As Told at Tenx9 Nashville on 9/21/2015.
Question: Tell us why you’re here today?
Papaw: You tell me, they scheduled me to be here.
Question: Has anyone in your family had a stroke?
Papaw: I don’t know, that’s their business. Question: Has anyone in your family died from heart disease?
Papaw: Pretty much all of ‘em.
If you want to bond with your Grandfather, go with him to his doctor’s appointments and fill out the Medical Questionnaires with him. I had the pleasure of accompanying my 77-year-old grandfather, who will henceforth be referred to as Papaw, to some doctor’s appointments. He lives alone on the side of a mountain in East Tennessee, the same mountain where he was born, and most of his ancestors are buried. Despite multiple invitations and pleas for him to come live with family, he’s content whittling on his porch. Making the four-hour drive to civilization for medical procedures is a necessary evil even he can’t argue with after emphysema, prostate cancer, arthritis, and all the other trophies of living beyond life expectancy. I volunteered to take Papaw in for a Radiology appointment in Nashville to get a stint replaced. It was a routine procedure and we planned for him to sleep and recover at my house while I was at work that day. I was somewhat unprepared to play nurse though as I was just getting back from a 10-day trip. Regardless of the condition of my home, Papaw showed up at my front door.
We were the first ones there for a 7:30am appointment and the door was still locked. I jiggled the door and even attempted to pop the lock with a credit card. An angry-eyed receptionist in scrubs opened the door. She grouchily let us inside but informed us they weren’t “quite” open yet. The main reason I was there with my grandfather was because he was required to have a driver for this procedure. He also left school in the 4th grade to work on his family farm, so filling out forms is not a strong point for him. When the front desk lady finally allowed us to check in, she informed us his appointment was actually the following day. I handed her his paperwork, with that day’s date, and gave her the he drove to Nashville from East Tennessee, and we’re not leaving without the procedure look. She caught my drift and gave us the first round of questionnaires. I wasn’t much help on my own, and he’s a farmer from the Appalachian Mountains so he’s not one to dwell on past sicknesses. We went back and forth for a while, and then I called in reinforcements. I faceTime’d my mom, his daughter right there in the waiting room. Papaw, only having a landline was baffled by this technology. I read each question aloud, then the three of us decided on an answer. For each one, Papaw answered he was fine or couldn’t remember. He didn’t know the name of his medications or the doses. He didn’t know the dates of his surgeries. He would however recall other helpful medical history facts like how he was shot between the eyes with a .22, but removed the bullet himself, or how he had been bitten by a snake and drank a whole bottle of Jack Daniel’s to kill the poison. We finally got all the questions answered to the best of our abilities, to the relief of everyone in the waiting room, who no doubt felt a lot better about themselves that morning.
I decided to stay with him as long as I could in case the doctor gave him information that would need to be relayed to my mother. It was a good thing I did because there were more questions, and he was also left alone for a long time. He got changed into his hospital gown and complimentary slipper socks. He reminded me of Ebenezer Scrooge with his tall slender frame, and this was the first time I could remember seeing his legs. Years of working outside made his skin dark and leathery, but he always wore jeans, so his legs were white and freckly like mine. We chatted while the nurse took his vitals. So many vitals. He told each medical professional how he pissed off his doctor back home after demanding a second opinion. They all responded the same way, with an awkward smile that said, we’re in for a real treat. The real fun began once they administered the valium. He became chatty and explained to me how a water birth works and went into detail about his burial plans. Once I decided he was fully loopy, I tried to get him to crack some deep dark secrets. I leaned in and asked, “Papaw, have you ever killed anybody?” That very second a nurse burst in through the fabric room divider. So close. I should have pretended that was on the Questionnaire.
They finally took him back and I had to return to the civilian waiting room. By the time they brought me back to see him, he was awake and drinking his second cup of coffee. The procedure went fine, but they didn’t find what was causing his pain and fatigue, so they set up an MRI appointment at another location in a different part of town. We tried to convince the nurse to just let him wear his hospital gown, but she insisted he should get dressed. “How many times do I have to get naked today?” he asked the nurse, flirting with her. He was infatuated with her, and hopefully not too pervy when I wasn’t around to chaperone. He asked her to help him to the car, the same man who grew tobacco and birthed calves alone. I could tell he just wanted to put his arm around her, so I didn’t want to interfere with his moves. As she assisted him into my passenger seat, he gazed up at her with a glimmer in his eye and said, “I think about you all the time.” Oops, time to get Papaw out of here.
