Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Queens General

TUESDAY MORNING

The doctor said his movements were just reflexes.  But the Jamaican nurse said my father could hear if you talked to him.  So, I did.   I held his hand.   I made some small talk.  When I mentioned that we flew in from Los Angeles on American Airlines, his favorite airline, I thought I saw my father’s head move slightly in approval.

Sitting here in my father’s hospital room feels like a scene in a movie — the scene where loved ones gather around someone who is unable to talk or breathe by himself.  Movie scenes are the only real experience I have of these things. 

It’s not looking too good.  It’s still not clear if it was a heart attack or not.  Whatever the reason, my father, Arthur Kramer, collapsed in the living room.   He is over seventy and not in great health, so it was shocking, but not entirely unexpected.  No, I’m lying — it’s always unexpected.

I’m not sure I’m ready yet to talk about my feelings.  My head is spinning with confusion.  My mother is much stronger than I am.

I would like to bring up my usual favorite subject — Sophia — and say how heroic she’s been.  I was with Sophia when we got the frazzled phone call from my mother.   Sophia and I  were in midst of the most mundane moment possible — we were examining some fake Tupperware in the 99 cents only store to see if it would be a good container to hold some nuts.   When the phone call came, I became  a zombie.  Sophia picked up the slack and called up NY, to talk to the paramedics working on my father.  One paramedic said that it was hopeless and they were going to pronounce him dead.  Sophia insisted that they keep on trying, and after a few minutes, they actually did revive him!  It was like a miracle.  Even if my father doesn’t make it through this, it has been wonderful to have this added time to be together and say goodbye.

While we were still in Los Angeles, we lost contact with my mother.  My long-time friend, Rob, called around and found out that my father was admitted to Queens General Hospital.  This was ironic since my father has worked at Queens General as a physical therapist for forty years.    When we called the hospital for information, no one would give us any.  Sophia called again and again and found Marina, a Russian-speaking clerk.   This wonderful clerk said she would get the information for Sophia.  Not only that, she said that since couldn’t use the hospital phones to call Los Angeles, she would buy a calling card at the gift shop to call back, if Sophia couldn’t reach her.  What a terrific person! 

We arrived in NYC in the morning.   My father was in the emergency room, but doctors were not to be found.  When a doctor finally showed up, he came with 7 interns in tow.  Sophia thought that he was spending more time teaching his students than caring for my father, and spoke up, something my mother or I didn’t have the nerve to do.  The doctor huffed and puffed, but Sophia was right.  He apologized and promised to come back to give a personal consultation. 

It’s really important to be proactive in a sterile hospital setting.   It was amazing to have Sophia to talk to the medical staff and it was amazing to see how it changed things for the better.   When she saw that my mother and I were scared to touch my father without a doctor’s permission, she showed us that we could talk to him and hold his hand.  She’s still the only one who is not afraid to wipe his brow, massage his neck and put his head in a better position.  She was so knowledgeable about things that some of the doctors assumed that she was a doctor herself.

Eventually, the nurses realized who my father was — someone who worked at the hospital for years.  Many didn’t recognize him without his large black "Woody Allen" type glasses.  When they knew he was "one of their own," they all promised to give him the best attention.

Things are not looking good for my father.  But I’m glad to have people around who are loving and collected.  Like Sophia.  Like my long-time friend Rob, who came visiting today.  And that Russian clerk.  I remember during the Katrina disaster wondering to myself why some just stayed in town, doing nothing.  But very few  of us are ready for a disaster or tragedy in our life.  It just comes, sometimes even when you’re in the middle of examining fake Tupperware at the 99 cents only store.

TUESDAY NIGHT

Sophia and I went for dinner across the street — at the Hilltop Diner, which ironically, I wrote about a few days ago.  My Dad likes this place because it is close to the hospital.  After the cat scan, the doctors told us that the prognosis was "very grim."  There was severe damage to the brain and kidneys.  We had our first big cry.

Despite it all, things haven’t been totally depressing.  My father wouldn’t want it that way, and it is not my mother’s personality.   We snuck in some food from the Hilltop Diner and ate in my father’s room.  We told him that he would have liked the pot roast. 

Afterwards, my mother and Sophia  went home to rest.  I decided to spend the night near my father. 

I haven’t read any of your messages yet, but I know you have written.  One of my mother’s friends called my mother, asking about my  father.  "How did you know?" asked my mother.  "It’s all over Neill’s blog," she answered..  "And so many people  wrote such beautiful things." 

So, thanks.

And by the way, my mother doesn’t call my blog a "bolo" anymore.  Now she calls it a "blodge."

