Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Safety in Numbers

The morning John was to have surgery on his broken arm was the first time I'd ever seen him without his teeth. I didn't even know my father wore dentures until the moment I walked into his room. It's not the kind of thing he'd want me to know.

Another thing John wouldn't want me to know is that he has been wearing Depends for at least a year or so. But last week at the other hospital, a harried nurse without the time or tact for modesty charged into his room while I was visiting, shouting, "MR. JOHN! MR. JOHN! YOU HAVE BOW MOVE MEN?? YOU NEED YOUR DIAPER CHANGE???"

Anyway, I pulled up a chair next to my dad's bed and we watched the early edition of the local news. A story about Phil Spector's trial came on. John pointed to the screen. "They oughta lock that guy up." Then, there was a piece about a triple amputee who managed to evade Florida police during a high speed car chase. The man, who has no arms and only one leg, had been arrested several times before on drug and illegal driving charges, for kicking a state trooper twice, and for head-butting his wife. A friend said the amputee was, "The best driver and the worst person," he had ever met. I explained the story to John and he nodded his approval. "Good for him."

Surgery was scheduled for 6 AM. The night before, John encouraged me and Trudy to go home early. "I don't need you here. Go home. It's late. Where are you parked? Where's the lot? Is it in front of the hospital? Is it well lit? Are you parked near each other?" Up until he broke his neck last September, John had insisted on walking me to my car, slipping me a $20, and watching me drive away every time I visited. Despite that ritual, John was never an overly protective father. Growing up, I could go where ever I wanted, whenever I wanted, as long as I heeded his sagely nuggets of caution: "There's safety in numbers." "Always carry mad money." "Don't be cheap; park in a lot." "When you're walking alone at night, always carry your keys in your fist, so they stick out from between your fingers. If someone comes at you, go for his eyes."

At 6:30, the nurse came to wheel my father into the operating room. She insisted that he remove his watch. John has worn the same Baume & Mercier tank watch that my mom gave him for I don't know how long. It drives her crazy that he refuses to replace its beat up brown leather band. I slipped it on my wrist for safekeeping just as Trudy turned up, late, and looking startled that she'd arrived in time to see John off.

Together, we followed John's gurney down the hall toward surgery, while Trudy complained about the traffic going east on the 10 freeway.

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