ED'S GREAT ESCAPE
BY MATTHEW SHEAHAN
Ed Hamill had known for a while that he would have to have surgery. He knew before the doctor even mentioned it, before any X-rays were taken. Ed just had the feeling in his bones that this would require his being opened up. He just sensed it. So it came as no surprise when Dr. Benway (Francois Benway, not to be confused with the good doctor's father Hassan Benway, who still practices in Morocco) said "Ed, I'm afraid you're going to have to have your hip replaced."
Ed made an objection. "But Doctor," Ed protested, waving one hand in the air as if trying to coax some kind of concession, "I'm too young for such a procedure. Let's consider some of the other options."
"There are no other options, Ed."
"No, listen. There are therapeutic things that can be done..."
"I'm afraid not, Ed. You need a new hip. Soon."
"You can't just accept the rip-off artist doctors and HMO bureaucrats of Western medicine," Ed continued.
"We'll call your office tomorrow to schedule the surgery," said Ed's wife, Lynne as she led Ed out of the office.
" -- the Chinese have developed various herbs and massage techniques --"
Ed had first hurt his hip when he worked for the phone company. He had to scale a telephone pole during the great April blizzard of 1983 to fix a cable that had been damaged by the weight of accumulated snow. With his mustachioed co-worker Jim "Two-Fifths" Royce steadily sipping from a flask of Wild Turkey Straight Kentucky Bourbon in the passenger's seat of the van (Jim didn't do any work after 10 a.m.), Ed carefully started up the pole with his spiked shoes and utility belt. Ed got to the top with no problem and fixed the cable with the utmost economy. It was on his way down that he lost his footing on the pole. Before he could realize where he went wrong, Ed felt himself falling. He hugged the pole to try to stop himself, but he slid down anyway. The rough splintery pole ripped open his down winter coat, smearing the brown pole with a white film of small feathers. Ed landed with a snow-muffled thud. He had managed to slow himself down enough to land without any major breaks. A breeze blew the feathers from his coat around, creating what looked like a lovely snow drift. Ed's co-worker Jim saw the breeze of feathers and, thinking they were oddly shaped and beautiful snowflakes, got out of the van to catch them on his tongue. Jim had a few in his mouth before he realized that they weren't snowflakes at all, but something else. He spit the down feathers from his mouth and got back into the van, a few choice feathers stuck in his large moustache. A few seconds later Ed hobbled back to the van. His hip was sore but not excruciatingly painful.
Almost 20 years later, Ed was finally getting around to doing something about his sore hip, though now it felt much worse than ever before. He was nervous about going into the hospital and having gas used on him and having his body cut open and pieces of bone taken out and replaced with plastic and stainless steal. Certainly there had to be less drastic ways of dealing with things than this, he figured. But once he failed to convince his wife Lynne, he realized that the surgery was inevitable.
"I have some things I want you to know in case I succumb on the operating table," said Ed from his Box of Speaking. He had a list of things he wanted his wife to know.
"Oh Ed, stop it," said Lynne, who craned her neck to try to see the Mets game on TV. The Mets were losing. "You're not going to die. Give me a break."
Ed stood straight in his box of speaking and read from his prepared text. "I love you very much Lynne and am grateful for your being my wife."
"Well thank you Ed. I love you too."
"Furthermore, there shall be no cats allowed in this house or on this property in the event of my passing. I am to be cremated. Two black and white cookies, my Dunkin' Doughnuts coffee mug, all my pairs of sweatpants, and the book I'm reading are to be cremated along with me, as is my Box of Speaking. You shall get the boat fixed and place some of my ashes permanently within the hull of the boat. The rest of my ashes shall be spread in the yard here on Stephenson Terrace, on the Hudson River, Jeckyll Island, on Black Rock Beach, Cherry Street, the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and around Verizon utility pole #8814, the telephone pole that contributed to my untimely passing. Some ashes shall also be given to my brother, Bill, who can do with them what he likes, so long as it is dignified."
"Promise me that you will do these things, Lynne."
"I promise Ed. Promise me you'll go through this operation and recovery with minimal resistance," said Lynne.