Like, I said before, my  father was a pretty happy and friendly guy.  He wouldn’t want gloominess, even with the grim outlook.  If anyone wanted to do something to make him happy, it would be to watch one of his four favorite movies:

1)  The Guns of Navarone
2)  Gunga Din
3)  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
4)  Lawrence of Arabia

WEDNESDAY MORNING

Finally, read your comments.  Thanks again… everyone.  It was so touching. 

My mother spoke with a rabbi about the inevitable.  My uncles are coming to town.  Moore stress!  

As I type this, I am eating pizza — the hospital cafeteria is a pizzeria!  How New York is that?!

WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON

This afternoon was extremely emotional.  Word got around the hospital that Arthur was in ICU.  One after another, doctors, nurses, and staff came to visit my father.  They called him a "sensitive person,"  "dedicated to the hospital," "always there to help everyone who asked and everyone who didn’t,"  "a godsend to his patients," "funny," "a man who was the president of the Jewish doctors and nurses organization AND was the yearly Santa Claus," and "someone who flirted with all the nurses. (that one sounds familiar!)"  I actually didn’t realize how loved he was by people at his work, almost as if he had another family apart from us.  I didn’t know that he was so involved with the hospital auxiliary that provided funds for things the hospital couldn’t afford .  I was also surprised that everyone seemed to know me because I was apparently the only thing he talked about (other than the flirting).

WEDNESDAY NIGHT

The neurologist spoke with the family.  The hospital did more tests and the doctor said that the damage to the brain was even more extensive than they thought.  All the other doctors agreed.  There was no chance of him ever regaining consciousness or any awareness of things around him.  We said that we knew that my father would never want to live this way.  We had to sign all sorts of papers to allow them to disconnect the support tomorrow.

Afterwards, my uncle, his wife, my mother, Sophia, and I went out for dinner at one of Dad’s favorite diners and we shared funny stories about his life.  

Tomorrow morning, we’re going to say our goodbyes to a kind and generous man, Arthur Kramer, my father.

64 Comments

  1. Oh, Neil, I am so upset for your entire family. My thoughts are with you.
    Crying,
    Nicole

  2. I am so sorry. You’ve written about your dad in such a beautiful and touching way. I hope you will write more about him in the coming days and weeks, if you are able. My thoughts are with you.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear the bad news. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  4. Oh, Neil, my heart breaks for you and your family. You’re right, it’s always unexpected.
    Hugs, Bella

  5. Oh Neil, I have no words that can offer any comfort to you, and my heart breaks because of it. I am so grateful that you are surrounded by such loving people (like your family and Sofia). Your dad held on so he could have a little bit more time with all of you. That’s how special your dad is; even God does favors for him.

    You, your dad, and all your loved ones will be on my mind and in my heart tomorrow and for many more moments to come.

  6. Neil, there is nothing I can add here that has not already been said.
    There are prayers and thoughts going out to you and your family. I know it does not take away the pain, but I do hope it does being you a small sense of comfort at this difficult time.

  7. I thought of you the other day as I watched “The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek.” I’ll think of your father tomorrow when I’ll probably watch “The Guns of Navarone” (just because it was such a great recommendation – I haven’t seen it for a while).

    I know that sounds kind of idiotic, or at least unfeeling in a foolish way, but the great tomes I start writing in sympathy … well, they’re not the sort of thing I would have wanted to be reading when something similar occurred in my life.

    So … thoughts and prayers to all of you. And take care of each other.

  8. I’m so sorry Neil. Thinking good thoughts and prayers for you.

  9. So sorry to hear about this.

  10. Neil, I am so sorry. You and your family are in my thoughts.

  11. Oh, Neil, I’m so sorry, and so glad you could say goodbye.
    Take care of each other.

  12. My prayers are with you and your family today, Neil.

  13. Your father sounds like a wonderful person. I send you, your mother and Sophia my condolences. Take care.

  14. My thoughts are with you and your family. Really glad that Sophia is there.

  15. You are an excellent son and Sophia is a marvelous advocate. Your father is very proud of you, I’ve no doubt. Take good care of yourself. I’m lighting a candle for your dad today.

  16. Hey bud, you are not supposed to make grown men get emotional. My Dad is 78 and . . . anyway . . .

    May the Lord be with you and your family.

  17. I’m so sorry, Neil. Take care of yourself and each other.

  18. I was afraid of what the latest post would bring…
    Between my tears and those of your countless readers — and yours — I wish you and your family lots of mental, emotional and physical strength
    in the days ahead.
    With warm thoughts,
    Pearl

  19. What a nice way to leave this world …glad you’re making the best of things (I knew you two would!) – his biological body will remain here – and he will simply be somewhere else.

  20. Oh Neil. That’s so hard. I’ve been there before. All my thoughts are with you.

  21. So sorry to read this, Neil. Please, you or Sophia, let me know if I could be of any help.
    My condolences to all of you.

