Friday, April 05, 2019

COLUMN: Bad Day In Peoria

When I was (not) studying at Columnist School (doesn't exist), I learned one thing (nope): Always have a point. Pick a topic, have a perspective, and hopefully be entertaining.

This column, however, has no point. Well, other than maybe, "Hey, today sure sucked." Honestly, I'm just writing for catharsis at this point.

My morning started with a horrifying phone call that the long-time partner of a close friend passed away. She'd been ill for some time, but none of knew how serious it really was. As much as I want to spend this whole column throwing myself a pity party, my thoughts are with him right now. If you're the praying type, please throw in a word or two for my friend Chris.

My thoughts may have been with him, but my body was in the (not) next best place, Peoria. That's because my dad had surgery today on his angry oversized potato of a prostate. The man goes the extra mile in everything he does, up to and including glandular growth. I don't remember the exact details, but the doc said the average human prostate measures 18-20 whatzits (grams? cubits? kilobytes?), but my dad's was clocking in at 81.

So today, he went under the knife (well, technically under the laser) for a process wherein they go in and -- well, honestly, I stopped listening to avoid terminal heebie-jeebies. I nearly missed it all, because I was too busy wandering the halls of OSF St. Francis, trying to figure out where my poor dad was in this magical medical labyrinth.

"Room 2218? Oh, sure. Just go down this hallway, hang a right, take the elevator to 1, go left, then a quick right to Zone 3, take the first left past the bistro, cross the skywalk, take those elevators to 2, hang an immediate right, then a left, then one more right." Presumably then I had to show my passport to the border guard, proceed to Tijuana, do the hokey pokey, turn myself around, and that's what it was all about. Note: When your hospital requires "zones" and has indoor trolleys, perhaps you've expanded enough as a medical center.

That said, everyone at St. Francis couldn't have been nicer and my dad's in good hands. Such good hands, in fact, that I decided to head back to Rock Island before nightfall.

I was ten miles outside of Peoria when I hit it, and I do mean literally. I guess you'd refer to it as a pothole, though it was more like an open-maw pit to Hell. It was under the shade of a bridge and I didn't see it until it was too late. I yelled "SON..." and by the time I reached "A", my tire was fritter-flat and I was skidding to a stop along the shoulder.

My usual first call would have been to the man currently tethered to an IV with a freshly trimmed prostate. Instead, I called roadside assistance. The assistance it provided was to play a looped eight-minute Muzak rendition of Barbra Streisand's "Evergreen." I'm not sure how this was assisting me on this particular roadside, but perhaps it made me focus less on my wrecked car and more on how much I hate that song.

Just as a live human being picked up, I also got a visit from Trooper Kulkowski of the Illinois State Police. "Problems tonight?" he asked at my window.

"VERY flat tire," I replied. "I'm on with roadside assistance now."

"If you've got a spare in the trunk, hang up."

I know. Spare me the lectures (pun intended). I've never changed a tire. When it comes to cars, I know where the gas goes, which pedals to push, and which satellite radio channels are the best to sing along to at top volume. If you want a tire changed, you call my dad. If you want a column about cats, you call me. I play to my strengths.

"Thanks," I said. "You really didn't have to do this."

"Oh, I'm not gonna do it. You're changing the tire. I'll teach you."

Suddenly, waiting for a tow truck didn't sound half bad. At least it sounded half warm. I'm a firm supporter of secondary education, just not when it's along a cold dark roadside. But school was indeed in session, and true to his word, Trooper Kulkowski taught me how to change a tire. Twenty minutes later, I was freezing, filthy, and freaked out, yet strangely accomplished. Is this what it feels like to be my dad? No, I reckon it's a lot more painful to feel like my dad right now. 

Today might have sucked, but I'm still thankful. I made it home in one piece. My dad's prostate did NOT, but that's a good thing. My car will be fine once I hand it over to people far more qualified than myself. I will miss my friend Erin for the rest of my days, but I'm a better person simply for having known her.

Maybe my column DOES have a point. Despite what the wind chills or estimates from auto garages may have us believe, even on our worst nights, the sun WILL come out tomorrow. I hope.

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