S.Q. Lapius’s blimp-like figure was hidden by a white hospital sheet that was tucked under his chin, exposing his head only. The side-rails were up on either side of his bed. He inspected the plastic bracelet on his right wrist carefully, reading his name slowly, and enunciating carefully the name Gelfand.
He peered up at me, “Is Gelfand ill?”
“No,” I said, “it’s you who are ill. Gelfand is taking care of you.”
“Gelfand is a heart doctor. Have I had a heart attack?” He queries, with some degree of concern.
“No, you have not had a heart attack. Now take it easy. Don’t be alarmed.”
“Harry, I am not alarmed, simply inquisitive. What am I doing in the hospital?”
“You are not doing anything of importance. As a matter of fact I brought you here myself.”
“You probably won’t believe this, Simon, but you fell off your bicycle.”
Lapius pondered this for a moment. “Impossible, Harry. The fact is I can’t ride a bicycle.”
“That’s precisely the point, Simon. You can’t. As a matter of fact I was trying to teach you how to ride.”
“Strange. I don’t remember a thing.”
“I shouldn’t expect you would. You had a bad spill. But you had insisted that I teach you to ride so you would have a method of exercise to help you lose weight. I promised. You met me at the front door on a chilly fall morning, decked out in a blazing red sweat suit, hardly the proper attire, I might add. We drove to the park in a taxi and rented a bicycle for you. Do you remember any of this?”
Lapius looked blank. “You are pulling my leg, Harry.”
“Not at all, Simon. I held the bike for you while you mounted, and gave you a series of small pushes to teach you how to maintain your balance. On one such push you actually went for a hundred feet or so.”
“That doesn’t sound too dangerous.”
“It wasn’t, but it gave you unwarranted confidence. You demanded that I push you once more and leave you to your own devices. I tried to warn you, but you would have none of it. I didn’t want to argue. So I gave you a push.”
“Well, you went along reasonably well for a few hundred feet, but weren’t able to stop at the crest of the hill. The bicycle gathered speed, and you disappeared from sight. There was a resounding crash. When I arrived you and the bike were tangled in a clump of briars. They account for the scratches on your face. You were conscious, but unaware of your surroundings, and asked that I mix you a drink. I got some of the park attendants, and with long poles we disentangled you and the bike from the briars. However, there doesn’t seem to be anything seriously wrong with you except for a concussion and loss of memory. You’ll be out of the hospital in a day or two.”
“Where am I now?”
“This is the intensive care unit. However, you’ll be moved to a semi-private room this afternoon.”
“Don’t rush that Harry. I quite like it here.”
I surveyed the ward-like atmosphere, the several nurses hovering around, the cardiac monitoring machines, the complete surveillance, the close quarters. “How can you like it here? You look like a basket case.”
“I like it here because I feel safe here, Harry. Look at all the nurses available to keep an eye on me, to help me in a moment if I need it.”
“But there’s no privacy.”
“But there’s care. When I want privacy I’ll go to a hotel. The purpose of a hospital is care, and the intensive care unit seems to provide it in abundance. No I’m quite content.”
Later that afternoon, they moved him, despite his protestations, by wheel chair, to a semi-private room. They moved him during visiting hours, and had a hard time squeezing him into the room because of the visitors that crowded the bedside of the other patient.
As a form of protest, Lapius went limp so they had to get two orderlies to transfer him to bed. He didn’t regain either his memory or his usually ebullient spirits till he returned home a day or so later.
“I’m glad I had the experience, Harry,” he confided. “It reaffirms my belief that the American public has been conned by the concept of the semi-private room. They really mean semi-public.”
“Do you remember anything of what happened?” I asked, trying to change the subject.
“I remember trying to stop that infernal bicycle. I pressed my feet on the brakes but nothing happened. The brakes were faulty. You should have checked them first before you allowed me to use the bike.”
“But the bicycles today don’t have foot brakes, Simon.”
“Where are the brakes, then?”
Holy smokes, I had forgotten to tell him that they are attached to the handlebars. He would never forgive me. I changed the subject.
“Did you think the overall care in the hospital was adequate?”
“Surprisingly, yes. Except the food. They served hot food and cold food. The coffee was cold and the ice-cream was hot.”
“Simon, you were a pleasanter man before you regained your memory,”