Elbow Grease


Mom and Dad were physical people. They changed their own oil, fixed up all our furniture a thousand times, and plumbed like they were born to the sewers. Dad even learned some basic wiring to avoid calling in an electrician.

Which made it that much harder to see Dad in his hospital gown, prepped for surgery. Mom held his hand, the one that wasn’t poked full of IVs, and I sat a little behind him. The nurse said, “Now, I need you to confirm that you understand the procedure we’re going to perform.”

Dad interrupted her. “You’re going to pull out some of the old wiring, plunge the line, and patch me up with what passes for electrical tape if you’re a surgeon.” In spite of the situation, Mom snorted laughter.


“Yes, I get it. You’re removing plaque. You’re putting something else in place of my vascular walls. Listen, you’re cute. What do you say I take you out for coffee and we forget all about this nasty heart business.”


Mom kissed his forehead. “You’re incorrigible,” she said.

The nurse smiled brightly. She said, “Or we could go to a bar. I know this anesthesiologist who can mix up a mean cocktail.”

“Now you’re talking!”

Mom rolled her eyes and looked in my direction. “Don’t encourage him,” she told the nurse.

“It’s all right,” she said. “A positive attitude is what gets most heart patients through. We’re about to head back to surgery now.” Indeed, an entire team had materialized around the bed. They tugged and rotated, and soon, my father was on his way out the door.

Mom stood up suddenly. “Jim!” she called.

The whole parade stopped for a moment as she walked across the room. She took his hand again and said, “You come back to me, now. I love you old man.”

Dad smiled from the gurney. “My heart is going to be just fine,” he said. “All it needs is a little elbow grease.”

Then they let go of each other, and he rolled away down the hall. I said, “He’ll be OK, Mom.”

Mom said, “I know. Or I hope I do. I just hope he doesn’t tell so many jokes the doctor forgets how to operate.”

“That’s why they put him under, I think. So the doctor can concentrate and do his job.”

“You’re probably right about that. Anyway, let’s scoot back down the hall. That waiting room isn’t going to populate itself, you know.”

“I guess not.” I tried hard to think of one of Dad’s signature jokes to fill the silence, but nothing came, so I took my mother’s hand and we walked out together.

For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Barb Black gave me this prompt: All it needs is a little elbow grease.

I gave Kat this prompt: Chad followed me from room to room singing his cow song while I picked up dirty laundry and cleaned litter boxes.

About jesterqueen:
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.


Elbow Grease — 9 Comments

  1. This one really got to me, Jessie, because my Dad’s been having some heart issues in recent weeks. It’s all fine for now, thankfully.

    • I was remembering my grandfather, when he had surgery about a fifteen years ago. We were falling apart all around him. And he had this event. It was awful. They were in Florida, and he woke up having mini-strokes. Being a doctor, he flatly refused medical care. He trucked himself off to a doctor friend later and they together determined that his most important artery ever was 93% blocked. Or maybe it was 98%.

      SO HE DROVE HOME TO LOUISVILLE. HE DROVE. Not Mummum. HIM. 48 hours from South Florida to Kentucky.

      Here are the two things I will never forget. First, I was walking to class on UK’s campus, and the carillion started playing Delta Dawn. It never played it again. It had never played it before. That was like Poppa’s song. I assume it wasn’t really playing it then. Anyway, I fled around finding a phone, but I couldn’t get ahold of my grandparents. I finally did reach Mom, who had already talked to them and found all this out. Typically, people who make supernatural communicative efforts are ALREADY DEAD. And since these two were on the road with no cell phones, and a stubborn unwillingness to file travel plans with the rest of us, Mom and I spent two days worried until they got home and finally touched base.

      Second, after he got home, his more sensible doctor friends got their hands on him and had him in surgery before I could figure out when it was scheduled. It did take a few days, but communication was sparse, nobody remembered to call me, and things were confusing, and the only one besides me who understood how to e-mail was Poppa, and he wasn’t exactly computer-ready. So I arrived at the hospital after they had already taken him back, which to me was like “What if I never got to say goodbye?”. But he came through. And after he’d been in recovery for awhile, they moved him up to a room. I don’t know how it happened, but I wound up on the elevator with the stretcher, and he said, without looking up (I was standing right behind his head), “Is that Jess?” I think I’d said maybe one or two words. And he knew me just like that. And he knew I needed that reassurance that he was OK.

      So that was where my mind was with this one, with this guy who is the sick one, but is still holding everyone together.

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  3. My dad had heart surgery a few years ago, I can only wish everyone had been that upbeat and positive. It would have made the situation much easier to handle. He came out of surgery fine, but Dang! it was a maudlin bunch for a few ays.

    • Yeah, we were pretty angsty too, until we were sure Poppa would be OK. I was imagining a couple of people who were a bit stronger than we really were!

  4. Nice use of the prompt. I like how the prompt relates back to who they are as people (being physical people) and how it is not normally a term I imagine is used in heart surgery.

    • Thanks Andrea! I wanted to capture the contrast between the practical people these parents are and the esoteric world of medicine they’ve entered. The dad here has taken the things he can relate to and applied them to the situation at hand.