The past couple of weeks have been interesting. Here's how they went. I was feeling a bit more breathless and tired than usual. Old-lady blues, I thought. But without knowing quite why, I made an appointment with the doctor for a week ago last Thursday. In fact, when I went in to the appointment, I said I probably shouldn't have made one (700 pesos down the drain, I thought to myself but didn't say out loud). I started to describe my symptoms. I was putting myself to sleep. At one point, Dr. Huesca said "I am going to recommend these tests." One was for a urinalysis, one was for bloodwork, one was for a stress test, one was for an evaluation by an ear specialist. I put them in my purse and decided to forget about them for awhile. Ho hum.
On Saturday, we had planned to visit a very eccentric friend who was prone to dramatic pronouncements and flourishes. A tall, baggy man with a kind of bloodhound face, he had been kicked out of the room he rented from a family in Coatepec because he had had several falls and at least one episode of wandering and babbling and he refused to accept that he couldn't live alone any longer. The family had been loyal to him beyond all reasonableness and finally decided they couldn't take care of such problems.
I'm sure David thought he was important and completely undervalued. Maybe in his mind he stood apart from and above the rest of us. Paradoxically, he really struggled with his sense of himself, and with his failure to live up to his ideals. I was not the most sympathetic friend he had. I would decide, with some frequency that it was time to tell him what I thought of his rambling writings. Then I would feel I had been too harsh, and I would backtrack. He would respond with regal graciousness saying that I shouldn't worry, he knew I was moody. He'd say I was feisty and that he only wished he could see more of my husband, our pets and me.
I needn't have worried. He had many admirers, most of whom he communicated with on the internet. He was a prolific contributor to Facebook and wrote a multitude of emails to a list of friends and acquaintances who knew him, perhaps not well. He spilled his heart and head out, often repetitively, as if absorbed repeatedly in rituals he couldn't avoid or recognize in his postings. His style was consistently nineteenth-century grandiose. Some of his expressions were puzzling, not to say intriguing, one of his favorite words. He would write "intriguing" in some subject headings, "please read carefully" or "wistfully significant" in others. Sometimes he would trumpet the status of his health as if he were a head of state. He often referred to us, his audience, as dear hearts and gentle readers. His struggle with life he told us he blamed on strokes he had had a number of years ago. He said that he had been a published writer in the 60s and 70s and early 80s. Now at 69 he lived alone in a room filled with books and papers and a computer someone had given him. He told us he spent hours and hours of his time when he wasn't on Facebook or creating emails writing and rewriting and rewriting again pieces most of us never saw. He wanted, he said, to get his work published soon so that he could pay back the debts he owed to friends. He spent the past five years working on his writings, which Babs, a professional editor, loyally typed up for him all the while despairing of his chances to have anyone accept his work.
David was, to say the least, ambivalent about what he referred to as allopathic medicine. This fell into the collection of practices and ideas he considered bourgeois and distasteful and responsible for the decay of society. He also frequently railed against government, corporations, consumerism, science and established religion. He often reminded us that he was both extremely conservative and extremely liberal and bemoaned the fact that people with extreme right and left wing ideas weren't taken more seriously.. His medical care was a hodgepodge of allopathic, traditional, holistic, whatever, medicine, and he did not necessarily follow through. He broke his ankle some months ago, however, and did, I believe, stick with the huesero, who treated him, and he recovered. Hueseros, by the way, are roughly equivalent to chiropractors but more truly bone specialists who do not talk about manipulation as a cure for non-bone diseases. Hueseros in the past, at least, inherited their positions from their fathers. I've seen them be quite effective.
Before his solitary existence, he had lived with a woman in Xalapa who had been a successful caterer in San Miguel. They had what appeared to be a mutually satisfying relationship with each other and a number of cats, a dog named Beethoven and a parrot. When she died, David began his existence as someone clearly in need of the kindness of strangers and friends. He lived first with a Mexican family at the edge of Coatepec, practically in the country. He had his own room and apparently taught some English to the children in the family. I don't remember why he moved from there, but then he found himself living with the family I mentioned which was enormously kind and generous. Ultimately, and recently he had to move from there, as I said, because he absolutely refused to live with a roommate or an assistant which he clearly needed. He had had an increasing number of falls and faints and seizure-like episodes and had begun to, at times, wander from his room uttering what seemed psychotic nonsense.The family was frightened.
