Things I Learned from R. B. (July 12th, 2020)

Jonathots Daily Blog

(4461)

Episode 23

The phone rang.

Startled, I rolled over and peered at the clock.

2:54 A. M.

A chill went down my spine all the way to my bowels. Nothing good comes from a call in the middle of the night.

Nervously I answered on the fourth ring, trying to stall from hearing the news. It was R. B. I could hear the tears in his voice.

Through his garbled explanation I was able to discern that he was at County Hospital and had been brought there by ambulance. He was suffering from severe stomach pains.

I wanted to ask more. I wanted to know what he expected of me. But the last thing he said was, “Please come.”

Then he hung up.

I couldn’t envision what kind of person I would be if I ignored the request. Yet I wasn’t particularly impressed with the person I was going to be, throwing on my clothes and driving out in the middle of the night at the bequest of an ailing friend.

I didn’t want to do it alone, so I called Janet and she agreed to join me on the journey to County Hospital to see what was troubling R. B.

We tried to chat on the way, speculating a bit on what the case might be, but finally decided some late-night music from the radio in the dark was preferable.

Fortunately, I was able to remember from the conversation that he had inserted that he was on the fourth floor.

Stepping off the elevator we walked over to the nurse’s station and told her who we were looking for. She asked the classic question. “Are you family?”

Without even blinking an eye, Janet replied, “Yes, we are. His only family here.”

I nodded. It wasn’t exactly true, but it was very accurate. The nurse led us down the hallway to an examination room, where we found R. B. on a bed, surrounded by machines, with an IV in his arm.

We discovered that the machines were not attached to him, except for the one pumping some sort of juice through his veins.

Before we could ask a single question, a young doctor, assigned to R. B.’s case, came walking into the enclosure. I don’t remember his name—just that he had red hair and freckles.

I looked to R. B. to offer an explanation. Instead, he nodded his head toward the doctor to provide the facts.

It seemed that R. B. had a belly full of trouble—a deteriorating stomach lining, an enflamed esophagus, some aggravation in his upper bowels which had created a blockage and therefore generated the horrible pain.

In the time it took us to get to the hospital, they had provided treatment which brought him some relief, so R. B. was feeling better—and ready to leave

The doctor was not quite as optimistic. He began, “I’m glad the both of you are here to listen to what I’m going to say to the patient. Even though he is not an aged man, his stomach and bowels are in horrible shape and I have suggested to him that he stop smoking and cease drinking any alcohol for a while.”

The young doctor stopped—I think more or less to gauge our reaction. We all looked over at R. B.

Uncharacteristically sheepish, R. B. replied, “I can do that.”

But the doctor was unsatisfied. “I know you can do that,” he said. “The question is—will you do that? You’re reaching the age where people die from stupid behavior.”

I was a little shocked at the doctor’s approach.

He pushed on. “I would like to have a nickel for every time I’ve had to give this speech to some patient that I know is not listening—who will go home and immediately feel better from the fluids and medication we gave him. Soon, they’re right back into self-destruction.”

Feeling the need to take some of the gloom off the room, I offered, “Well, we can help him, doctor. And R. B. has been known to turn a page or two and write another chapter.”

I was very pleased with my poetic answer.

R, B. was about to speak when the doctor interrupted, unimpressed. “Let me leave it at this,” he said. “If you continue to do what you do, you won’t live another five years.”

This last statement really surprised me, because whenever I talked to R. B., he was convinced he would outlive me because of my obesity. He always joked that he would steal everything I owned after I died—including my wife and kids.

So this last statement from the doctor changed R. B. from a willing patient to an impatient, willing fighter. “I told you I would do better,” he snarled.

I knew that voice. That was the lightning before the thunder of his temper. I asked the doctor if I could speak to him outside/ We wandered into the hall and stepped into a waiting room.

Before I could speak conciliatory words, the doctor looked me right in the eye and said, “He’s got to change—or he’s not gonna make it.”

My speech deserted me.

My attempts to reason with the young physician disappeared.

I felt tears come to my eyes.

I don’t know what emotion was trying to come to the surface. Was it pity? Was it anger?

I shook the doctor’s hand and thanked him, dried the moisture in my eyes and headed into R. B.’s room with a cheery spark.

We left him alone to put on his clothes and drove him home, stopping off to get some vanilla ice cream and 7-Up, which he said sounded good to him. Once he was situated in his own bed, he was overtaken by sleepiness, so we excused ourselves, drove home and tried to grab a little sleep from the remaining night.

The next day I called R. B. but there was no answer.

Two days later, he called me and said he wanted to have one of our sessions. Speculating on the purpose for the meeting, I said, “Are we going to chat about your health problems?”

He went silent.

So I asked him again, “I mean, are we going to discuss what happened the other night?”

While admitting that he had been in the hospital, R. B. refused to agree that it was meaningful. Rather, it was an over-reaction by him, due to gas.

I wasn’t sure what to do.

I knew the doctor would want me to challenge him.

Maybe I should have. I don’t know.

There are times when, to be a friend, you have to pretend that things are not the way they actually appear.

 

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