Monday, July 6, 2020

Dr. Cranky

For those of you who remember who he is from previous blog posts, Doctor Cranky died earlier this year.   That wasn’t his real name, of course.  For that matter, he wasn’t a real doctor, either.   He had a PhD in political theory or some such self created field of study.  He studied (I believe) for a year, or perhaps only a semester, under Dr. Henry Kissinger at Harvard University, and so he told everyone that he got his education at Harvard rather than name whatever state university actually gave him his credentials.   He also presented himself as a doctor, in fact, as a physician, because he had taken two years of medical school before he dropped out.   Although it was apparently never enough for him, as evidenced by the way he constantly inflated and misrepresented his accomplishments, he had a quite remarkable life.   

Dr. Cranky’s father was a pilot in World War I, and both of the two sons, Cranky and his brother Bill, joined the Navy.  Bill went to the Naval Academy and, when Cranky asked whether he should do the same, Bill allegedly told him that if he had to ask he shouldn’t go, that he wouldn’t be happy.  Cranky took that advice and always resented it because he saw it as an impediment in his later Naval career.   After graduating from high school at age 15, Cranky joined the Marines as a gunner (with his parents permission) because he was not old enough yet to get into either the academy or fighter pilot training.   He remained a skilled marksman until he lost his sight many years later.  Both brothers became Naval Aviators, fighter pilots, and Bill always said that Cranky was a far better pilot; but Bill was the one who became a 4 star admiral in the end, while Cranky left the service in what sounded like a snit.  He knew what the fast track was like for the academy grads like his brother, whom he considered less intelligent and less skilled, and he didn’t get the same options as an enlisted guy, and it always rubbed him wrong.   After leaving the service, he earned his PhD and spent some time as a University professor until burned bridges prevented him from gaining tenure, and ultimately he became a college dean at a community college.  There, too, he was let go as soon as they found it possible, although he had the sense to get a written contract when he took that job so he took a handsome settlement with him when he left.

I met Cranky in my one and only on-line dating experience,  and he showered me with attention and gifts and flattery.   My female friends pushed aside my concerns about some of his behaviors - road rage, hoarding, abuse of waiters - and said that I was just so long out of the dating pool, having been single for 14 years since my divorce, that I was misjudging him.   I was stupid, insecure and devoid of any history of healthy relationships.  He was fun to talk to, adored everything about me, and always treated me with gentleness and apparent respect.   I conditionally accepted his lovely engagement ring, the first I had ever had and which I loved with a pathetic energy, but eventually, if not quickly enough, realized that we could never live comfortably together.  Similarly to other narcissists, Cranky went into blind furies for no apparent reason, and despite his genuine intelligence, resorted to childish criticism and name calling of anyone and anything I held dear.   He was jealous of my slightest attention to anything that wasn’t him.

When I broke things off with him (and gave him back his ring), he asked if I would do him one final favor and drive him to a doctor’s appointment because he was feeling ill.   As I sat in the waiting room, I could hear the physician screaming at him that he knew exactly what was wrong and what needed to be done.  Cranky stormed out of the office and refused to tell me a thing as I drove him home.   Later that afternoon, the physician called me, as I was listed as the emergency contact, and demanded to know how Cranky, supposedly a doctor, had not realized sooner that he was ill.   The physician said that Cranky had advanced diabetes, advanced heart failure, and likely less than a week to live.   On receiving that news, Cranky apparently called the physician a quack and the argument ensued.

Cranky’s only son was a single man busy building a career in New York city.    The two of them were close in the way that two independent adults were close, but health concerns had never been shared.  Both of them were fit, cyclists, who rode hundreds of miles a week.  Sickness was the last thing on their minds.   In his view, his son could not drop everything to take care of a sick parent, so I continued to drive Cranky to a series of increasingly difficult appointments.   A cardiac specialist told me that I would one day walk into his house and find Cranky dead, that nothing could be done.  The physician also considered me something of a saint for trying to help.   But still Cranky lived on.