So on this particular Saturday, the 2nd of May, a couple of days after my own doctor visit, David had just moved to another room that a friend of a friend had found for him. It was in a row of rooms along a wide passageway that people rented, a bit shabby, but cozy and pretty much what David needed and felt comfortable in. Babs, the most incredible woman I know, had helped him move, supervised getting the stuff he'd left behind, and made sure other people would come and visit him. Jim and I were lined up for this particular Saturday morning.
We walked down the passageway towards his room and noticed that the people who worked there were standing around looking stern. I knew there was a good chance he would be kicked out again. The owners had insisted that David have someone with him in his room all the time because he had had some episodes already. Babs's friend Jose Luis, truly Babs's right-hand man, had dug up a relative to spend the night and Babs had arrived early so this relative could leave. David had paid for a month in the room, but it wasn't clear he'd be able to stay that long. We were all thinking of what to do with him, where he could go.
As we approached his room, Babs came out into the passage looking distraught. In a loud whisper, she said, "I think he's dead." "What?" "I think he's dead."
And indeed he was. Jim and I went into the room. David was sitting sprawled comfortably in an easy chair. I went up to him. His skin was starting to cool, there was no breath in him. His hands, soft and graceful with their tapered fingers, lay in his lap.
"We were talking," Babs, extremely distressed, whispered, "He said something like he was tired and he took three breaths and then, nothing."
Jose Luis called the Red Cross. They came and agreed that he was dead. By that time his skin had become pallid and the bruises from his many falls stood out shockingly. The Red Cross paramedics said he probably died of hemorrhaging from one or more of his head injuries.
We learned that we had to get a doctor to sign off on his death. The trusty Jose Luis took off to search for one. What could we do while we waited? Babs, James and I went down to the little restaurant in the passageway for a cup of coffee. It was good coffee. The cook put a plate of pan dulce on the table, and we ate some. It was strange, the three of us sitting and chatting as if all that had happened was that we'd met for coffee.
The doctor arrived, a chunky, healthy looking man in a football shirt. We took him to David's room. Someone had covered David with a sheet, put a small vase of flowers on the table next to him, lit a candle there. The doctor probably poked and prodded a bit more than was necessary to confirm David was dead, certainly enough to sign the death. certificate. He said David died of a heart attack. Babs mentioned what the Red Cross people had said. The doctor said, "This is a heart attack," leaving no space for contradiction. David's mouth hung open. The doctor wanted it closed. He instructed Jose Luis to tear a piece from the sheet that had covered him. Jose Luis tried several times to tie it around David's face. His mouth kept falling open. Finally he succeeded so that David sat with what looked like a big bow on the top of his head. The doctor said it was necessary to prevent bodily fluids from draining out when he was moved. David would stiffen soon, he added, and then no one would be able to close his mouth.
Babs and Jose Luis continued with all the sad tasks of dealing with David's death. He had told everyone in a post that he wanted to be cremated. It didn't appear, however, that he thought he was going to die in the near future. Babs and Jose Luis made all the arrangements for this to happen and at 5:30 that evening, David became ash.
And what does this all have to do with my doctor's appointments and lab tests? Obviously the tests took on more importance than I'd given them at first. On Monday I called and made an appointment for the stress test the next day. On Monday I went to the lab. And I made an appointment for the ear exam. I felt a little bit as if I was following David's example because I kept sending one email at a time to my doctor reporting one result in each. Finally James said I needed to make an appointment, so finally I did, for Thursday. After all that's what the doctor had ordered. The doctor had, on Thursday sent me an email saying he didn't just want my results dribbled out: he needed to see me. I had never sensed annoyance in him before. I ended up going back to see the cardiologo on Friday afternoon, and lo and behold, went to the hospital for angioplasty on Saturday, early in the morning.
My news was the better than I expected. My arteries were clear, not caked with plaque. My problem is that I have two kinks like those in a garden hose. They act the way plaque does, but with medicine they can relax.
David, for all my grumbling about him, made his way into my heart. I like him there.