In January 2011, I had a strange conversation with my father.
My husband and I were living in Peru, our home for the last five years. My father, a healthy 86-year-old widower, was living in his home in Florida. He was all alone except for his poodle, Charlie Brown. Still, he got out regularly – errands, church, weekly meetings of the Masons. I wasn’t too worried about him. Years before I had gotten him one of those Life Alert things, and he wore it around his neck. His neighbors looked in on him. Plus we talked several times a week. This was one of those times.
“Dad, I tried calling you earlier,” I said. “The phone just rang and rang. Where were you?”
“Oh, Barbara. It’s all screwed up…” His voice trailed off.
“Dad, where were you?” I persisted.
“I’m right here,” he said, his voice keening.
“Is everything okay?”
“All they gave me is goddamn crackers.”
“Dad, you’re not sounding okay.”
“Just Townhouse crackers. Shut up!” This to the dog, who was yapping in the background.
“Are you not feeling well? Are you sick?”
“My bottom hurts. I can’t go to the bathroom.”
My heart was racing. “Stay right there. I’m calling the doctor.”
Five minutes later, the doctor’s office called me back. We had a number in the U.S. that patched through to Peru. The doctor was terse.
“It sounds like he’s impacted. You need to call an ambulance and get him to E.R.”
On the third ring, my father picked up.
“Oh my god, I’m glad you’re there,” I said. My voice was all shaky. “You’re going to the emergency room. Can you get dressed?”
“Of course…. My bottom hurts.”
I called the ambulance in Gainesville. Then one of his neighbor’s. My father hadn’t been out of his house for a week. They had been concerned. But when they walked up to the front door, my father had waved at them through the windows, from his easy chair. Charlie Brown was in there with him.
I hung up.
That bad feeling I had been having all afternoon, when he wouldn’t answer the phone, was right. My father was in trouble. Big trouble.
He’d had the plastic Life Alert button around his neck the whole time, and he didn’t even know to push it.