"Hmm," said Ed, thinking about it. "No."
The next day Ed was admitted to the hospital. Lynne stayed with him as long as she could until visiting hours were over and she had to go. Ed was patient with all of the nurses, even though they asked him a lot of redundant questions and questions that he did not think were particularly relevant to his surgery. He asked one of the nurses if there was a crematorium on site, and the nurse, caught off guard, said that there was no crematorium there but an incinerator for medical waste. Ed regretted he did not have his list with him so that he could specify that he was not to be cremated in the incinerator with medical waste.
"Did you have any other questions sir?" asked the nurse.
"Yes, what will be done with my old bones?"
"Your old bones?"
"Yes, the hip bones that they will be replacing. What will happen to them?"
"Uh, well, I really don't know sir."
"Could you find out please?" said Ed. He wasn't sure how he felt about a piece of his body being thrown down an incinerator chute. He thought maybe he could keep the bones around the house and nail them on the door for Halloween decoration, if he lived through the operation, that is.
Ed was wheeled in to see the anesthesiologist prior to surgery. "How are you today sir?" asked the anesthesiologist.
"I want you to be careful because there have been incidents where patients have been killed by anesthesiologists who use too much of that stuff," said Ed, motioning to the tank of gas that the doctor was tending to. Ed continued as he watched the doctor adjust knobs on the tank.
"I once worked with a man who --" continued Ed who was cut short when the anesthesiologist knocked him unconscious with gas.
Ed survived the hip replacement surgery without complications. He woke up in a cloudy haze in the hospital. Lynne was by his side with flowers. Ed's hip was even more sore than when he initially injured it. The feeling, combined with the assortment of painkilling drugs the hospital has liberally provided him, made Ed think he was back in the phone company van, looking at Jim Royce with feathers on his face.
"God damn it, Jim," said Ed. "Get yourself together, why don't you. I could have been killed just now and you're hopelessly drunk by ten o'clock."
"What? What are you talking about Ed? Are you OK?" asked Lynne.
"You know what I'm talking about. Look at my jacket," said Ed, pulling on his hospital gown. "Look at what the telephone pole did to it."
After a few hours Ed was lucid enough to speak with his wife sensibly, or at least sensibly enough on Ed's terms for Lynne to say things in reply.
"You're going to have to go to the rehabilitation center," said Lynne.
"Oh no," said Ed, who had heard all kinds of horror stories of physical therapists who preyed on the elderly and enfeebled. One news program had even brought hidden cameras into one place and shown all kinds of horrible things, things that might now happen to him. "I'll fight to the death to protect my dignity!" shouted Ed, sitting up on his elbow and pointing one defiant finger toward the false ceiling. "No one is going to abuse me in my time of recuperation!"
Lynne rested her head in her hand. She could already tell that this was going to be more difficult than when Ed tried to sell her cats to the 'U Like' Chinese Restaurant. If it hadn't taken Ed four hours of intense negotiations to set the price, Lynne never would have made it there in time to save them.
After many arguments and proposals, Ed reluctantly allowed himself to be wheeled into an ambulance and taken to the Burke Center for physical therapy. Ed was surprised to find that the center was located on a spacious campus surrounded by fragrant green fields and thick woods. It warmed his heart to be in such a rustic setting, and for a short time Ed was glad to be there. As he was wheeled from the ambulance into the building, Ed breathed fresh air with an invigorating optimism.
Once Ed was through the doors of the center, things changed abruptly. He was hit with the stench of the old, the unwashed, the hopelessly sick.
"Why does it smell so bad in here?" asked Ed to the bored orderly who was pushing him to his assigned room.
"'Cause it's full a old people" was the orderly's reply.
As Ed and the orderly turned a corner, an old man in a wheelchair saw them and began cackling and pointing at Ed. The old man wore nothing but an open frayed hospital gown and a large adult diaper. He had torn pieces of his diaper off and they sat on the floor, looking like oversized maggots.
"You're too old to be in a wheelchair!" said the cackling man, who kept pointing and laughing loudly as Ed was wheeled past.
