the fall


Now you’ll probably feel something here,’ the doctor warned.

I did. If felt like a long paper-cut under my collar bone. I was glad I couldn’t see much of anything because of the blue veil over my face.

For the next couple hours, I didn’t feel any real pain, just a dullness as the doctor was making the pocket for the device, planting the device, hooking up the two electrodes to my heart via two veins. By the time he sewed me up, I was too bored to pay any attention to the sharp needle. I was also catching up some much needed sleep.

During the early part of the procedure I paid a little attention to the conversation between the doctor and the nurses. Just small talk. Nothing about what they were working on.

‘We got tickets for tonight’s Twins game,’ the doctor said.

I perked up.

‘I hope they call it off early so we don’t have to go and sit in the weather to make our rain checks good.’

‘Not rain checks tonight, snow checks,’ I interjected. ‘Predicting four to six inches.’

I can talk baseball anytime, anyplace.

Knowing that the doctor was a baseball fan gave me more confidence in him doing a good job on me.

‘I always consider winter is over when the Twins open the season,’ I heard the doctor say. ‘And when I go to the ballpark and see my first game of the year, I know it is officially spring. Not this year though. Bad weather and bad scheduling.’

A feminine voice spoke up. ‘It’s always such a shame when you look forward to something and it’s canceled.’

Somebody said,’C’est la vie’.

‘Sounds like the voice of experience, Mr. Ostertag,’ the doctor commented.

And then I realized who said it. ‘Many times,’ I answered. ‘Like you said, bad weather or bad timing.’ I could feel myself going into a deeper relaxation.

(C’est la vie! Brought back memories of growing up in Mendota, a small village across the rivers from St. Paul and Minneapolis. It was where the French-Canadian fur trappers sold their pelts they caught in Dakota territory. Many stayed and settled. My mother was a descendant of those early settlers. She was also in the first generation in the village that had English, not French, as the primary language.

The old-timers could talk English but they talked French among each other. And no matter what language they were using at the time, ‘C’est la vie’ was an important part of their conversations.

‘Pierre got a broken leg. His bay mare gave him a good kick.’

‘C’est la vie.’

‘Pierre and Marie going to have the first baby – already.’

‘C’est la vie.’

Mom could get by in French but my generation only knew a little: ‘comment sa va’,’J’ai faim’ ‘merci’. And some words that brought the age-old motherly threat, ‘Say that again and I’ll wash your mouth out with soap’.)

I settled deeper in La La Land and heard in my mind Chuck Berry singing his song, ‘C’est la vie say the old folks, but you never can tell,’ and watched him schuffle-dance across the stage and then the video segued into Travolta and Thurman dance to it in PULP FICTION.

My entertainment and sleep was abruptly stopped when the doctor pulled the veil from my face and announced the procedure was done and went well.

Back in the room I realized that the procedure could have been an In and Out the same day. It was a walk in the park. But by staying into the next day it changed from an Out Patient procedure to an In Patient and cut my out-of-pocket cost considerably. The doctor explained that to me this monetary advantage when I suggested I felt good enough to go home that day. He neglected to mention my age had something to do with me spending the night.

And if I had gone home the same day I would have missed out on the hospital supper, (My chart still said no coffee, and when I told the nurse I had coffee with the doctor’s permission right after the procedure; and she said she would get some out of the break room. After the first sip I knew why they didn’t want to give the patients coffee, they were ashamed of it.), the every four hours ‘checking my vitals’ and all the poking and prodding that accompanied such going-on’s. And I would have missed out on Nurse Mini-Ratched.

My wife and son, Danny, were sitting on the couch getting ready to go home when this little Asian dynamo came bursting into the room. I was just exiting the rest room. Without so much as a hello or how do you feel, or baise mon cul, she brushed past me and went into the rest room. I sat down in the reclining chair.

The writers in the 40’s like Hammitt and Chandler would have described her as a lovely porcelain China doll. But when she opened her mouth, she came right out of the 60’s, Ken Kesey’s Nurse Ratched in ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST.

She came back to the door of the rest room and she screamed at me, several times. Her high frequency voice was such that my hearing aid would have trouble understanding even if she did calm down a bit. And to further complicate things she had a thick accent, Mhong, Japanese?.

I could swear she was telling me to go pee in a hat. I looked for help from my wife or son, but they both just shrugged their shoulders.

I made up my mind. She was telling me to go pee in a hat. I followed her into the rest room. I planned to tell her to go piss up a rope!

She went to shelf in the far corner and took what looked like a small plastic party- sombrero. She shook it at me. She turned it upside down and laid it on the toilet seat with the brim preventing it from falling in.

‘You pee in the hat,’ she demanded. ‘We need to measure what you drink and what you pee,’ she shouted, shaking her finger at me.

‘Hey, lady,’ I said angrily, ‘I’ll play your a games but I have to know the rules. I’ve been here for hours and nobody else told me about measuring my piss!’

‘You just pee in the hat, mister,’ she said ‘Just pee in the hat,’ and she stomped out of the room after almost getting tangled up in my oxygen hose that I had to drag with me.

