A Picture, Health

Submitted by jjcho on February 27, 2016 - 9:00pm

They're keeping Ray in the hospital until at least March 8, to look at some other things. Ray was, of course, a Northside guy through-and-through, and got some flak from friends in the old neighborhood when he moved to the Southside. Now he's got a month on the Westside as well. All the better for the memoir, I joked.

It does mean though that he'll be in a hospital bed on March 6, his 79th birthday, and that makes him unhappy. Not feisty there-aren't-enough-girls-coming-downstairs-for-brunch unhappy. Not exasperated Jeff-Karlin-that-sumbitch-what-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-a-sack-of-barley unhappy. Not cantankerous what-did-I-tell-you-about-electing-Hotelie-stewards unhappy. I've never seen this type of unhappy. A quiet unhappy, resigned yet unsettled. An unhappy unhappy.

At least Lillie comes. She had a stroke a few years ago and uses a walker, but she makes that trek from Titus Towers up West Hill to Cayuga Med just about every day. His sons visit pretty often as well, driving in with the grandkids from Newark, N.Y. in Wayne County, about an hour and a half away. The hospital staff loves them, and looks the other way when the family stay a little later than the 9pm close of visiting hours. On more than one occasion, a son has spent the whole night in a chair by his side; there is a duffel there with a change of clothes. The rest of the time, Ray holds court with a neverending parade of dieticians, nurses, hospital volunteers, and the physical therapist. Lots of time with the physical therapist.

Ray was never the picture of health in the best of times, even though he was careful never to eat his own cooking. I don't think Lillie allows Sysco Butter-It® Creamy Liquid Butter Alternative or Sysco Light Brown Gravy Mix in the house. The picture hasn't improved in retirement, unfortunately. The arthritis makes it painful to move around much. Lack of exercise doesn't exactly help with the diabetes. This month in the hospital all started with a small cut on his big toe, which progressed to gangrene and an ambulance ride, and fear of losing the whole leg, and of what the other tests would say about his heart, his lungs, his kidneys.

A toe doesn't seem like much on a 270-pound frame, but the big toe is the most important one for balance and walking, which he now has to re-learn. He does four sessions with the physical therapist every day, starting in the morning and going through the early afternoon. I made him promise to keep at it so he could visit the renovated house at Reunion in June; I deflected when he asked about stairs. He spoke fondly of Veg's visit, and of the time MEF and some of the other guys visited him at Titus Towers a little while ago. Hearing from brothers cheers him up. That, and the dietician telling him he could have sugar-free diet ginger ale with every meal if he wanted it (he did). And that the hospital kitchen would make him a hamburger with lettuce and tomato. Lettuce and tomato on a hamburger! If he were still cooking at Lambda Chi, he'd have to try that some time.

He marveled that Faizal was expecting, but not as much as that Joe Kane had gotten married, or that Lambda Chi was still going strong on the hill, or that anybody liked the mayor, Svante Myrick. "Another one of these Cornell people who sticks around and thinks the people born and raised here are stupid," he grumbles. The new Ithaca Commons, admittedly, doesn't have much to offer the working class. There's a Tibetan import shop, a botanical therapy lounge, a gourmet oil and vinegar dealer, and a maté café. You can get kava and skate shoes and vegan chocolate. "But Jason," he sighs, "there's no place people like me can buy undershirts."

We're interrupted by the nurse. Ray knows the drill. "RaMON Arthur Melton, three-six-thirty-seven" he intones as she takes his stats. When she leaves, he says he might leave Ithaca. One of his sons is in the market for a house in Wayne County, and might get one with an in-law suite. It's just an idea, for now. Nursing homes are in the mix. In the meantime, he and Lillie need to rearrange their apartment to accommodate assisted chairs and a hospital bed, and hope they can get bumped up the waitlist for a handicapped unit. He doesn't want to burden Lillie with taking care of him, above all. Besides, "buddy, she can't pick me up if I fall."

It's not the note I wanted to leave on, but Initiation was resuming soon, and I had to take my leave. "Are you up for a picture, Ray?" He is. It won't be a selfie. We're both too old for that. But he gives me the thumbs-up.