The Gates of Mercy

Visit the sick, it is said in scripture, somewhere. I try to do that when indicated, possibly because it is pretty much always the last thing I want to do. Often I’ve found that can be a pointer to the next right thing to do. Not always. Not always. Sick people depress and bore me, and then I remember I am one of them. Oh, yes.

I spend more than my share of time in hospitals, as readers know. I do not encourage visitors myself, unless it is either my son (if I’m not leprous) or “The Specialist,” because she is very attractive and brings me challenges such as entry forms for New Yorker cartoon caption contests, which (though I’ve never submitted) are actually quite humorous — wacky, even groovy, one might say. It is a genuine act of mercy. Even if she does not laugh, or, more likely, if she produces a courtesy grimace of approval at my pathetic punch lines. (A marriage counselor or lawyer seated across from a couple, next to him a fishless aquarium sort of deal. It is, however, full of H2O. “This tank of water, Mr. Fein, represents, shall we say, water under the bridge. Mrs. Fein wants it back.”) Or such like.

My visits to Scripps Mercy alone (on my own behalf or on that of others) have been so frequent that they’ve given rise to a need to write a novel on the subject. Not so much that my experiences are so document-worthy; rather, the title, The Gates of Mercy, from a line of Shakespeare’s in Henry IV, I believe, is so compelling it demands a worthy 100,000 words to balance it. Probably can’t be done, of course, but it’s worth a try maybe. The quote? I don’t have it at hand, but if you don’t mind an approximation, it’s something like “The gates of mercy shall be all shut up and the soldier…[something] bloodied of hand [something something and I’m already screwing this up] shall range with conscience wide as hell.” Close, but a bit off the ring.

But the occasion at hand requires my visitation of a man, a friend, a brother (possibly a substitute for my own recently lost Paul, an adorable bastard, legitimate as he was), a man whom I’ve worked with (I’ll call him O), suffered with, gone through particular kinds of hell with, and we have come out (with God knows what kind of aid from Heaven), as we say, batting a thousand for men of our kind.

Today I must find a way to visit him in La Mesa, where he lives with a highly problematic, elderly, and somewhat, er, eccentric aunt, a saint likely but of limited resources, including particular knowledge, as to say, her address or the capital of Coney Island. The sick friend in question had a stroke, possibly three, or yet again, a single stroke that affected him in three distinct ways: speech, vision, coordination — oh, memory. Yeah, memory. I don’t know if he realizes I’m awaiting his call. We must do something with his car. He can’t drive it now.

The attack happened two Fridays ago in Ralphs in Hillcrest. Went stone blind. Blam. Right there between the bananas and the pharmacy. The pharmacists, when consulted, were deeply concerned. About lawsuits, primarily, as it turns out. They grudgingly gave O a prescription bottle filled with dusty liquid redolent of God-knows-what, clucked, demurred, and wished him away with their shoulder blades.

O could barely walk, speak. He had little idea of where he was. After six hours in the emergency room there was talk of endocarditis. Unconfirmed. With no remaining insurance, his stay was short but made reasonably pleasant by good-hearted nurses. Their names, I’m sorry to say, I’ve forgotten. Those will return at 4 a.m.

I suspect that occasions like this shall grow more frequent with age rather than less, and among the perks of old age this is not among them. I may tell myself that every hour spent inhaling disinfectant, literally having one’s nose rubbed in the stench of mortality, translating the inanities of doctors, practicing deceptive cheeriness, and all the rest of it, will be considered “time served” at some final judgment, should that become a reality.

But this visit is only to La Mesa and no hospital at all, the Deity willing. And like W.C. Fields, I would rather be there than Philadelphia. The idea will be to spring my friend from the benevolent clutches of his relative (with, I’m hoping, the aid of yet another relative, his cousin) and into the dubious frying pan or fire of a new three-bedroom apartment to be shared with my son. My son’s maladies (at least on this page) are well known and of a different type. My own are equally chronicled here and elsewhere. It will, you see, promise to become yet another chapter or volume of whining: the blind leading the blind and/or “Lust for Leisure: Or, Why Me?” which you may feel free to avoid like the West Nile virus unless you are of that particular masochistic bent I so rely upon.

So, till next time, stay miserable, my friends, and you will greet your reward elsewhere. Certainly not here. But misery does so love company, and I so do count on that. Have a nice Friday. Me? I’m going to Disneyland!

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The gates of mercy shall be all shut up, And the flesh'd soldier, rough and hard of heart, In liberty of bloody hand shall range With conscience wide as hell, mowing like grass Your fresh-fair virgins and your flowering infants.

Henry V, Act 3, Scene 3

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