All the medical staffers that worked on me in the two hospitals the last several days were kind and made me feel at ease. And then there was this little ball of fire. Nurse Mini-Ratchet!

I showed her though. I refused to get into the bed when she wanted me to and stayed in the big chair and used the darn plastic urinal. Actually, I don’t think it bothered her where I slept. I know she waited until I had just got back to sleep to come into the room to do her measuring and complaining that my intake was greater than my output. This went on about every half hour.

I thought about just pouring a little water in the plastic urinal with my urine to make my output more to her liking. Get her off my back, and let me get some sleep. But I remembered about what happened to McMurphy in CUCKOO’ S NEST when he crossed Nurse Ratched. And what happened in real life to Jerry, a part time stagehand.

(Jerry was in the VA hospital being treated for a flare up of something he had contracted back in Nam. He had spent several weeks already in the hospital and was bored. He came up with what he thought was a good joke. He took his breakfast apple juice and hid it under the clean towels in the rest room.

Later when the nurse handed him the daily specimen bottle he took it into the rest room and poured the apple juice in it. He went to hand it to the nurse but quickly pulled it back.

‘Awful pale,’ he said. ‘I’ll just pass it through again.’ And he drank the juice down in one swallow.

The nurse gagged. Jerry laughed.

He managed, through his laughing fit, to tell her what he had done. He thought it was funny. The nurse did not.

She got the last laugh. She arranged to have him spend two days in the Psych Ward to undergo a mental evaluation.)

Mini-Ratchet came in this one time, did her measurements and left the room. She came back about ten minutes later. She was pulling a monitor on wheels with one hand and had a wand which was connected to the contraption in her other hand . She announced she was going to check my bladder.

I contradicted her. I suggested she stick the wand between her legs and fly out of my room.

She let out a ‘humph’, and stomped out of the room. I hollered a C’est la vie and one of the forbidden French phrases to her and she left me alone. Dieu merci!

When the next nurse came on shift at midnight was like night and day. She asked me in a soft voice if I would like to move into the bed. I was more than willing. Believe it or not, I went to sleep and no one woke me, even to check my vitals, much less measure my pee.

The doctor came in after breakfast, checked out his work and my vitals, and then pronounced me fit to go home. My wife was still home waiting for one of the boys to take her to the hospital. The nurse asked me my wife’s name and said she would call her to tell her the good news and what she would have to do to get me released.

In the Army when someone asked you your name, you automatically spout out your name, rank, and serial number. In the hospital the question was answered with name and date of birth. When the nurse asked for Gina’s name, I gave her the name and automatically added Gina’s date of birth.

When the nurse finished explaining to my wife to go to the business office and get all the paper work for my release, I signaled for the phone.

I reminded Gina that when I came it was spring and now it’s winter again so be sure and bring warmer clothes – and a hat. She was way ahead of me on the clothes and reminded me that I had a cap in the hospital already. I repeated she better bring a hat just in case I needed to pee on the way home. I thought it was funny but Gina didn’t just let it slide by.

I imagined Mini-Ratched was pleased that I had left and wouldn’t be around for her shift. I know I was very pleased; even in the cold and blizzard conditions, and the fact the rest of the Twins first home stand had been rescheduled to be played in baseball weather.

My life changed. I revolved around doctor’s appointments. My regular doctor, the heart clinic, the brain clinic. The later was the most crucial to monitor my brain in case of a fluid buildup which often occurs after a blow to head. Each week I went to the hospital and had a Cscan. Then I went to the brain clinic where a tech looked at the scan. Each time it showed no fluid. Things were looking good.

Not good enough for me to fly to Tulsa for our oldest grandchild’s wedding though. That really hurt me. Almost everyone in the entire family flew out to the wedding of Erik and Erin.

Our first grandchild! Gina was Grandma Day Care and I was Erik’s Poppa Reader. First Dr. Suess and as Eric grew older, the Harry Potter books as soon as they were published. And I had to miss his wedding.

In addition to my medical problems, my wife had an operation coming up, scheduled before my fall, to help her breath. Something she should have had done years ago. She had doctor appointments and tests leading up to the surgery which would entail grafting a piece of bone in her nose.

Getting around to our doctor appointments and going to the stores presented no problem even though I shouldn’t drive, and my wife couldn’t drive. Between the sons, daughter-in-laws, and the older grandkids, we were never at loss for a driver. Family! Wonderful family!

On the 5th week after the fall, the brain technician said things were looking so good, I could maybe be ‘discharged’ the next week and do monthly checkups instead of weekly.

I was in good spirits the next week when I went through the Cscan and then over to the brain clinic. The tech took one look at the scan film that came via the internet to the office; she gasped and my good spirits changed to a deep depression.

She said I had a fluid lump about the size of a ‘clementine’ competing with my brain for space in my cranium. She would contact the surgeon and the hospital. And I would get in the car, my oldest son was driving, and get to the hospital on the double. ASAP! Do not pass GO and collect $200. Whatever! Just get a going!