Since we had some time in-between appointments, I ran a couple errands. Papaw stayed in the car, wanting to roll down the windows and get fresh air. It was 94 degrees that day and I had to put my foot down. “You just woke up from anesthesia! You get air conditioning whether you like it or not!” Next I took Papaw to lunch. When I go visit him in the holler, he always takes me to a little Chinese buffet where everything is fried. I took him to my favorite Asian place, a Japanese restaurant where the sushi comes around on a long conveyor belt. I knew he wasn’t going to be a fan of raw fish, but the restaurant would give him something to brag about to his farmer buddies. I ordered him some fried stuff off the menu. Even though he claimed to be full from his post-op pack of crackers, he ate the entire dish. He argued he would pay even after I pulled cash out of his wallet.
Him “I told you I was paying.”
Me “I know, this is your wallet”
Him “Where’d you get that?”
Me “You gave it to me when you were naked, remember?”
The next radiology office was expecting us. We filled out another set of questions for an MRI. I asked him each question out loud, including ‘are you pregnant or could you become pregnant’. He smiled and answered to the best of his abilities. I skipped the question about the penile implant because I really don’t need to know that. ‘Do you have any shrapnel in your body?’ That’s actually a fair question, for this guy. ‘What was the date of your last menstruation?’ We were enjoying it a little too much now. We sat in that waiting room long enough to get the backstory of everyone there. When he finally got called back for his MRI, there were a lot of goodbyes to be had.
“Bye, hope your mission trip goes well.”
“Good luck with that online dating”
“No, I don’t have a Facebook page.”
“Have fun in Cincinnati with your choir.”
“Ok, talk to ya later.”
Before I could hack into some free Wi-Fi, Papaw was already back out. We were finally free to go. We each accepted complimentary airplane-size Cokes for the ride home, and climbed into my car for our last ride. As we were sipping our mini sodas and laughing together, I realized all the time I’d ever gotten to spend with Papaw was usually in his neck of the woods, literally, he lived in a holler in the Smokey Mountains. There’s no internet or cell phone service at his house so we’re limited to looking through the same photo albums for the 100th time or watching wrestling on TV. He was finally on my turf. We’d spent the whole day in Music City, and all we had seen were waiting rooms and recovery rooms. I drove him all around the city, through downtown and Broadway, West end, around Opryland. He didn’t seem impressed by anything on his tour of Nashville until we passed a wrecker service where he perked up and pointed to each totaled car announcing whether he thought the family inside lived or died.
Once home, I got him tucked comfortably into the guest room. He’d had needles sticking him, anesthesia, x-rays, and a whole team of other physically exhausting routines, so I hoping he was in bed for the night. No such luck. An hour later he emerged requesting a cup of drip coffee. Everything in my house was foreign to him. The Kuerig, the dozen remotes to watch TV, all touch screen phones, no landlines. He insisted touch screens don’t respond to him. I tried my best to keep my two energetic pugs from jumping on him, and he swore they were “showing out” for him. I was amazed how only one generation separated us, yet our lives are so different. His days are about peace and quiet off the grid, while I’m drinking $5 coffees playing games on a space phone.
The next morning he was already outside when I went to walk the dogs. He was antsy to get back to the mountain air, and I had to wonder if he had a good time, and if this trip convinced him to come back and visit me. Maybe being in the city and seeing how fun it is would change his mind. Once I got home from work, I realized just how much Nashville rubbed off on him, or rather he rubbed off on it. Through his nervous pacing, he’d stepped in the world’s largest pile of dog poop, and electric-slided it through my entire house. He must have really committed to his boot scoot boogie because I found smeared dry dog turds in every square inch of my home. Well, at least now I know he can line dance when he comes back to visit me.