Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Shortest of Them All

Yesterday morning, I found C. both less and more lucid on the phone. He didn’t seem to recognize my voice and I had to tell him it was me, but then he asked, “Have I told you where I was? I’m in the hospital. I’m in S.F. General.”

“No kidding! What are you doing there?”

“That’s the shortest of them all.”

Then he spoke very flowery and romantic words, which I hope were meant for me, though I can’t be sure. He also said, “You’re a very comforting doctor,” which I think was definitely meant for me.

I told him, “I’m coming to visit later,” and he said, “Well, you know, about that—it’s 9:30 now but I don’t know where I am.” He was quite right about it being 9:30, but he’d already forgotten about being in the hospital.

I took a shower and ate breakfast and then Tom and I went over to C.’s to test the new keys, oil the mailbox lock, get cash from J. for the rent and PG&E, and have J. talk to C.’s brother on the phone. We ran into a neighbor of C.’s, who said that, on fine mornings, he used to go up on the roof and crow like a rooster. Next Tom and his girlfriend, D., and I went to drop off a TV that was sitting on the sidewalk at e-waste and then D. kindly drove me down to my office so I could pick up some things that had been delivered there.

At 3:45, I walked over to SFGH, detouring to El Metate to sit down and have a rice and bean burrito. I really like one of their red salsas, which has a distinctive smoky flavor. I read The New Yorker while I ate it and continued to the hospital. When I went into C.’s room, he was standing, talking to a nurse who was seated at the computer terminal.

I brought along his book, My Heart in the Matter, and read to him from it, which lulled him to sleep—the nurse observed that my presence relaxed him—and I sang him his song “The Otter's Manifesto,” a truly charming work. (“I'm so glad to be an otter and I'm swimmin' cause I've gotter ... ”) He had at least five visitors today. He is not in any pain, but he is surprised every time his eye falls on the I.V. in his arm.

His appetite is pretty much nonexistent, a worry for the nurses. They are wonderful; it’s obvious that several of them are quite enjoying C. His dinner consisted of precisely one small bite of a cracker. He offered me some of his meal in lieu of eating it himself, but I told him I'd had a burrito on my way over. He said wonderingly, “I didn't know you ate burritos. Did we ever go burrito eating?”

“Last week we had burritos together at Papalote.”

“Papalote. Where is that?”

“It's at 24th and Valencia.”

I imagine he has been at that intersection five thousand times in his 30 years of living very nearby, but he replied, “24th and Valencia. I don't know it.”

I have a few photos on my refrigerator of him that I took a month or so after we met. He looks exceedingly happy, smiling hugely at me. I was happy, too. It was a delirious time. That fellow is gone and probably will never be seen again (even if C. is somehow rid of brain cancer). What I’m doing now—the phone calls, the emails, the errands, the financial stuff, the healthcare-related stuff, dealing with various parties of all sorts of temperament and in different states of mental health and with a variety of agendas—I’m doing partly in honor of that fellow who was here but is now gone, who made me fairly miserable quite a number of times, but who also brought a tremendous amount of joy and delight.

Thanks to him, it no longer sounds fun to go out to dinner by myself, to walk around by myself, not to receive a phone call first thing in the morning.
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