Discover more from the way we weren't
Hey, honey, take a walk
Lou Reed, dead parakeets, and Infectious Disease Experts
“So we know you owned birds in the ‘80s, lived in Arizona in high school, and drank too much one night in the late ‘70s,” began the Infectious Disease Expert as she referenced my dad’s chart at his hospital bed.
“What?!?” I laughed. “You told them about a night you drank too much before I was even born?”
“THEY ASKED!!!” he efforted from beneath all the tubes.
I flew to Chicago last weekend to surprise my dad and keep him company in the hospital as he sort of miserably recovered from one surgery and readied for another, a removal of a quickly-growing abscess on his lung. My dad’s lung was infected and a mystery bacteria was causing him a debilitating cough. They took samples, they grew cultures, but the specific type of bacteria eluded these disease experts, and they were confounded. This apparently led them down every conceivable investigative path, including interviews about what types of pets he had ever owned (a parakeet he received for his 44th birthday, whom he named “44” and whose lifeless little feathered corpse he carried around for an entire day in his suit jacket, to court, even, so that after work he could give him a “proper burial at sea” (Lake Michigan) - one of my mom’s all-time favorite stories), and apparently all the times he’s ever had too much to drink (just once in my living memory, at my grade school auction, which turned out to be great, actually, because it led to us scoring a trip to Hawaii that Christmas).
My dad? lol
I arrived at dawn after a redeye to see my city just waking up, hot and humid, the delicious, sticky duo of a Chicago summer. I took a train that whistled and whined the whole way from O’Hare to Grand Ave, and I was thrilled and grateful for the newness of this aural irritation, one that I could have easily drowned out with headphones, if I wanted to. I didn’t. I loved hearing the thunder of the wheels over the tracks, pounding under and then over the city.
The days went quickly, hospitals are like Vegas or swimming pools in that way - time simply doesn’t exist there. I slept on a couch in my dad’s ICU room, awakened along with him at 1am for vital checks, at 3 am for X-rays, at 4am to be weighed (?!). I mean they would not let this 81 year-old man sleep!!!!! Before retiring just to be woken up 900 times, in the early evenings we would watch 1990s dramas. I finally saw A Few Good Men (except this time, with commercials!), though due to their draconian settings I was unable to remove the motion smoothing from the hospital TV which irked me to no end (Tyler has ruined my experience of hotel TVs with this knowledge, don’t look it up if you don’t know it or you too will be ruined).
The big highlights were our daily walks around the ICU wing. I would play songs on my phone and we’d bop our hips and point our fingers as we carefully plodded up the halogen-lit halls, him holding onto his wheeling IV tower and me holding onto his heavy plastic purse box of fluid that was still draining out of his lung.
This, but with human fluids inside it. Clare V. could never!
The soundtrack of our first stroll was Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side, which I thought would cheer him but the convalescent setting made me highly aware, maybe for the first time, of what the song is about (transgender sex workers). As the days went by, and my dad grew stronger, he walked faster, bop-pointed his fingers more commandingly, and demanded Buddy Holly b-sides. “Boy, you’ve really got quite the song collection!” I began to explain Spotify, but trailed off, given I had just had to explain how to include a picture in a text thread mere minutes earlier.
When unpacking a bag of new clothes she brought from home, my dad’s girlfriend casually explained “As you know, your dad doesn’t sweat or smell at all,” which made me smile. When I went to a concert by myself a couple months ago, I saw a guy I might have married in a parallel universe - goofy, gregarious, loud, probably obnoxious, but then at one point he walked past me and I choked on his smell. Never would’ve, never could’ve happened. I love Tyler’s smells so much. His morning breath smells like Werther’s Originals. A big part of love is finding someone whom it pleases you to inhale. I know and love my dad’s smells too. Growing up, I loved burying my nose in his armpit after he returned from golf on Saturdays. The sweaty patch of baldness on his head was like a bouquet of heat, grass, hot dog, and canvas. A Chicago summer sort of smell.
Now that I think of it, I should have played my dad the oldest known song, from 1400 B.C., a Mesopotamian melody that was found in Syria inscribed on clay tablets: the Hurrian Hymn No. 6. A song written for a Semitic goddess, a haunting , lovely melody that would have reminded us that removing a little bit of lung is, in the grand scheme of time and things, not so bad after all. I gave my dad many kisses, said goodbye, and left him in the capable hands of his surgeon………Dr. Lung*.
*his REAL NAME!!!!!!!!