My father’s stroke: 3

Emergency Room

Emergency Room

Six days into Passover, the temperature got up to 49 degrees. It had begun raining Monday night. The downpour continued throughout Tuesday. Of all days to find my father standing outside by the passenger side of his car and hissing uncontrollably. Saliva was shooting out of his mouth like water through the spray nozzle of a garden hose. He was soaked from his newspaper boy cap down to his K-Mart sneakers.

I got the passenger-side door open and my mother and I angled him into the seat. My father has always been a wiry guy, even in his atrophying diabetic state. Combined with muscular rigidity brought on by this attack, he had a hard time ducking into the car.

“Papa, are you able to direct me home?” I asked him.

He couldn’t speak. He nodded yes and pointed me to a right-hand turn using his¬†stiffened right arm.

My mother got into the back seat and attempted to massage whatever was happening to my father’s face into compliance. This time her efforts had no effect.

Once I got onto Haddonfield-Berlin Road, I knew the way home. I kept asking my father for directions anyway. I had to check if he was still aware of his surroundings. He was.

Kennedy Memorial, a university hospital for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, has a center about a half-mile from my parents’ house. “Papa, can I take you to the emergency room?” I asked.

An enraged arm motion signaled, “Absolutely not.”

I am a guilt-ridden daughter who has spent at least the last ten years actively repenting for a lifetime of obnoxiousness toward my parents. I have not argued with either of them since 1998 when the three of us traveled to Poland together. My rebellious nature has gone into eclipse and I do what my father demands: I keep driving to the house.

At home my father sat down on the sofa. The hissing and spitting didn’t stop. I sneaked into one of the back bedrooms and called my father’s DO friend on my cell phone. He and a couple other of my father’s doctor-friends had paid a get-well-call the night before and told me to phone them if I needed help. I let the phone ring seven or eight times and gave up.

Next I called my father’s nephrologist, one of the doctors who had told me to call in an emergency. I told him that my father was having some kind of episode and I didn’t know what to do.

He said, “Call 911.”

I felt like an ass. These doctors told me to call them in case of an emergency. They should have told me to call 911.

I went back into the living room to call 911 from the wall phone. Even through his seizure, my father was wildly pissed off at me. He got up from the sofa. My mother intercepted him and walked him to the bathroom. While I was describing my father’s condition to who knows who on the phone, I heard my mother start to cry.

“Di hast zikh bekakt!”

He had soiled himself. At least now I knew I was right to disregard his wishes. I never knew this to happen to him. Ever.

My mother wept as she got my father into the tub. He was still seizing when she walked him back to the living room wrapped in bath towels.

I went outside to wait for the ambulance. I was afraid EMS would have a hard time finding my parents’ house, especially in the rain.

Nothing happened. An ambulance from nearby Cinnaminson passed the house on its way to Kennedy. The two pudgy EMTs could have downed a cup of coffee and some doughnuts between the time I called and the time they finally arrived in another ambulance. Maybe they are trained to smirk so they can keep themselves calm.

They wheeled out a stretcher. “I don’t know how you’re going to get him to go with you,” I said.

My father was still spitting and hissing when they came into the house.

“Oh, he definitely should be seen,” said one of them. The two of them looked like giant Pillsbury Doughboys.

They wrapped my father up in my parents’ towels.

“You have to get him into his boxers,” I said.

“They’ll only take them off at the hospital,” said an EMT.

“You can’t take him out like this,” I said. I insisted that they pull on my father’s boxers. They sort of did and sort of didn’t, like it wasn’t really their job. Morons.

I rode to Kennedy next to the driver. I turned around to look at my father in the back of the van. He wasn’t fighting his capture anymore. The seizing didn’t stop and he reconciled himself to care by aliens.


The triage nurse, a pretty, fit woman with a flip-floppy ponytail, apologized to one of the chubby EMTs for her bad mood the last time she saw him. He said, “Everybody’s entitled to a bad day,” and stared at her breasts. I thought, who cares about your moods and your lust? My father is going to die in this place.

Various techs and nurses took his vital signs. Somebody put an oxygen mask on his face. The hissing and spitting wouldn’t stop.

“Is this normal for him?” a nurse asked me.

“Does he look normal to you?” I asked her.

“Some of our questions are going to sound stupid,” she said. “We have to ask them.”

The exchange was like something from “ER” on TV.

I felt bad for my father that he was now a client to be processed, a statistic concerning end-of-life care. He had tubes in his nose and his neck and an IV stuck into the back of his hand. To the young medical staff, he was an old man in the middle of some bizarre episode the likes of which nobody seemed ever to have seen before. I was in everybody’s way, but nobody yelled at me to move. Their patience made me wonder if my father was deteriorating.

A seventy-ish Iranian Jew on the other side of the curtain was having a spat with his much younger wife. He threatened to call the police if she took the house keys out of his jacket pocket.

After half an hour, in the midst of his seizure, a black tech wheeled my father away for a CT-scan. He told me he had grown up near 164th Street in the Bronx and in Spring Valley, New York. “You look so worried,” he said to me.

Don’t cry in front of the staff.

I was about to call my mother when she showed up in the ER. She had walked in the dark, in the rain, on her sciatica-weakened legs from the house to the hospital.

She started crying when the techs wheeled my father back in.

My father spoke. His speech was slurred, but still relatively clear. “It stopped,” he said.

“It stopped!” I said.

The seizing was over and he was back to himself. The medical staff hadn’t even noticed.

My father joked with the nurses and then with the cardiologist and neurologist who came by to see him. He had no rancor toward me for having called 911. In fact, I hadn’t seen him so alert in almost two years.

This is what he’s normally like,” I told the nurses.

He didn’t even object when the doctors told him he should be admitted for observation.

“Tell my wife and daughter to go home,” he said.

“Pesha’s on her way,” I said.

“She doesn’t have to come,” he said.

“You gave her an excuse not to deal with her mother-in-law.”

My father managed a crooked little smile.

Just then the shul cantor came into the ER.

“I saw your mother walk into the hospital,” he said. “I was concerned.” The cantor is a devout man with a beard. He rarely acknowledges me in shul, but in this crisis, his eyes were kind.

What with my father’s visitors, the staff and the Iranian Jew calling the police on his wife, this section of the ER was starting to take on a party atmosphere.

At some point my father would have to eat. It was Passover and he wouldn’t touch bread, let alone anything unkosher. My mother and I went home to cook. Pesha arrived a short while later. She ended up camping out in my father’s room for the next three nights. A good thing she did because, after all the fun and good times were past, a night nurse gave my father ten times his normal dose of insulin and almost killed him.

NEXT: My father’s stroke: 4


My father’s stroke: 1

My father’s stroke: 2

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  1. Will Runyon said

    Oh, Barbara, I am overwhelmed by your love, caring and ability to find such humor in the human condition. How lucky you (and we) are than you can express yourself so eloquently in such dire circumstances.

    You’re right to challenge everything in medical care. While MDs et al are often highly skilled and well meaning, too often their scope of things is so confined it’s easy to become a victim of unintended consequences. I’m praying for you all.

  2. […] My father’s stroke: 3 […]

  3. […] NEXT: My father’s stroke: 3 […]

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