"The Wizard? But nobody can see the Great Oz! Nobody's ever seen the Great Oz! Even I've never seen him!"
Mother looked weary and mussed. She said, "They say my mouth is crooked."
She spoke much clearer than I had been expecting. There was perhaps a tiny slurring of a word here and about, but not much.
"Not very crooked," I said.
Dad sat down in a chair in the room. He was exhausted. I had pushed the chair near the bed. He took her hand.
"They say I had a stroke," she said, but she didn't know much else. She also kept drifting in and out of consciousness. She said something about them giving her morphine. When she floated back to us she told about the women.
"There were these women in my living room. I said, 'What are you doing here?' and they said, 'We're working.'"
Then she said, "Last night a man came in the room. He was in a wheelchair. I rang the bell for the nurse and she came in. 'What's this man doing in here?' I asked.
"'What man?' She said.
"'The man in the wheelchair.'
"'There's no man in here', she said
"'Well, I saw him,' I told her, but she paid me no mind. I swear there was a man in a wheelchair."
Maybe she had a premonition. The next time we came we commandeered a wheelchair in the lobby and rolled dad up to her room. The long halls were too much for him. Maybe she saw him coming in her room in a wheelchair before he actually did.
There was an oxygen tube plugged into her nose and IV's stuck in both arms. There was a control for the bed and a button at the end of a cord for calling the nurse. She was a tangle of tubes and cables. She had a TV remote on the bed, but she kept losing it in the web of blankets and hookups. She could lift her left arm, but not flex or open her hand. She couldn't move her left leg at all.
I decided to go out to the nurse station and ask exactly what happened to her and what was being done for her. There was a young woman sitting behind the counter. (To be honest, they're all young women to me now. They could be sixty years old and I'd say the young woman at the counter.) She kind of ignored me until I said, "Excuse me". Then she looked up.
I told her my mother was in Room 261 and I wondered if she could tell me exactly what happened to her.
Well, no, she couldn't. She wasn't a nurse, just some kind of clerk, I guess. I thanked her, because I'm polite that way. I saw another young woman come down the corridor who appeared to be a nurse. It is hard to tell who's who anymore. Nobody wears white, doctors or nurses. Maybe the cafeteria lady shows up in a white apron, but everyone else is wearing "scrubs", except the scrubs today look like the frocks Kindergarten teachers use to wear, gaily colored with joyful little images. My daughters wear the same kind of scrubs at the shelter where they work as VetTechs. But I was willing to bet the lady walking my way was probably not a VetTech.
"Excuse me," I proffered again, "can you tell me anything about my mother. She's in Room 261."
"She had a stroke," she said.
Yes, we knew that. "What is the extent?" I asked.
"Oh, you'll have to ask the Nurse-on-Duty for any more information."
"I though you were the nurse."
"No," she said and I said, "Thank you," and we went our ways.
When I finally caught up to the Nurse-on-Duty it was a different day and time, but same old conversation beginning with the same old, "Excuse Me".
"Can you tell me something about my mother? She's the lady in Room 261."
"She had a stroke."
"Okay, but is it going to improve? What is affected? How is it being treated?"
"I'm sorry," she said, "but you'll have to talk to the Doctor about those things."
"Where can I find the Doctor."
"He's not here today. This is his day in that other town. You could call his office." She told me the name of his professional association.
That afternoon when I got home I looked up the number for his professional association online. I called the number. A woman answered who was either having a bad day or just didn't want to be there answering calls from pests like your's truly.
"'Lo. Such and such Associates," she said in a flat, boring, annoyed voice.
I gave my name and my mother's name. I asked to speak to Dr. Whatzit's. I told her my mother was in Room 261...
"Which hospital," she spat at me like I was the dumbest jerk who ever came down the pike.
I told her.
"That's the other one," she said. "Let me transfer you," and zap I was waiting out a ringing phone.
The next voice was at least pleasant.
"I am trying to reach Dr. Whatzit," I say.
"Oh, he's at that other hospital today," she says. I'll transfer you..."
"No, I was just transferred here by them. Can you just ask Dr. Whatzit to call me?'
She took down the pertinent information and said she would get the message to him.
I waited for the phone to ring the rest of the day.
I was beginning to learn how things were going to go in the days ahead. I would quickly learn I might not be in Kansas anymore, but there wasn't any Wizard either. There wasn't even a curtain.