At last you can read my version of the “slapping.”
I was on every news channel and in all the papers (even the Greek ones) and made all the news blogs; even today, a week later, WNYC is still talking about it – “The campaign week started with a slap.” However, the slap really started on the morning of Thursday August 15th, when my daughter called to tell me that my wife of 55 years had died at 7:10 AM. At that moment, one half of me also died.
Weeks before, the young doctor had pronounced the results of the liver biopsy. “The bad news is you have small cell lung cancer which is very aggressive and you have 12 months to live. The good news is it is responsive to chemotherapy, but the down side of chemotherapy is that it also attacks the immune system so you are prone to infection.”
We elected for chemotherapy, but after the 3rdsession at Memorial Sloan Kettering (they drain the chemical concoction into your veins), Maggie woke at 4:00 AM disoriented and asked, “What do I do now?” It was if a mental fuse had blown. She had reacted in a similar way when she had a powerful painkiller for her cataract operation; later she was fine and we had coffee in the garden.
By this time, we had started to use Visiting Nurses Association which is covered by Medicare and were allocated an “attendant.” The doorbell rang and a lovely lady from Jamaica came in and offered to help Maggie, who refused the assistance. The next night she fell out of bed and I knew I could not handle this alone or with a cycle of attendants at $550 day. Visiting Nurses called to say there was an opening at Calvary hospital but I had 15 minutes to decide and if Maggie did not agree, the ambulance driver would not take her. I agonized and said “yes,” and after a quiet talk with her daughter, Maggie, coming to terms with the final reality quietly said “yes.”
Although patients do recover and leave Calvary, it’s more of a hospice than a hospital and I became aware of that after the 3rd visit when the attendants were no longer helping Maggie go to the bathroom which was right in her room but giving her a bed pan; it was easier for them and why not, if the patient was going to die anyway. Calvary is a good hospital and after I pleaded to treat her to recover not die, they offered round the clock care and Dr. Zaretsky called me each morning with my wife’s condition; they did their best.
However, despite the hospital’s efforts, she got an infection and slipped into dementia.
It takes an hour and a half to Calvary. You take the No. 2 subway to East 184th Street in the Bronx and then the No. 21 bus eight stops through a part of the city that was built poor decades ago and is even poorer now. Week after week, I got to visually know the tacky shops and garages. The last stop left me a long walk under a train trestle where I had to watch out for the tree roots that corrugated the asphalt walk way and at last Calvary Hospital.
In the beginning she was still there. When Joan, our neighbor, called, she snapped back into her normal speech and responded but then the dementia took over, “Let’s go home…come here and lie down beside me.”
The days went by and became weeks. I held her hand and kissed her brow, wet with perspiration from fighting the infection, not knowing if she knew I was there.
After it happened, my daughter Athena said, “Why don’t you go to the country now?” (Maggie and I had not been out since spring) and I replied, “Yes, but I have to be back on Monday to hear de Blasio who is going to talk in front of St. Vincent’s.”
De Blasio’s campaign manager warned me not to reveal the time and place because, as I learned later, the opposition arrives before to pre-empt the waiting cameras. Sure enough, I received an email on Monday morning that Quinn was going to speak at 11:00 AM, an hour before de Blasio.
As I approached the crowd on West 12th Street opposite the greed-gutted hospital, I saw and heard a chanting wreath, a proscenium arch of red “Anybody but Quinn” signs framing the new State senator Brad Hoylman and the resigned State Senator Tom Duane. I realized that this overweight, recovering alcoholic, who had been Chairman of the Health Committee, had the self-deceit to believe he could talk about what he and Quinn had done to save the hospital, all while staring at the rising condos for the super-rich. I exploded.
As I shouted at him, his expression did not change; his self-deception had euthanatized him and he was spin-bound.
“What are you doing here?” “Get out of here you fatuous idiot.”
I glanced over to Hoylman who was looking demurely at the ground as if he had nothing to do with losing the hospital. I reached out to pull up his head and he pulled back thinking it was a slap and then stepped forward and offered officiously, “You need to be escorted out of here.”
I roared back, “You’re going to escort me?” I turned to see a young man ready to do the escorting and I slapped him lightly on both cheeks and to my astonishment, he began to cry like a girl and ran off.
Why was I so angry? Why was I filled with rage?
Once, months ago, in the dead of winter at 4:00 AM, years ago when Maggie was on blood thinners, she started to bleed from the nose. It simply would not stop and for the first time in our marriage, I saw fear in her eyes. We dressed and walked to the emergency room at St. Vincent’s and they stopped the flow and we walked home for breakfast.
If St. Vincent’s had still been there, I could have walked just two blocks to see her and pushed the doctors to treat her to recover, not to die. Perhaps I could have saved her.
I did not slap Brad Hoylman and I did not slap Tom Duane.
The time to have slapped them has past; it should have happened when we still had a chance to save the hospital.
CBS asked me if I regretted slapping the intern and I found myself saying, “If I hadn’t, you would not be here and I would not have had a chance to ask that we build a new hospital.”
It looks like, in Bill de Blasio, we will have a mayor who does not say as did Bloomberg did, “You can’t have a hospital on every block.”
If we still had a hospital on our block, I might still have my Maggie. However, even if I could not save her, I could have had many more hours with her.
I will continue to fight for the return of our hospital if not for my Maggie, then for yours.