The first room my father was brought to after being released from the MICU unit, was Number 161 on the seventh floor. It is a four-patient room and with Dad's arrival, all of the beds were now full.
Across from my father, tucked up under the covers like a small child, was Mr. Chapman.
He looked to be about my dad's age, maybe a bit younger. Sunken cheeks, graying hair, slim, knobbed fingers slipping out from under the blankets gave him the unflattering appearance of Gollum. On a good day.
His voice reminded me of Droopy, the small dog from the cartoons of my youth. A bit whiny, a little slow, somewhat high-pitched.
Our first glimpse of Mr. Chapman belied his feisty character. He was no mere dutiful patient. He was a force to be reckoned with.
As we sat in our chairs waiting for the nurses to get Dad settled in, we spied Mr. Chapman's leg sliding out from under the covers. Slowly, very slowly, he maneuvered it up and over the top of the bed rail that had been raised to protect him.
"Put your leg back in, Mr. Chapman." came the voice of the sitter in the room. Obviously she was wise to his ways.
"I'm not doing anything." came his reply.
Oh, dear. He is somewhat like my own children. They certainly have their hands full here.
The days we spent in Room 161 were never dull. In fact, we rather looked forward to seeing the men that resided there. All of them.
On Thursday, Mr. Chapman's family came to visit him. Hmmm, let's see if we can guess who they are. Older brother, sister (maybe), and wife? No.
The "older brother" turned out to be his father!! A very handsome man, dressed well in a tweed jacket, crisp shirt, tie and dress pants.
"Sister" was his mother. A tall, pretty woman whose appearance did nothing to give away her true age.
The "wife" was just that. Common law, as confessed by her own mouth. A very slim woman, missing teeth and fawning over Mr. Chapman as though this day was his last on Earth.
If these were his parents, he could not be as old as my father. He isn't. He is 59 years old. My heart immediately softened towards this sad, little man.
What could possibly have propelled him into such a downward spiral? Alcohol and drugs were the robber barons of his life. He had made poor choices and his choices had brought him here.
In the room, between the two windows, was a large white box that hid the pipes leading from one floor to the next. To my father, it was a chimney. To Mr. Chapman, it was the refrigerator.
"Hey. Do you think you could get me a cold beer from the refrigerator over there?"
My sister was a little taken aback as there was no refrigerator to be found.
"They don't have beer here, Mr. Chapman."
"Yes. Yes. It's right over there."
"No. You cannot have beer here."
"Then how about a cigarette? Or a cigar?"
"No. You can't smoke here either."
"All I want is a nice, cold beer!"
That conversation propelled him into a rant the likes I have not ever heard. We all turned towards Dad, trying not to encourage the ornery man across from us. It did not work.
"I'm sorry your family did not come today, Mr. Chapman." The nurse was trying to calm him down.
"I'm going to kick you in the head you #@%*!!" Wow. That poor woman.
The string of obscenities kept coming, and the nurse, with all the patience she could muster, handled him brilliantly. They really do hire angels at the VA hospital.
Finally he calmed down, mumbled a very insincere apology and fell asleep. Peace, at last.
We discovered that he has been at the hospital for weeks now. He is the patient that everyone knows and loves, despite his behavior. He is a fallen hero, broken and alone in a world that he created.
Each day we tried to gain more insight into Mr. Chapman. Was he sly and manipulative? Or had he really reverted to the small boy that he used to be? Whichever it was, he demanded and commanded attention, and he like it that way.
On Wednesday, I made chocolate-pumpkin muffins for the men in 161, as well as the nurse assigned to them. Just a little something for Halloween that they could enjoy and was not candy.
Mr. Chapman dug into his greedily.
"Mmmmmm. Becky, that's really good. I've been trying to call you all day."
"Me? Why, Mr. Chapman."
"There's bad storms coming. Tornadoes. You need to drive carefully."
"Thank you, Mr. Chapman. I'll remember that."
He thinks I'm Becky. I wonder who Becky is?
The nurse asks the question for me. "Mr. Chapman, who is this?" pointing at me.
"Is Becky your sister?"
"That is Mr. Kimball's daughter. The man over there."
"Yep. That's Dad."
He had placed us in his world now, and we were his family.
Somewhere in his mind, Mr. Chapman, the real one, has been closed off and detached. In his place is the impish Mr. Chapman. The one who escapes from his bed and slithers on the floor, jumps to a chair and hops in it to his desired destination. The man who looks at you with blank eyes for hours, only to have a flash of recognition, right or wrong, propel him into the moment, where he will participate freely, only to disappear again just as quickly.
He lives for family visits, Reese's peanut butter cups, Oreo cookies, a cold, salty glass of water and a Georgia-Georgia Tech football game.
"I'm not really a crud, you know."
No, Mr. Chapman, you're not.