"That's it!" said Ed. "I'm not going to stay in this institution! Turn me around please!"
Ed continued on the steady course to his room.
"Didn't you hear me," asked Ed, taking time to study the orderly's name tag, "Jamal?"
"Yeah, I heard you."
As Jamal took no heed of Ed's pleas, Ed decided he would put the brakes on the wheelchair and commandeer it on his own. He slapped his hands down on the wheels but which made a screeching rubber sound and burned Ed's hands but produced no tangible results. The wheelchair didn't slow down at all; Jamal just kept plodding along.
Ed was put in a room with Mr. Stevens, a spry and charming man of 72 who was himself recovering from hip replacement surgery. "Hello," said Ed's new roommate, extending his hand, "I'm Bob Stevens. It seems we both have had the same surgery. Well I can tell you that the people here will do a great --"
"It matters not!" exclaimed Ed as he gave the man's hand a firm shake. "I will not stay in this facility that has such foul odors and obnoxious people as I have been exposed to so far!"
The kindly Mr. Stevens was visibly taken aback.
"I mean no disrespect to you, sir," Ed told him. "But there are others here that I have already been subjected to that will make my stay here brief. Where did the orderly take the wheelchair?" Ed found the call button and began pressing it repeatedly. His hand and thumb were tired by the time a nurse arrived.
"Yes?" asked the nurse.
"I'm leaving! Please get the orderly to bring back my wheelchair."
"Leaving?" the nurse asked. She looked at Ed's chart, which was attached to a clipboard attached to the foot of the bed. "This says that you just got here today."
"So how can you be leaving?"
"Because I choose to leave and in a democracy people can choose where they go and when unless they've been convicted of a serious crime and are in prison. I choose to leave this facility and already made that known to the first orderly who ignored me and pushed me into this room anyway."
The nurse spoke to him in an assuring yet essentially patronizing tone. "Well I'll be sure to tell the doctor that you want to leave, but I don't think they'll let you go until you're all better."
"I don't need you to tell the doctor. We are not living in a fascist dictatorship determined by doctors, hey --"
The nurse was already out the door. Mr. Stevens took the opportunity to try to explain to Ed that with insurance companies determining many of the rules, doctors had to give people a certain time period of recovery and rehabilitation after surgery no matter how good the patient felt. "But don't worry," he said. "This is a fine place, really. Trust me."
Ed did not want to offend the well-meaning old man, but clearly Mr. Stevens lacked the proper perspective on things and did not understand that what Ed was doing was a fight for democracy. How dare a doctor, on the orders of a faceless insurance company bureaucrat or anyone else, keep a free man against his will in a smelly place crawling with crazy people and uncaring nurses and orderlies.
Ed began his physical therapy the next morning. It was painful and grueling for Ed in his condition, and he renewed his objections to being at the facility at every opportunity. The more people tried to convince him of the institution's soundness and the prospect of his improved health, the more Ed vowed to get out of the place.
When his therapy was all done for the day, Ed was wheeled back to his room. "Please leave the wheelchair," he asked the orderly, who complied.
Ed packed his belongings, being sure to swipe the free copy of TV Guide that was in his room, and began to wheel himself out of the building. As he left his room, a nurse arrived with his intravenous medicine. "It's time for your I.V. drip, Mr. Hamill," said the nurse, a heavy-set Filipino woman with a big smile.
"I don't need it. I'm leaving," said Ed as he wheeled himself to the automatic doors.
"Mr. Hamill, you can't leave yet," said the nurse.
"I certainly can," Ed paused as he examined her name tag, "Rosalita."
"Oh no, you haven't had your medicine yet. Trust me. You'll feel so much better."
"You can give me the medicine when I'm leaving, said Ed, who found the automatic doors suddenly not opening for him. "These doors are malfunctioning," he called out.
"I've stopped them," said a jaded red-headed nurse from behind the nearby reception desk. "You can't leave."
"I can leave because I'm an American citizen --" Ed said and continued to lecture on the virtues of democracy as he rammed his wheelchair against the unmoving sliding glass doors. This caused his hip to hurt even more.
