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Hospital slow motion
John Howell

What was she thinking? Didn’t she understand that there were only two lanes on the circle in front of the hospital and by stopping alongside me everything would come to a halt? After all, I had secured the last “waiting stop.” Couldn’t she see that?

Then there was the sheriff, who was two cars behind her. He would be out in a moment and have us all cleared out. This woman was going to ruin it for all of us.

I glanced in the rear view mirror, the guy behind looked agitated. He must be thinking the same thing, cursing the stupidity of the newest arrival.

Stretching the limits of authority has an uneasy feel; at least it does for me.

I was already mentally rehearsing what I would tell the sheriff when he approached and informed me that I had extended the posted five minutes of waiting time. I would tell him the truth that my father was being discharged and that I needed to be there to pick him up. And I would elaborate, making it sound somewhat direr than reality. At 94, he would have difficulty walking to the parking lot – the truth is he would probably ask why I was at the front door.

“What, you don’t think I can walk to the car?”

And then I was prepared with the secondary line of reasoning – that it was just a minute more.

There was no need to concoct a story.

The sheriff, who was on his cell phone, didn’t budge from behind the wheel. The automatic doors to the hospital kept opening and closing, but there was no sign of my father or Marge, his companion, who at 86 is a bundle of energy. I relaxed. Possibly the car alongside me would pull away and order would be restored.

That was hardly the case.

The woman jumped out of the Jeep and raced around the front to the passenger door, which was already a crack open.

The door was thrown open and I could see the head of someone slumped in the passenger seat. The driver was now pulling at the passenger, trying to get her out of the vehicle. I looked around. The rest of the scene was unchanged. A couple of people stood in the hospital entrance. The sheriff was still on his cell and a couple, walking from the parking lot with a bouquet of day lilies entered the hospital.

What was unfolding, at least from my perspective, had the elements of being an emergency. But then again, the pace of life in Cooperstown, N.Y., is generally more subdued. There surely was no rush to get my father out the door.

He had been admitted the prior afternoon after Marge had found him motionless in front of the television. A retired nurse, Marge immediately felt for a pulse and blood pressure and then called for emergency. By the time the rescue arrived, my father had revived. He instantly recognized the rescue driver as one of the locals, asked if he cared for a drink and fussed when told he was being taken to the hospital. He wanted to ride in the front seat, but Sean insisted otherwise. He was placed on a gurney.

Marge wanted things checked out and he complied.

By the time she got back to the house, he was on the phone inquiring when she would pick him up. She told him he would be spending the night. He protested. She held firm. She had had enough of a scare for the day.

By the next morning when Marge and I arrived to spring him free, he was ready. A physician assistant concluded, as based on multiple tests, that he had been seriously dehydrated. Fortunately, it was nothing more serious.

He was prepared to leave, but she had a few questions. It was what you would expect, including inquiries of whether he had eaten breakfast, felt pain anywhere or had questions she could answer.

He knew what she wanted to hear and was the model patient. When it got to his question, he was the cordial host, suggesting that being the Fourth of July weekend, she might enjoy stopping over. She declined gracefully and she cleared him for discharge. He changed and we waited. Finally, after 20 minutes, I visited the nurses’ station and was informed it could be another 20 minutes.

That was the point I suggested I could get the car. My father and Marge seemed relieved that something was happening. But 20 minutes turned into 30 and 30 into 45.

There was a lot of waiting. People looked busy, nurses leafing though paperwork and moving room to room. I left to get the car and then the five-minute wait turned into 10 and on and on.

Then, all of a sudden, everything was in high gear.

The driver beside me was racing inside the hospital lobby.

The passenger remained slumped in her seat, her door open and I thought there was a good chance she would fall on the pavement.

I rushed to the car. She was going through some form of convulsions, wheezing terribly and moaning. Yet she was trying to get out of the car.

I looked around for assistance. The sheriff was still on his cell. If anyone had taken notice, they didn’t show it.

They were all in hospital slow motion.

I helped the passenger out of the car. She was short and heavier than I expected. I wondered if I would be able to hold her up. The driver returned with a wheelchair. She looked frantic, her face white.

“It’s my mother,” she said breathlessly, “I think she’s having a heart attack and she’s’ been vomiting.”

Was she expecting me to render a diagnosis?

“Let’s get her into the hospital,” I suggested.

I looked back and cars were starting to line up.

“Hand me your keys,” I said as she started for the door.

Without a thought she gave them to me.

I got behind the wheel, moving the Jeep half way around the circle to a clearly defined “no parking” zone. At least traffic was flowing again, not that anyone seemed to care.

“Who are you,” asked this voice from the backseat. I looked around to come face-to-face with an elderly gentleman.

“Just moving your car,” I told him.

“Better hand over the keys,” he said. I did. I opened his door and guided him into the hospital where I found his daughter bent over his wife. The daughter looked more in control; her mother was breathing easier.

I looked around for my father and Marge. There was still no sign of them.

“I’m waiting to pick up my father,” I explained.

The woman was surprised. She had assumed I was on the hospital staff. “This is Leah,” she said introducing her mother, “I’m Marcy.”

I wished them well and went off to see if I could find my father. He and Marge were still on the third floor completing paperwork, but it wasn’t long.

On the way out, I waved to Marcy and her parents who were still in front of the admissions desk. Marcy waved back.

Our car was just where I left it. It was a bright sunny day, perfect.

The sheriff was on his cell. We were good to go.


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