Thursday, September 07, 2006

Old age humor

A little old lady crippled with arthritis, shuffling along with a walker, drags the long handle of a huge sledge hammer behind her, slowing her snail's pace even further. Tottering on thin, bird-like legs, she lets go of the walker and manhandles the sledge hammer up and onto her doctor's desk. Reeling a little from exhaustion and exertion, she leans against the doctor's desk, both hands planted on the rich mahogany wood. She fixes the doctor with a determined stare and leans closer, cocking her head to the side so she can hear him better. The doctor still stunned to silence by the old lady's determination, shakes his head in wonder. Pointing one gnarled, arthritic finger at the doctor she says, "Cure me or kill me. I'm not leaving until you do."

That's what my mother said this evening as we talked on the phone. Beanie called and told me Mom couldn't even get out of bed today and that Dad is threatening to cash in Mom's train tickets for her journey out here next month. Tonight Mom told me Dad better not hold his breath waiting for her to give in because one way or another she's going to Colorado.

Each time I call and ask how they are the list of pains and ills grows longer and it takes longer to get the information from my father because his hearing is worse. He used to be able to hear me when I used my stage voice, pitching it in the lower registers and projecting to the back of a packed theater. That no longer works. The whole neighborhood hears our private family conversations now. I don't raise my voice in anger but with my father I have to raise my voice to be heard.

When I called tonight Dad answered the phone, which in itself is unusual since the phone is Mom's province. Dad learned long ago that when the phone rang it wasn't going to be for him, so he doesn't get out of his seat or rush over to pick it up. When we were growing up the phone was usually for us and now that we're grown and gone the phone is for Mom. Tonight Dad was closer to the phone so he picked it up while Mom worked her way from the kitchen to the squirrel's nest around her prescription orthopedic lounger with a walker while carrying a mug of hot chocolate. As Dad explained this to me I yelled (only to be heard) that he should take the cup from her so she could manage the walker easier. He took the cup and left me dangling on the phone while they worked their way toward Mom's chair. Dad told me that he got home from Wally World to find Mom hadn't even been out of bed because she was in so much pain. He dug the walker out of the garage, cleaned it up and brought it to her so she could get around. I can't see her with the walker but I have seen enough elderly people with their Zimmer frames to know how it looks and to wonder that my mother now has to use one.

The above joke is my rendition of her words. She's going to see her orthopedic surgeon and told me she was going to take a hammer with her. I asked her why. "I'm going to throw it down on his desk and tell him to cure me or kill me."

"You'd better take a big hammer," I told her. She'll do it, too. That's one thing we have in common, determination.

When I was in labor with my third son, A.J. (short for Anthony James), I told the doctor, a very handsome young major, that if he had been wrong all those months while I was pregnant and he pulled out a boy I'd tell him to shove it back up there and try again. He thought I was joking. Major Teddy Bear (what the nurses called him when they heard me say he was as cute as a teddy bear) stood between my legs, gowned and gloved, and pulled the wriggling human from between my legs. Through the haze of blood and sweat and pain I looked for my child, unable to see the sex from the back. "It's a boy," the doctor crowed.

"Shove it back up there and try again," I said.

Tomorrow Mom will dig the biggest hammer she can find from my father's tool box and she will lug it to her doctor's office in the suitcase stuffed with perfumed scented Kleenex and Ziploc bags of gold and silver and platinum jewelry she calls a purse and she will heave that hammer onto his desk saying, "Kill me or cure me." Days like today when I'm tired and cranky from lack of sleep and too many hours of work, I feel the same way. One thing I know for certain is that Mom will be here next month -- if the doctor doesn't use the hammer.

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