Seventeen years ago, in an airless, windowless waiting room of the old University of Colorado medical center on Colorado Boulevard in Denver, I was standing next to my friend Bob’s mom when she picked up one of the weekly news magazines (Time or Newsweek), glanced scornfully at the cover and flung it down in disgust. “Damn Democrats,” she said.
It took a great deal of restraint on my part to not unload on Bob’s elderly mother, since the only reason we were at a medical facility was due to those “damn Democrats.” Bob was there to get the first of what ultimately became four “free” open heart surgeries, months-long stays in intensive care, an exploratory abdominal surgery . . . Gall-bladder removal. Life-threatening cat-scratch infection that went all the way up an arm. Diabetes. Kidney problems. Suppurating foot wound. Most recently, broken bones.
Bob, who drives around in a car with many anti-Democrat bumper stickers, including one that reads “Stop Obamacare,” has been the recipient of millions of dollars of health care that neither he nor any insurance company have ever paid for while you and I have covered all of it. Most of it: he used to complain when the hospital would send him a bill for $1.
It has not been easy to maintain my friendship with Bob over the years. I did explode at him the day he came in, exultant that a candidate in Massachusetts who specifically ran on an anti-health-care platform emerged victorious in some special election I no longer really remember but which attracted national attention at the time. I angrily pointed out his hypocrisy in championing the lack of access to health care for everyone else. His response was to worry that I was on the verge of a mental breakdown.
I can’t really explain to you why we are still friends. He complains when people, including me, try to help him; he complains when people don’t help him enough. He has spent most of the last three months in at least three hospitals all across the state, which is way too long to impose upon friends to care for his two cats (I have not volunteered for that thankless task), and all he does is complain about how the people he relies on don’t do this well enough.
I decided, long ago, that I would only help Bob if he asked, rather than volunteering, because all that has done is earn me ingratitude. Once upon a time, when he needed rides to the hospital four times a day for some sort of infusion, he complained to Carol’s family (who had taken on the bulk of these rides) that I was trying to run his life when I foolishly thought I was being helpful.
As I write this — and I haven’t even mentioned the thousands of dollars worth of free rent he has taken, and continues to take, from me for what is now the vestiges of his sign business — there really isn’t a good explanation for why this friendship has continued.
Bob has a killer sense of humor, and we’ve always been in sync on that. I met him when I worked at the Book Worm, and Kara’s mom (who also worked there) and I were on his regular round of visitations along the alley behind Main Street. Pat, founder of Pat’s Screen Printing, was also on his rounds. We were all (not Kara’s mom — she was a heretic) part of our space social group, the Holy Order of Qapla.
When Bob found himself, as he often has, in financial straits and Pat was sick with cancer, Pat said, “I just want us all to be together,” so I paid off Bob’s equipment and moved him into Pat’s Screen Printing. And then watched as, instead of paying me back, he bought a (very used) limousine, a desk chair, an early digital camera (back when those were expensive), and trips to Thailand and the Philippines.
My explanation for this friendship isn’t getting any better, is it?
But we have been friends, and several of you reading this who know Bob will be nodding because it will make more sense to you than it does to those of you who don’t know Bob.
He and I used to go on “no plan weekends” to Denver to visit my sisters. We found a card game called Alien Hotshots that we played endlessly over lunch at Pat’s Screen Printing. We never forgave one of his cats for making us watch the movie Sphere. (We set two movies on the floor, and that’s the one Agatha knocked over, so we went with it. Damn cat.) Once, when I was really sick with a stomach bug, he sat at my house patiently until I finally decided I needed to go to the emergency room, where he filled out my paperwork. Under religion he put “Holy Order of Qapla.”
We are friends, that’s really all I can tell you.
Bob, who has more lives than the cats who are the center of his universe, may finally be running out of options. Perhaps a month ago, some doctor here in town told his cousin (not Bob) that Bob had perhaps eight months to live. (I may have mentioned that in a previous post.)
He spent the last three weeks at Swedish Medical Center in Denver, where he was his usual gracious self (it’s a “shithole”); got some ride back to Gunnison where he was upset that no one was at his home to either welcome him back or help him (I’m not clear which was supposed to happen); and 24 hours later a home health nurse determined his blood pressure was too low, called yet another taxpayer-funded ambulance, and he has been at the Gunnison hospital since Friday.
I went to see him Friday, because the one phone number in the universe he has committed to memory is Pat’s Screen Printing and when he called he was very upset. He was without his cats and hospice had been suggested to him as an option. At that moment he was strongly considering it.
He got past that moment, and I’m probably in trouble for calling and asking hospice to come consult with him (I don’t know if anyone ever showed up), but when I stopped by yesterday, it was not long after a doctor gave him two options: stay in the hospital and die, or go home and die.
Just before I got there, the doctor had changed her mind, and today they’re giving him some transfusion of complicated blood (whatever it is, it took four days to get it here — I’m getting all my information from Bob and very little of it makes sense), and maybe this will allow him to go home to the cats he’s barely seen for the last three months.
Until he once again doesn’t use his walker because his hallway is filled with thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of rounds of ammunition, and he doesn’t want his friend Dave, who helped re-load all of this ammo, touching it. Then he will fall once again, and break something once again, and end up back in the hospital. On the taxpayers’ dime. (He thinks it’s very important that he stick around to vote in the 2020 election, and who do you suppose he’s voting for? Here’s a hint: no one who thinks health care should be universal.)
Or maybe he doesn’t get that far: I brought him a shirt we made that says “Chicks Dig Scars,” and I helped him put it on. He seemed to be in a lot of pain as I tugged it down, and it wore him out.
Today I will take him some Diet Pepsi (the hospital doesn’t offer any) and, if I can find them, some Friends DVDs, and we’ll see how the transfusion has gone. It’s the least — and the most — I can do for a very complicated friendship.