Ed capitulated, since it was his physical pain and weariness that had inspired him for this first escape attempt. He allowed nurse Rosalita to wheel him back to his room and hook him up to the I.V. He began to feel better almost immediately, and watched and was even calm and content enough to sit through the TV news without violent outbursts of righteous outrage.
The next day, he was again wheeled to physical therapy. Since it was his second day, his therapy was accelerated and Ed had to do a lot more. There was stair climbing, weight lifting, stretching, more stairs, more stretching, more weight lifting. It went on and on and Ed was even denied requests to take a break. "Oh no, Ed," the therapist would say, "just a few more now."
Not since his being put through the Viet Cong cat feces torture had Ed experienced this much pain and misery. His hip hurt more than the day before, and he felt tricked by and resentment towards the medicine and kindness the staff had provided him. He vowed to himself all during his therapy that he would make his escape no matter what.
Right before going to bed, Ed was given some more pain medication to help him sleep. Ed drifted off into a deep and strange sleep. A few hours later intense heat and the smell of smoke woke him. Ed found that the rehabilitation center was on fire. He didn't know what to do. He couldn't let all those old people and nurses die, no matter how crazy and fascistic they were. He reached for a hose and began to douse the roaring flames with water. The fire hissed and cracked but little by little he was able to put the fire out. Patients thanked him as he continued to pump water on smoldering debris. The local fire department arrived and they admired Ed's work as they surveyed the scene.
"It's good that you got that hose there," said a fire captain. "Without you, all of these people would have died."
"STOP!! STOP!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" a nurse yelled.
"Mr. Hamill, wake up!" said Mr. Stevens.
The nurse and Mr. Stevens looked at Ed aghast. Contrary to what his senses had told him, Ed was not putting out a deadly fire, but was instead wetting his bed with gusto.
"It's OK," said Ed. "I've got it under control."
"No Mr. Hamill, you've just had an accident..."
"No no. It's all taken care of. There is only residual smoke and smoldering ash. The inferno has been extinguished. The fire captain will fill you in --"
Ed was taken to the shower where he was cleaned off and given a new gown. He was put back to bed.
The next day he had to endure more therapy. He complained but didn't make any threats to leave. His constant complaints were his form of psychological warfare that would ensure the staff would minimize contact with him, making his escape easier.
That evening, he let the orderly wheel him back to his room, where his roommate Mr. Stevens was visiting with his family.
Ed decided that trying to bring his belongings with him in his escape would only hinder him. Lynne could come and fetch his things later; the fascists that ran the Burke center certainly would not be able to find cause to hold her here.
Rosalita came in with Ed's I.V. medication. Ed didn't want to tip off the staff that he would be making another escape attempt, so he allowed the good nurse to hook up his I.V. with no complaint.
As soon as the nurse was gone, Ed sprung into action. He leapt from his bed. He looked at the I.V. in his arm. It made him feel better and gave him the strength he would need to make his great escape. He knew the I.V. stand would slow him down, but Ed would be damned if he was going to leave without getting every last bit of medication he was entitled to.
"Ed, I'd like you to meet my family," said the ever conversational Mr. Stevens, who was surrounded by his loved ones. Ed was too focused on his escape plan to indulge in the niceties of polite conversational chatter. He briskly strode past Mr. Stevens and his kin to the window.
Since he was on the first floor, there was no danger of injury from falling. The windows of the facility were ones that opened out but not all the way out. There was enough room for one to slither down, but it would take some doing. Ed gingerly stepped up and put one leg through the open window. This caused excruciating pain in his hip and caused his hospital gown to move in such a way as to leave him crudely exposed to Mr. Stevens and his family.
As Mr. Stevens and his relatives averted their gaze, Ed strained and withstood great pain as he got his other led out the window and onto the soft ground of the outside. He then had to negotiate those same odd angles to get his I.V. stand outside with him. The I.V. stand was as tall or taller than he was and had the bag of his medicine clipped to it. It stood on four small wheels.
