"You know what we say in Arabic..." said my father-in-law on the phone last week, after we'd told him everything was fine with us. "...If you don't have any worries, invent one." Two nights ago my sister-in-law called to tell us that he was in the hospital again, after another incident of chest pain strong enough that three nitroglycerin tablets wouldn't relieve it. His regular doctor is out of town, on a lecture circuit, so she wasn't there to keep him out of the hospital, as their mutually-agreed-upon care plan had said.
We're going down tomorrow, but today I called and got the main hospital switchboard, where I was asked to spell his last name (something that never happens in Montreal - they know how to pronounce and spell it here). She transferred me to the nursing station on his floor, where I was asked to repeat the name several times more. Finally I heard the beside phone ringing, and the familiar fumbling and delay as he juggled the receiver on its precarious journey from the cradle to his ear.
His voice sounded strong, and he was full of stories about the staff's efficiency; the misfortune of being ill on a weekend when all the doctors were out "enjoying their profits;" the way "all the furniture in the room had been rearranged" since this morning. He had needed to wash up in the shower and to his horror, two young female nurses had been sent to the room. "Imagine! They wanted to go into the shower with me!" he exclaimed. "I told them, 'Over my dead body!'" and they sent a male instead, which was all right. he did everything for me." Even though I couldn't see him, I could imagine his head shaking in wonderment at this latest adventure. He said he was up sitting in a chair, and that he was comfortable but wouldn't be released until Monday, since there were no doctors anywhere around. "A helicopter just flew by the window!" he reported, no doubt seeing the rescue helicopter that transports accident victims and premature babies from the remote areas of the region to the medical center. "Amazing! It's just incredible what goes on here."
He ordered us to enjoy ourselves while we could. "How's your work going?" It was fine, we told him - the irony is that we're working on a publication about end-of-life care in American hospitals - but we didn't say that. We assured him we'd see him soon. "I'll see you then, insh'allah," he said. "In Arabic we have a saying:'The devil never cracks his own pot.' Catastrophes keep happening, but I'm still here."