Falling Down

The basketball arena sat in a bowl about 100 feet in front of us and 20 feet below us after we were dropped off on 55th Street by my wife. Viejas Arena was lit up for the San Diego State basketball game and my dad was walking toward it, his eyes straight ahead. Does he see those two steps coming? He knows he has to descend to get to the arena gate so he must know there are steps. Right?

Dad never made it inside Viejas Arena

Dad never made it inside Viejas Arena

He didn’t. And as he was walking with his cane he tripped on the first step, he fell and landed right on his face. I’d seen it happen before. My dad, born in 1925 and who served in D-Day in World War II, can’t catch himself with his hands before his head hits the ground. I don’t know why. I guess when you’re 89 years old you just can’t. He broke his glasses and bled like a faucet. There’s something about cutting the skin on your face that makes you bleed like that.

The arena security detail soon took notice. Before long he was surrounded by cops and paramedics who were continually asking him if he knew where he was and what year it was. They were handing him paper towels to press against his forehead. Then a fire truck arrived. “They know we’re here!” said one member of the emergency crew assigned to the Aztec game. “I don’t know why they still come. ”

One guy asked my dad whether he took any medication. Are you kidding? He’s an old man. He takes tons of medication! No, we don’t have a list.

My wife hadn’t been gone for a minute after dropping us off when my father hit the cement. So I called her and told her to come back. She took him to the Scripps Mercy trauma ward and emergency room once we got him loaded him into the car.

This game was a birthday gift from me to my dad. Three tickets together were tough to get, given how well San Diego State was playing. After my dad headed off, mom and I decided to take in the rest of the game. There was nothing we could do and dad was continually saying he’d ruined it all. OK. We’ll stay for the rest of the game so the evening wasn’t all ruined.

But as the student section of the arena shouted, danced and held signs aloft and while the Aztecs took apart a much lesser foe, the whole time I was thinking: Why didn’t I just tell him he had to hold my arm while we were walking in? Why didn’t I jump in front of him when I saw those steps coming?! My parents have gone to these games before and come out beaming and saying how great it is to be around young people. The closer they come to the end of life the more they love the antics and blundering spirit of college kids.

When the game was done I drove to Scripps Mercy to spell my wife and make sure dad was getting what he needed. He was in a draped-off bay of the E.R. where he lay on a bed, his face a bloody mask and his left eye swelled shut. In the hallway, a man lay on a mobile bed and was wearing a net bag over his head. We later learned it’s to prevent the patient from biting or spitting on docs and nurses. In a neighboring bed a man with twisted, matted grey beard lay silently. He looked like one of the frequent fliers: homeless men who can end up in emergency rooms dozens of times a year.

Scripps Mercy can be a tough place on a Saturday night. Maybe that’s why the majority of nurses there are men. This is where I ended up when I was hit by a car, and my brain injury caused me to be confused and belligerent. I was mentally blanked at the time and I recall none of what was in the official report, and I didn’t realize the nurses who sometimes had to wrestle me back into bed were perfectly able to do it.

On the night my dad fell, a nurse came into the waiting room to tell me my dad was getting up and wanted to leave. I put away my book and went back to tell him he had to wait for his stitches, and the doctors really thought he should stay until morning so a surgeon could look at the eye-socket bone he cracked during the fall. He was rigged up with tubes and sensors. I imagined him trying to talk away and being pulled to the ground by all those attachments.

Big city E.R.’s are sad places where tragedy and need come in the door and can wait forever to be tended to… not that it’s going to do much good in a lot of cases. As for my dad, I guess he’ll keep falling until one day he doesn’t get up. The rest of us are no different. But then there are those kids in Viejas Arena, dancing to the time-out music and making asses of themselves to distract the visiting team as they shoot free throws. Death would be impossible without life. Foolish, sexy, unapologetic life.

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