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Today about 11 AM my 87¾ year old friend John dropped by as he usually does at that time, but this time it was different, because he was obviously out of breath and feeling weak. He was puffing badly after coming up the eighteen stair steps to my house and after sitting down for a cup of coffee, a sip of wine and some conversation, he started shaking uncontrollably and complaining about a severe pain in his hip. He kept asserting that he was okay but seemed a bit confused, and after several minutes I gave him two aspirin, on the chance that he might have a blood clot somewhere in his system and to ease his pain. That didn’t seem to help much so I decided to call the VA advice nurse. After a very long wait, with a superabundance of nonsense music and rerecorded info-blah-blats the nurse finally came online. We talked for about five minutes with me answering her questions as best I could, with John all the time claiming I was overstating the seriousness of his symptoms. After a while the nurse convinced me I should take him to the emergency room to be checked out, and one of the options was to take him to the VA clinic in Martinez.

John insisted I take him home and just put him to bed, that he was feeling fine, but he was so very weak I essentially had to carry him to the car. Once in the car he sort of dozed off, so I said I would take him home, but that we were going to take a slight detour. That was a stretch because the detour I had in mind was via the emergency room.

I have had this sort of denial of sickness conversation before. The previous time it was a friend who was accidentally hit in the head so hard I could see the bone of his skull in the opening, but he insisted he was okay and just wanted a ride home. In both of these cases it required a white lie to get them to sit still while I drove them to the emergency room. That case required eight stitches to pull my pal’s head back into shape. I hate fibbing to my friends! But it seems that no one wants to go to the hospital when they are hurt, they just want to go home, sit in their easy chair and watch some mindless TV.

When we got to the clinic, I tried to help John walk to the front door but he couldn’t walk, even with his arm over my shoulder. I asked a guy in a car parked next to mine to help me carry John but even with his help it wasn’t enough, so we put John back in the car, I drove over and parked it illegally in the no-parking zone in front of the receiving room, risking a ticket and tow, and went in to get a wheelchair. It was a major operation getting him out of the car and into the wheelchair, but an easy roll into the admitting room. He was expected there, because of my phone call to the VA nurse, and those folks took over while I went and attended to my illegally parked car.

When I got back they were getting John into a bed, and soon they started all the expected hospital routines: checking for vital signs, like breathing, blood pressure and pulse and asking him and me all sorts of inane but difficult-to-answer questions. The whole experience would be a jolly sort of fun, being fussed over by some nurses, if it wasn’t life threatening, but it was life threatening, and so it wasn’t fun at all. Perhaps it was macabre fun, but I don’t like it and the situation makes my conversation seem stale and inappropriate. And that’s the way it was when my good friend of many decades of life seemed to be at risk.

I sat beside him for several hours trying to maintain a balance of cheering him up and not being too intrusive or stupid and letting him doze off whenever he wanted to. After a long wait the blood tests and the rest of it came back and it appeared that with the temperature of 102 he had a systemic infection and was going to be admitted for overnight observation and probably treated with a broad spectrum antibiotic like Cipro.

Soon after arrival I had contacted his friends by phone, but now the medical people were taking John off to Travis military hospital, some 30 miles away, so it seemed the only thing any of us could do was wait until tomorrow. What I learned from this experience is that it is difficult to get really sick people to admit that they are sick and in need of help, and unfortunately in this situation it seems the best thing to do for them is to ignore their complaints and get them to a hospital.

When people are obviously in distress ignore their vigorous protestations of wellbeing.