Ed raised and lowered his I.V. stand through the window, it was awkward and difficult, and the metal stand made numerous odd scratching and squeaking sounds. Mr. Stevens relatives watched in perplexed disdain.
"What's he doing, Grandpa?" asked Mr. Stevens' grandson.
"I don't know Peter," said Mr. Stevens, shaking his head. "I just can't seem to get through to that man."
It took some doing, but Ed had finally lowered his I.V. stand through the window. He was now standing completely outside the terrible Burke rehabilitation center. "That's it! I'm out of here!"
Ed limped his way as fast as he could across the green field to a wooded area. His I.V. stand wouldn't roll over the roots and rocks that were in the woods and it fell down several times as Ed bounded towards an eight-foot tall fence that surrounded the property.
Ed started the painful process of climbing the fence. Normally it wouldn't be that big a deal, but with bare feet, an I.V. attached to his arm, and his hip smarting, Ed strained and sweated minutes on end.
Back at the Burke center, two security guards were sharing a pizza before a large wall of video monitors. They were watching Ed and laughing, trying to guess if he would make it over the fence or not.
A nurse poked her head in their office. "Aren't you going to go get him?" she asked.
"Not yet," replied one of the guards. "We want to see if he makes it over."
After a seemingly endless and arduous effort, Ed reached the top of the fence with his I.V. and began lowering himself down the other side. He soon realized that his gown was caught on the fence. He tried to free it but didn't really have a free hand on account of holding on to his I.V. pole and he dropped to the ground but luckily landed on his feet. His gown was torn from his body and hung to the fence like the flag of a surrendering army. Ed stood on the ground completely naked, holding nothing but his I.V. pole. He was very tired and limped through the woods slowly.
Back at the Burke center, the two security guards were laughing hysterically at the events unfolding. "We better go get him now," said one to the other.
Ed saw two men with flashlights emerge from the center and head toward the woods where he was hiding. He beat a hasty retreat and found himself on a road that ran by the center. He tried to accelerate his escape by using his I.V. stand as a scooter or skateboard, but he was tired and found it difficult.
He managed to find a way to stand with both feet on his I.V. stand. He saw a car coming and managed to hitch a ride to the car. He crouched down on the stand as far as he could, so as not to be seen by the driver. He was in pain and he was inhaling a lot of exhaust, but Ed felt thrilled to be on his way to freedom.
After a few turns the car eventually pulled into a parking lot. Once the car stopped moving completely Ed stood up, only to see that the driver who emerged from the car was his wife, Lynne. Ed was shocked to see that he was in the visitor's parking area of the Burke rehabilitation center.
"Ed, what are you doing? You're naked!" said Lynne, just as the two security guards escorted Ed back into the building.
After his unsuccessful escape attempts, Ed was bruised and tired and sore. His hip did indeed gain more range of motion after he put himself through such a workout as he did. The physical therapists noted how much Ed had improved. Ed had lost the will to escape. He simply figured that it was his fate to remain there until released by the legal system. He thought about writing to Amnesty International to see if they would take up his cause, but he didn't enjoy writing letters.
What Ed didn't notice was that the staff of the facility had been leaving the doors open and unlocked for him after his bedwetting incident. They told the night shift security guards to let Ed escape if he tried again and promised them cash, beer, and pizza if they would conveniently overlook Ed's next escape attempt.
Due to the staff's provisions in hope of Ed's escape, another patient managed to escape. A man who had broken his leg running from the police after exposing himself to a waitress did escape. He had actually befriended Ed during his stay. They talked a lot about the 'Big To Do' breakfast special at Friendly's. The man, Duane, was in the habit of demanding the 'Big To Do' breakfast at all hours of the day and night in various stated of undress. Ed missed Duane, but was soon informed that he had only a few days to go until his release.
When Lynne came to get Ed from the center, she found that the staff had packed all of his bags for him and had wheeled him outside well in advance of her arrival. Ed was in good spirits.
"It's liberation day!" said Ed. He bounded from his wheelchair and jumped into her car. As Lynne pulled away, she thought she faintly heard what sounded like Champagne bottles being uncorked somewhere inside the building.