End Act II. Curtain closes to the sound of Chuck Berry singing:


16 thoughts on “THE FALL -Act II

  1. Don,

    Goodness! Life is so precious. We fight for it. And endure the Hells of the struggle. I don’t envy you and admire your spirit.
    A Dear Dear Friend of my mine just passed. He had a stroke a while back and was dealing with the ongoing issues and treatment. Yet he worked where I did – and rarely missed a shift. Some days he looked awful. Tired and pale. But always smiled and said he was fine. Recently he came in for a shift and he looked great – his colour was back and he looked well. I told his so and I was happy. It looked like he was going to beat this thing.
    2 days later he passed.
    Shock. Shocked. So shocked. Hit me like a sledge. I cried and cried. Still am.
    I knew John for over 40 years. But we went back looong before this lifetime. We had been Brothers in Arms in the past. That’s a very strong bond. You would know.
    I know that Spiritually he is OK. Better than OK. But I will miss him so much. Such a fine person.
    Yet ‘Those who Love are never parted’ – and that Love is the fibre, fabric and foundation of All.
    I don’t know what to say really. It’s Glorious, but sad. All mixed together.

    I hope you be well.

  2. Thank you, JC for your words of wisdom and well wishes. I am sorry for the loss of your friend. Love, life, and death… And as the poet says ‘the bell tolls for thee’.
    I guess the best we can hope for is we left the world a little better than we entered it.

  3. I share your pain Don, three years ago, for the first time in my life checked into an emergency room, and it turned to be a life changing experience, I sort of laugh, and smile about your misadventures at the hospital, I went through the same things, and something I got clear is I do not want to repeat it ever again, and do not wish it on anybody!

    Unfortunately as we age, well just things seem to fall apart, and it seems we just can’t stay out of doctor’s offices, tests, and all kind of check ups!

    The good thing Don, your sense of humor, and your writing abilities, are as good as ever, and you brought it all back to me, and added some laughs, at my own miseries, keep up the good spirits, and continue to delight us with your off Stage tales, and humor, even if this time you were on the limelight’s right on center stage. 🙂

  4. And here I was thinking that Act II would be saying that everything was tickety-boo again. I feel for you in your ongoing trials. We have had many deaths in our circle over the last six months, some a relief after debilitating illness, others an out-of-the-blue event. And I am hearing more and more cases of atrial fibrillation, either requiring a jump-start or a pacemaker, similar to your original diagnosis – but fluid on the brain is not so common. I am sending every good wish for your recovery.

    One friend, when being queried by the anesthetist about allergies, replied “cemeteries”. Had a similar sense of humour to you 🙂

  5. Well they just can’t get rid of you, Don. Try as they might. That’s the spirit! The pacemaker will go till the end of the century. And as I recall you had more than enough room for some clementines upstairs. One day at a time. Your cancellation story reminded me of when we were doing National Health. I’d come back from NY to do the one show. You might recall that I had these long monologues and one was describing an operation that was going on upstage. All the doctors were gathered round. I was supposed to have a mic but that hadn’t been set up yet, so for weeks I had to shout my lines so deaf Ollie Cliff could hear his cues. Eventually the stress combined with a cold and I lost my voice. My rehearsal was cancelled while Cranney drove me to a throat doctor who was on the board. I went in, no pain just couldn’t talk. I sat down. He took one look at my throat and left the room. I heard murmuring from the room next door and realized he was telling his wife to exchange their opening night tickets!
    Will be thinking of you tomorrow. David Ball is coming into town for some meeting. He and Gideon Schein and Ivar and I are having lunch together. Should be a hoot. Will try to get a pic up. Be well. As I said, one day at a time. You have to be in shape for the Twins.

    • Great bit about the doc and the tickets. Would that be considered insider trading?
      Thanks for your well wishes. Saw the pictures of you and David. Did he get to see your work at the Parson’s Nose?
      As far as National Health is concerned, I loved it. You had a real tour de force, I had forgotten that you weren’t with us that season and they brought back for that role in National.
      And as for Ollie… What a character!
      Any way have fun with Mark Twain. It sounds exciting.

  6. Jerry sounds like quite a character. I’m sorry you missed the wedding but on the plus side you’re here and they’ll want that more than anything for all the family gatherings to come.

  7. Dear dear Don! I loaded this page to read again, to cement the details of Act II to my memory, and realized that Act III is still waiting for the intermission to end! I then scrolled down the comments and was surprised that I’d not ‘signed the book.’ Lo siento- I’m sorry! That’s one problem of living in the Garden of Eden – God doesn’t provide internet here! I am writing off line and will send this the next time I drive out and stop at the cyber!

    A kind caregiver is such a comfort when one is dealing with illness, and an insensitive one seems like Satan is using that person to glean new residents to his underworld! I liked that you told her what she could do with that wand! That made me laugh!

    I once tattled on a nurse Ratchet – and to my astonishment she never set foot back in that hospital room! My son was very ill and we spent a month there, and I’m glad that we didn’t have to endure her unkind spirit another night. Humph!

    It would never be a good experience to witness a tech gasp after looking at a brain scan! Because you are sharing this story with us tells me that they were able to fix the problem! If I were in the theater and Act II ends, we would be ‘on the edge of our seats’ – wondering if our Hero might not live to reach the hospital!

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