The great, black, hairy beast stalked the lobby.

It punched the button, slipped through the elevator doors.

Up, up. Out.

Past gaping nurses.

Down the hall.

Intense. Relentless.



Three months ago, I wrote about my mother-in-law, who’d fallen and cracked some ribs. You can find the essay if you page down: how she went to the hospital, rehabbed, went home and lived happily ever after.

Until shortly before Halloween.

She was leaving the public library in her Pennsylvania hometown, walking back to her car, lugging her purse, a bag with three hard-bound books, and her cane, and she missed the curb.

So. Off–again–to Abington Hospital. Where they clapped her under an x-ray machine, and found she’d broken her hip.

Back in Brooklyn, we got a call at 11:30 p.m.: Ev was scheduled for hip surgery.

We drove to Abington the next day and found her on the Cardiac Unit, in traction.

She had, we discovered, hit the ER at 3:30 PM the day before. Why didn’t she call us then, instead of having the staff notify us at nearly midnight?

“I figured I’d wait until I went home,” she said. “Then I’d call you to tell you the good news–how I’d fallen, but everything was just fine.”

Whereupon I dubbed her The Queen of Magical Thinking.

She was on the Cardiac Unit, a nurse told us, because her heart was skipping beats, and her blood pressure was sky-high. Ev’s blood pressure has been sky-high as long as I’ve known her. A fearsome thing, high blood pressure, certain to shorten one’s life if not controlled.

Ev was nearly 93.

The next day, the orthopedic surgeon Dr. Kwok (he spelled his name carefully for us) replaced the ball of her femur, a savage procedure that involves hacking and sawing and hammering. We paced the Family Waiting Room, fingers and toes crossed. Worried about that hip. That blood pressure. That anesthesia, which addles older brains for weeks, even months.

When they brought her back to her room, she was chatting up the transporters about her beloved Phillies, who were trailing the Giants 0-2 in the World Series.

The doctor stopped by to give her a pep talk about how arduous this recovery would be, how hard she’d have to work in Physical Therapy. About how she could do it, because she was in great physical shape, considering her age and injury and the heart attack—

Heart attack???

Yes, Virginia: Ev had had a heart attack. That, unbeknownst to us, was why she was on the Cardiac Unit. The doctors couldn’t tell if it had precipitated the fall, or followed it. Before we’d arrived, they’d done an echocardiogram. The organ was somewhat miffed, but continued to chug like a steam engine.


Ev moved to a rehab facility on Halloween. She shared a room with a voluble, perpetually irate roommate. Ev’s window looked out on construction. She was exhausted, constipated, and tube-riddled. It was not a banner day.

The next morning, she started physical therapy. And the Phillies lost the Series 4-1.

Paul’s sister’s daughter Beth had sped down from Kennebunkport when Ev was still in the hospital. She haunted the bedside, iPhone in hand, working to reach her parents, who were on a cruise in the Middle East. Once she succeeded, she pumped out updates on her grandmother’s condition until they hit an airport and made it back to Maine long enough to snatch a night’s sleep and repack their bags.

On Wednesday, November 3, Evie and Dick—still rolling with the now-nonexistent waves—arrived to relieve us in our cheerleader/advocate duties.

We returned home for a respite, and Evie called us with daily updates.

Her mother was working doggedly, but her spirits were sagging, her usually hearty sense of humor on the wane. She felt beaten down, overwhelmed.



November 9, Ev’s 93rd birthday, was fast approaching, and we would not be there to celebrate.

Paul and I discussed in-absentia birthday gifts. We wanted to send her something more than a bouquet of roses. A ray of light in this tunnel of Hard Labor. A real surprise. A good laugh.

The best gift, of course, would be a visit from the Phillies. God knows they had time on their hands. Unfortunately, that was out of our price range.

And so, I turned to the Internet. And found the redoubtable Celie McVaugh.

Celie is a life-long resident of Ev’s adopted town, Glenside, PA. Some years ago, she took a belly-dancing class. A friend invited her to try her hand—and, presumably, her hips—as a member of her Singing Telegram/Belly-gram service. Celie fell in love with the work and, 28 years ago, she opened her own business: Rentabody, Inc.

Rentabody offers an assortment of more than 50 costumed characters, from strippers (“always tasteful”) to Spongebob. Celie commands a stable of game bodies to inhabit them—as many as 12, when the demand is high—but she still shows up herself to deliver balloons and sing congratulations to folks in Philadelphia and its suburbs. She might be dressed as a banana, or the Grim Reaper, or a gorilla–

A gorilla in a Phillies T-shirt.

How could I resist?


Noon, November 9:

The great, black, hairy beast stalked the lobby of the Rydal Park rehab center.

It punched the button. Slipped through the elevator doors.

Up. Up. Out.

Past gaping nurses.

Down the hall.

Relentless. Intense. Pursuing.

Into the room, past the crabby roommate—who, for once, fell speechless. It lurched around the curtain.

The little old lady was in bed, her lunch tray over her lap, flanked by her daughter and her daughter’s husband.

Ev looked up.

The gorilla handed her a bouquet of balloons. It cleared its throat, unfurled a paper, and sang her a birthday song to the tune of Hello, Dolly.

And Ev, they tell me, laughed.