Cranky continued to decline, his legs swelling up like moon boots and then splitting and shedding more than an inch of outer matter.  His genitals swelled to the size of a soccer ball and he refused to wear anything but a t-shirt.   The caregivers I hired to help him were thrown — or ran — out of the house after mere minutes.  So I continued trying to work every day, caring for my own house and dog, and stopping by his house in the mornings to clean him and make him a plate of food (which he ate with his fingers) and again at night to clean  him up and feed him again.  I spent every spare minute in his house, cleaning and caring for him.  He stumbled around the house like an enormous goose, leaving his waste wherever it fell, and my life (and probably his) blended into one long nightmare.   

After months, I somehow got him into my car and finally got him admitted to a hospital but they threw him out the next morning after he spent the night berating and threatening the nurses with bodily harm.  The next time a physician told me that Cranky would die soon, I responded that he’d damn well better.   Meanwhile, Cranky was increasingly delusional, believing himself trapped in an underground series of Japanese tunnels, and not recognizing me from time to time.   Because he owned an arsenal of weapons, and because I knew nothing about them, I found as many guns as I could and hid them, which eventually led to my learning to shoot and handle guns as a way of recognizing and knowing how to handle the guns in Cranky’s house.    He became too weak for me to transport to appointments, and so time went by, both of us stuck in a cycle of ugliness.  It got to the point that every time I found him alive felt like a broken promise.

I eventually found, by trial and error, a wonderful endocrinologist who coached me on how to get some occasional insulin into Cranky by sneak attacks and bribery.   There were times when he screamed and fought at the sight of me, other times when I could give the injection without his even knowing I was there.  We were guessing at dosage, but eventually he improved enough that he could finally get into the office to see her, and she charmed him by telling him that his education was more impressive than her own.   In a matter of weeks, in what seemed like a miracle, Cranky became able to think and self medicate and behave again, at least as well as he had before.   His friends and brother were able to visit and celebrate his resurrection.  Cranky wrapped up the jewelry I’d returned and insisted I take it back, and his brother and friends all agreed that I was owed much, much more.    And when I lost my job a few months later, I was able to move away and begin to put the horrors of the past years behind me.

Cranky stayed in touch, and swore to everyone that he would have been dead without me.   I do not disagree, although I was never sure it had been worth the cost.   He sent me gifts, which I returned, but we talked fairly often.

And then one day on the phone he started insulting someone I love, for no apparent reason, and I warned him again that I would not talk to him if he was not going to be civil about people I cared about.   He repeated the insult and I told him good-bye and hung up.   He called me back to tell me that I did not respect him the way he deserved to be respected and hung up on me.   He never called again, although he sent a few more gifts, which I sent back.   I held my breath for months, but never heard from him directly again, although I had a few queries from his friends, who said he would love to hear from me.    It has been what?  12 or more years since then.

Several weeks ago his son sent me an email, telling me of his father’s death the night before.   His son wanted me to know that, thanks to me, Cranky had lived long enough to meet and enjoy his three grandchildren.  I am happy for that because I cannot think of a greater blessing for anyone.  When the pandemic is over, his remains will be interred at Arlington Cemetery, and his son hopes that I will consider being there.  My husband thinks it would be good for me to go if it ever comes to that.

And then, oddly and suddenly, every photo from the years when Dr. Cranky was in them disappeared from my laptop.   I suspect the pictures are there somewhere, nothing really disappears from a hard drive after all, and that I will eventually find and recover them.  But for now it seems fitting that they are gone.   


Barbara said...

I’m sorry you had to go through this, and your willingness to do it amazes me. The pictures are interesting. After my father and I had the final argument of our relationship (which was really only an argument in his mind...I simply disagreed with him), I was walking past a large decorative platter he’d given me. It was hanging on the dining room wall. I barely bumped it, but it fell from the wall and crashed on the floor. It broke with such force that some of the pieces ended up stuck in the wall. It had to be carefully removed to avoid damaging the wallboard any worst than it already was. It seemed such a perfect metaphor for the end to that relationship. I’m guessing something similar happened with your pictures.

Marie Louise said...

I remember reading your adventures with dr.Cranky a long time ago and wondering why you put up with this man and cheered when you finally decided that enough was enough. If you think back about that that time: don't think about all the difficulties but just be proud of yourself that you did what a lot of people wouldn't do and that is taking care of this what seemed very difficult and ungrateful man.