  22. Oh, Neil … I’m so sorry to hear these updates. Yet, this post was just so beautiful. You had me in tears over here. Your dad sounds like an amazing man, father, husband, and “Citizen of the Hospital!” (Just like you are Citizen of the Month!) 🙂

    I loved learning more about such an amazing man, and it actually reminded me very much of my own grandfather. When he passed, people from all over came out to honor his life. All of us (immediate family) got to see a part of him we never truly understood before until we had the chance to see in other people’s eyes how he had touched their lives.

    Your dad has had the same effect! I’m still lighting a candle in Cleveland for you and your whole family!

    God bless you, Neil … and Sophia, your Mom, your whole family. And most especially your dad!

  23. Neil, there are no words to ease your pain…just support and warm thoughts.
    Randi

  24. Your father sounds like a wonderful, loving man–with a wonderful, loving family. I know he’ll be missed. Take care, Neil. And best wishes to your mother and Sophia, thank goodness you had someone there to help you through it.

  25. Oh my God.

  26. I too am sorry to read this news. I join the rest of your adoring readers to send my thoughts your way.

  27. I’m so sorry Neil. I have no words.

  28. I wish I had something comforting to say. I spend a lot of time on the other side of these conversations. Your father sounds like a truly amazing person, a real Kiddush Hashem. Maybe it’s better form him to go out suddenly like this than after a long debilitating illness. That’s how I’d like to do it. And I’d love to be surrounded by friends and people I’ve helped.

    You know I used to live about 10 blocks from there. I actually did a few rotations at Queens General in Medical School.

  29. Without knowing your father too well (or you for that matter), there is one thing that I do know well… That it meant so much to your father to have you there in NYC during his last moments.

    I’m very sad for you and your family, Neil — and I hope the next few days and coming months afford you the time to make your peace and remember that you still have to write funny stuff on the blog because even in Heaven they have DSL.

    (Not as fast due to the congestion, but still.)

  30. Oh, Neil, I’m so sorry. It was a blessing that you learned how loved your father was by his colleagues. What a wonderful thing to remember about him, along with all the other things you will remember. He’ll live on with you always. I’ll say Kaddish for him.

  31. Just read your post on Little Santa Monica from my parked car and I’m sobbing from the poignancy of it. Thank you for sharing that experience so honestly and movingly.

    Whatever you and Sophia decide to do with your marriage and separation, it’s clear that you two will always be there for each other in the best possible way. I am forever a Sophia fan.

    I will watch “Lawrence of Arabia” in your dad’s honor.

  32. Neil, thank you for sharing this with us, for letting us into your family’s life in such a difficult time.

  33. So sorry to hear this Neil – my thoughts will be with you in the next few days.

  34. Let us now praise famous men,
    and our fathers that begot us.
    The Lord hath wrought great glory by them
    through His great power from the beginning:
    such as did bear rule in their kingdoms, men renowned for their power,
    giving counsel by their understanding, and declaring prophecies;
    leaders of the people by their counsels, and by their knowledge of learning meet for the people,
    wise and eloquent are their instructions;
    such as found out musical tunes,
    and recited verses in writing;
    rich men furnished with ability,
    living peaceably in their habitations.
    All these were honored in their generations,
    and were the glory of their times.
    There be some of them that have left a name behind them,
    that their praises might be reported.
    And some there be, who have no memorial, who have perished, as though they had never been,
    and have become as though they had never been born, and their children after them.
    But these were merciful men,
    whose righteousness hath not been forgotten.
    With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance,
    and their children are within the covenant.
    Their seed standeth fast,
    and their children for their sakes.
    Their seed shall remain for ever,
    and their glory shall not be blotted out.
    Their bodies are buried in peace,
    but their name liveth for evermore.
    The people will tell of their wisdom,
    and the congregation will show forth their praise.

    from Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)44:1-15

    I’ve always liked this passage; sometimes ancient wisdom is the best wisdom.

  35. I am sorry for your loss. I am happy that you have the love and support of so many wonderful people. Doubtless it is because you are so wonderful yourself.

    And thank you for this lovely tribute. It would make your father proud, I’m sure.

  36. I don’t know what to say. I’m so very sorry.

  37. omg, i’m sooo sad. it was truly touching reading your post. my thoughts and prayers are with you, your family, and your father. he sounded like a great, funny man not unlike yourself. i’m glad though that all your loved ones are there with you.

  38. Neil, I’m so sorry! Hang in there.

  39. Neil –
    My thoughts are with you and you family during this time. Although it is a time for mourning, it is also a time to celebrate your father’s life and I’m glad to see you are doing that. Blessings to you and yours.

  40. Neil, I am thinking of you and your family. I am so glad you got to spend this time with your Dad. It sounds like he was very, very proud of you.

