill you!” – during dinner at his retirement community, the assistant director tells me on the phone. He must get checked tonight at the emergency room for a urinary tract infection, which can cause erratic behavior, she says.
I tell her I don’t want to take him because I’m sure he doesn’t have a UTI. Bizarre behavior, like recently taking a $210 cab ride to nowhere, is nothing new, I point out. At 89, my scrawny, wiry father has been on psychiatric drugs for 55 years and often becomes irate.
If I don’t take Dad, she’ll have to call an ambulance, she says. I cave. “Just a quick blood test,” she reassures me.
Right after dinner, I drive over and find Dad sitting alone in the pool room. I tell him a fib about having him checked for urinary incontinence. He doesn’t resist going, thank God. About 7:45 on a January night, I drop him off at the ER entrance.
On the sidewalk, a Black woman who could be anywhere from 50 to 70 years old leans painfully on a metal cane. “Do you need help?” I ask. She needs to get to her car, she says. I’ll take you, I say. She gets in and says “Thank you” in a lilting accent. “Where are you from originally?” I ask. “Uganda.” I pull up to her car. “God bless you!” she says.
I park and dash back to the ER. The intake nurse calls Dad in, checks his blood pressure, asks about his meds, and updates the drug listed in the computer from his previous visits. We go back to the waiting room. When we’re called back in, another nurse asks Dad if he can pee into a cup. (They need urine, not blood.) He can’t “go” right now, he says. “We’ll get you a glass of water,” she says.
In the exam room, I tell the young physician assistant that he needs only a UTI test. She doesn’t believe me. They must need more; she’ll call his retirement community. No one’s there at night, I say. She calls anyway, no answer. She listens to him through her stethoscope and asks if he has any pain. He needs water so he can pee, I tell her. She nods, then leaves.
A smiling young guy wearing a face mask — pre-COVID — enters and confirms Dad’s address and insurance. Next, a cheerful chubby young aide enters and asks Dad if he can pee yet. No. He needs water, I say. “I’ll get him a glass,” she says.
An attendant, a happy chubby young woman, asks Dad if he can pee yet. No, he says. “I’ll get him a glass of water.”
The social worker, a middle-aged woman, enters and asks some questions about my father’s living arrangements. She writes my answers on a pad and leaves. Still no water.
The emergency room doctor, a severe-looking woman wearing glasses, enters at last. I’m normally deferential to authority, but I’m fed up. “If we don’t get him some water, he’s not going to be able to produce a urine sample,” I snap.
She looks shocked that I’m challenging her. “There’s more than a urine test,” she says. They have to do a mental health workup, an EKG and a blood test, and that could take hours. “I can’t stay that long,” I say. “You don’t have to stay,” she says and leaves.
I don’t know if my griping made a difference, but the smiling attendant at last returns with a cup of water. Hallelujah! Dad drinks.
A burly young guy comes in to do an EKG. “Get lost!” Dad rants. The guy raises his hands in surrender and leaves.
I tell Dad the real reason why he’s here. He gets mad and yells about that “stupid, pushy guy” at dinner.
Now the mental-health worker, a woman in her late 20s, comes in. She asks me about Dad’s medications and writes them down in her pad. She doesn’t have access to the hospital computer here.
Dad demands to know her qualifications. Master’s degree in psychology, she says. She asks Dad whether he has any thoughts of hurting himself. He puts a finger pistol to his boney head and squeezes an imaginary trigger. “It’s all bone,” he laughs.
Exasperated, she asks him again. Finally, he chuckles and says, no, he’s not going to hurt himself. Dad shows her his psychiatrist’s business card and says his shrink “knows a lot about the brain.” He adds that he hasn’t been with a woman in the 14 years (nine actually) since my mother died. She leaves.
I ask Dad if he can “go.” “Maybe a little,” he says.
The plump attendant reappears with a curved plastic jug. Dad tells us to leave. Several minutes later, he emerges holding the urinal. Success!
At the window, I tell the nurse we’re leaving. She asks, “Don’t you want to wait for the results of the urine test in about a half-hour? And he needs a blood test.”
“How long will that take,” I ask. “About an hour,” she says. “It’s 10:15. No thanks,” I say. “I’ll tell the doctor,” she says frostily. I grab Dad and drive him back to his place. He’s in an OK mood.
I get the results the next day. No UTI, as I knew all along. I leave a message with the assistant director. I realize we could have skipped the ordeal, and she wouldn’t have known about the lie.
All told, we interacted with ten people at the hospital. It took six of them to get my dad a glass of water.
Henry Stimpson is a writer and consultant whose essays, poems and articles have appeared in Poet Lore, Cream City Review, Lighten Up Online, Rolling Stone, Muddy River Poetry Review, Mad River Review, Aethlon, Bluepepper, The MacGuffin, The Aurorean, Common Ground Review, Vol1Brooklyn, Poets & Writers, The Boston Globe, On the Seawall, Atlanta Review, Boston University Today, Snakeskinpoetry and other publications. He lives in Massachusetts and hopes to see another Boston Celtics championship sooner rather than later.