I have a friend with a Willie of her own.
Huh. Probably could have phrased that better.
But really. Where is the fun in that?
We trade adventure stories about our Willies, this friend and I. Usually, she wins.
But I have this week in the bag.
And I think I need to pen an entire column of references to our Willies.
It was last Thursday when Willie called me. She felt out of breath. She was positive — positive — she had COVID-19.
“I need you to buy me a test,” Willie said. “Drop it outside my door. Wear your mask. Then run away. Down the hallway. Go home.”
Like COVID is the Terminator.
Can’t you just see Willie standing on the other side of her apartment door, all earnestness and five o’clock shadow like Kyle Reese, telling me covid can’t be bargained with, has no pity, and absolutely will not stop?
I went to the Temple of Doom, tested Willie for COVID, and dug out her rescue inhaler.
“Two puffs every four hours,” I instructed Willie.
By Friday afternoon, Willie was feeling much better and I was waiting for Harvard to bestow upon me an honorary medical degree.
But when the phone rang at 7:50 on Saturday morning, I knew Harvard would rescind that degree.
“This is 911 dispatch for Montgomery County,” the caller said.
Willie called emergency services when she woke up unable to breathe. I hung up with dispatch and called Willie.
“Can’t … breathe,” Willie panted. “Try … better,” she gasped.
I’m not sure if she meant she’d try to get better or if she wanted me to be better. But she complains that she never sees me so I think it was probably the latter.
Emergency services took Willie to the hospital where she proved to be … just fine.
No COVID. No pneumonia. Not even a common cold.
But one errant lab value bought Willie a stay in the hospital’s observation unit.
Barely 12 hours after that call from dispatch, a perky Willie called me.
“Hey!” she chirped. “I’ve been admitted. I’m staying four days.”
Like the hospital is an Airbnb.
“Is there turn down service?” I asked.
“I’d like a few things from the Temple of Doom,” Willie prattled.
Those “few things” included everything but her La-Z-Boy and 2022 tax return.
Which doesn’t exist anyway.
I cannot wait to tell you that story.
I explained to Willie that, at eight on a Saturday night, no one was available to get her things, and couldn’t get into the hospital anyway.
Besides, I had spoken with the doctor. They anticipated discharging Willie the very next day.
But Sunday saw that lab value still as uncooperative as the lady it came from. Willie needed to stay one more night.
So my brother hit the Temple of Doom, loaded the dining room table into his car, and took it and himself for a visit with Willie.
That was when Willie explained she planned to leave. To sign herself out. Against medical advice.
Willie came by this plan to escape from Alcatraz honestly. Back in the ’80s, her father also eloped from the hospital.
In just his hospital gown.
He was found walking on Cottman Avenue, barefoot, derrière flapping in the breeze.
“I told her she had to stay. But I don’t think it’ll stick,” my brother warned me.
That was about the time Willie called me.
She was leaving, she told me. Going home. She’d rideshare if she had to. But she was leaving.
I excused myself from the dinner table, transferring my plate of pasta to our office. I ate my dinner, read The New York Times, and listened to Willie’s plan.
The staff explained to Wille that signing herself out would shift the burden of paying the hospital bill from insurance to Willie.
But Willie had a plan for that.
“I’ll tell them I had horrible care and then they can’t charge me,” Willie explained.
“No,” I told Willie, popping a meatball in my mouth as I read a review of the new Exorcist movie.
“No?” Willie asked.
“No,” I said.
An hour later, Willie texted me. I was right, she conceded, complete with a winking emoji face blowing me a kiss. It was best for her to stay one more night.
Great. Good. Job well done, me.
Come Monday, Willie was, in fact, discharged.
I strode through the hospital’s front doors later that day.
And almost tripped over Willie.
She sat on a lobby bench, alone, her belongings haphazardly packed in a grocery bag beside her, a walker propped by her side.
“I don’t like this thing. Leave it,” Willie said, shoving the walker toward me.
“Does — does your nurse know you’re in the lobby?” I asked.
Willie didn’t know. Didn’t particularly care, either. She wanted me to ditch the walker, load her in the car, and jet.
“I got tired of waiting for them to bring me to the lobby,” Willie explained. “So as soon as they gave me the walker, I left.”
As in, the walker she didn’t need.
Willie’s hospital unit was shocked when I called to explain her escape. They had no idea she was gone.
“Is it genetic?” I asked Willie. “Pop-Pop escaped so you had to escape too?” I wondered aloud if my siblings and I were chromosomally destined to abscond from hospitals.
Sometimes, I struggle with what to say in this space.
A sentiment I voiced to Willie.
“My name is going to be in your column this week, isn’t it?” Willie asked.
Yes it is.
And I’m sure I won this week’s battle of the Willies.