Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Hey Grim Reaper: Can I get a second opinion?

I got a call yesterday from Doris, one of my oldest friends, the person who has stood by me through thick and thin, the woman who has always been there for us, to lend us a few bucks when times were rough, and offer herself up to the Masterchef as a guinea pig at our tasting table.
Doris may be the only person I talk with on the telephone anymore; in this age of texting, she hasn't quite got the touch. So the phone rings at least twice a week with news about doctors' appointments, new medication and her strong-like-bull 85-year-old dad.
But yesterday's call took on a different tone. It was ominous.
Her husband Bob is what a gerontologist would call "young elderly," a man who spent most of his life grabbing life by the tits and squeezing them. David Sedaris would call him a man "with good time teeth," though he has few of them left in his head thanks to his daily consumption of rum and coke over a four decade drinking career.
Is Bob an alcoholic? Does Gordie poop on my bed?
That's beside the point.
I like to think of Bob as a rascal, a throw back to the tarnished age of journalism, the period you see in all the old movies.
"Hello, schweet haht, get me rewrite."
As a teenager, Bob bailed on school to follow his dream of becoming a sports writer. He was a pretty good one "back in the day" and can still tell you way more about the Toronto Blue Jays than you'll ever want to know.
He followed in his father's footsteps and became a cub reporter and worked as a minor player in a few smaller newspapers. Bob never got that journalism was about work. For him, it was mostly about play. Bob always believed that work is what you do in between card games, benders, cool new recreational drugs and legovers. Man, he loved that part of the game.
In recent years, Bob's good times had caught up with him. He's been sick for at least ten years with a variety of ailments and just three years ago was hospitalized with a hole he bored into his lung which allowed food to seep into it causing a bacterial infection. While in the hospital, the docs also discovered he had cirrhosis, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and some weird condition of the extremities that made them look like claws..
For years, we used to call him lobster man.
In short, Bob had nearly everything a body could have. He was as close to six feet under as you could get without actually visiting the morgue.
Miraculously, Bob rebounded and took up residence at that fabulous resort we call the Ottawa Hospital, first in an induced coma, then in chronic care, then in a rehab facility.
By the time he got out, though, he was extremely diminished. At age 61, he looked 90.
No matter. He still had a pulse and eyes good enough to watch golf and baseball twenty-four-seven.
Bob was sent home with 21 pills and two puffers but not before he received a very stern lecture from his medical team about his drinking. The smoking? Well, they reminded him, you know what happened to the Marlboro Man.
Didn't matter to Bob.
As soon as Bob got in the car he asked Doris for a cigarette.
The good news was that Bob did indeed stop drinking.
He knew he would die from the drink and wasn't about to return to the place of tubes and bedpans. Eventually, he took back his spot on our back deck, although Captain Morgan had been banned from the tasting table replaced by his new personal trainer, Oxycodon who was constantly by his side.
And so it was Bob continued his life. Doris -- I swear I'm recommending her for sainthood -- was vigilant about all the medication, including the Oxycodon that was prescribed for the pain in his extremities. She could have gotten rich selling Oxy to the crackheads across the way, but instead she fed it to Bob.
Doris diligently weighed and measured his food, made his three egg omelettes, arranged his pills in his dossette and ferried Bob to a cattle call of medical appointments.
Bob seemed to get better, especially after the Oxy.
I mean, why not love your life when you're on painkillers given only to professionals?
What's not to Celebrex?
But time started to run out on Bob. Despite being a model patient, his past trespasses caught up with him a few days ago and there was nothing to Celebrex, nothing at all.
Doris called yesterday in that low voice I've come to recognize as the voiceover for Catastrophe: The Movie.
On the weekend, Bob got the tremors and started spewing blood.
The lifesavers were dispatched and he was back in the hospital.
The docs hooked him up to all manner of tubes and drips and reported that he had a high amount of ammonia in his liver. Also, he had a very low hemoglobin count.
"Your husband is a very sick man," the doctor told Doris.
She had heard that earworm before a half dozen times. But every cat only has nine lives and Bob had used up ten or twelve of his.
The medical management had not worked. The pills had rotted his gut. The liver had kept consuming itself regardless of his abstinence. The ammonia was going to his brain.
So today, we sit and wait.
Last night, Scott and I sat on the deck and told Bob stories. We wondered if Bob, the champion couch potato pitcher would be able to pull off a triple at the end of the ninth.
I don't know what will happen to Bob.
I hope for peace for him, for respite from the pain and the pills and the puffers.
But I suspect the old bugger isn't done with this world yet.
If he pulls through this time, he'll enter into the lexicon of journalism lore surpassing his old pals Jake McLean who just kept drinking and Al Rogers who jumped off a building.
He'll definitely get the award for most improved.

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