    Please take good care of yourself.

  41. I am so very sorry to hear this, Neil. What a wonderful man. I loved reading about him.

  42. Yes, crying, and yes, reminded to keep in touch with loved ones, to enjoy each moment, including the 99 cent store forays. My ex and I were making Bean with bacon soup the night we got the call. He didn’t make it back to North Dakota in time, so you are blessed to have been able to say good-bye.

    p.s. Also wanted to say that Sophia is an amazing woman and a good person to have in your corner.

  43. I’m crying like a little girl here. I’ve been through this Neil, twice. Once with my father, and once with my stepfather. I know the range of emotions swirling around your head. One minute laughing, the next sobbing, most of the time just generally tsedoodelt.

    None of that makes you feel better. If I knew what to say to make you feel better, I would. Just know that I, along with so many others you have touched with your wonderful writing, am thinking of you and your family and sending good wishes, prayers and much rachmones.

  44. I’m so thankfull you have Sophia with you during this time and that she is such a strong person. (Thanks Sophia for taking care of Neil). You paint a beautiful picture of your father and I gladly let my mascara run to you, your family and your father.

  45. I hope today is a beautiful day for you–because as sad as it is, being with someone as they die is as important as being there at their birth. And I’m glad you’re there.

    I’m so sad for you and your family, Neil. And, as always, impressed witht your headstrong and wonderful Sophia. Take care of yourself and your Mom. And know that we, your weird virtual friends, are thinking of you. And we’re here for you.

  46. I have no words. None. I am only a very new addition to your collection of friends, but I am as *here* for you as anyone else. I am sitting here crying for Arthur, even though he doesn’t want me to.

  47. P.S. Neil, while you’re here in NYC, if there is ANYTHING I can do for you, please let me know. And I’m not just saying that to have something to say. I mean it. :-*

  48. Neil,

    You commented on my blog about a month ago, and I only made it to your site to visit today.

    I’m glad to hear that you were able to see your father again, and that you can be with your family right now.

    Thoughts and prayers.

  49. I know this might sound trite, but please know that the memories of being close, and all the loving times you had together, can be a tremendous source of comfort in the months and years to come. Nothing can ever, ever take that away. I know it doesn’t ease the pain or the loss. But it does help somewhat. I hadn’t anticipated that when I lost my mother. Some 13 years later, I still feel so blessed that we were so close. I truly hope that will be the case for you and your family as well. Peace and blessings.

  50. Neil, I hadn’t come by in a while and missed this. So sorry to hear about your dad. I lost my father 3 years ago to a heart attack and since haven’t had a day without thinking about him. Yours sounds like a great guy with a great family.

  51. This is the first time I have ever commented here, my sister reads frequently and directed me here a few weeks back. I’m so sorry for the pain your family must be experiencing right now. Our grandfather passed away five years ago, I too, was greatful the paramedics kept him going so we all got a chance to be with him, and importantly so our grandmother was not alone when he passed. I’m sure your father would be very greatful that you are there, with your mother, supporting her right now. Please know the thoughts and prayers of my family, are with yours tonight, and as you take this journey.
    Dayna

  52. Thank you for sharing this as you did. I can definitely relate to much of what you wrote from when my father passed away. I’m sorry you have to go through it, but I’m glad you are surrounded by love and support. It sounds like you have a very loving family and that Sophia is quite a blessing. Much love to you and the family!

  53. wishing you & your family peace. thanks for reminding us of what it’s all about – through this post is woven a celebration of life, of fathers. thanks.

  54. That brought tears to my eyes… I’m always amazed at how losing a father is so painful at any age… mine when I was 14 and I recall so many of the same emotions. fear. disbelief. grief. love. and finally just extreme wanting to know him as an adult. i wish you and your family peace.

  55. It’s a wonderful gift to be able to say goodbye to your dad and be with him when he passes. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  56. neil, echoing everyone else, i am so sorry for your loss. i have been thinking about you and i wish you prompt peace of mind and comfort during this terribly trying time. thank you for sharing with us, and know that this community you foster will be your support for as long as you need it. amanda

  57. Neil. So sorry for the state in which you find yourself. Prayers and thought, again, sir.

  58. Your dad sounds like a great guy. What a terrible time for all of you. Lots of sympathy.

  59. Hey Neil. Just a note to tell you that you and Sophia are on our radar screens still.

  60. Neil,

    I’m so glad you have Sophia, and that you got to hear and see how loved your father was. Thank you for sharing him with us in your stories. Your love and affection for him animates him on this blog and makes him seem like someone I have met and known.

    take care of yourself.

  61. Your story really inspires me to express my feelings to my loved ones. Maybe, you must just think that you’re still grateful that you waved goodbye to your dad before he left. Thank you for sharing your story to us.

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