Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How a Homeless Man Called 911, or, My Adventure on the Way to the ER

The morning began, as usual: early. I was getting ready for classes when I suddenly felt a stitch in my side. It began like any kind of running flank-cramp I've had after pushing myself a bit too hard. Only this pain made me unable to breathe, and, unlike a cramp derived from exertion, this didn't go away but increased tenfold as the seconds ticked by. Nausea rolled over me and I tried to hold onto the counter, the walls, the bed. Sitting made it worse. Standing was out of the question. I needed help.

I jumped in the car and made the longest three-mile drive of my life to a doctor's office that had just opened. I dragged across the parking lot into the small office, where three nurses were working. Although I created a strange sight, surely, as I could do no more than bend over at the waist and could barely eek out words, the nurses ignored me. Cutting their eyes at me from the side, they pretended to be very busy with paperwork. "Someone please talk to me," I said, trying not to overdo it despite my penchant for hyperbole. By this point, I'd convinced myself some important organ had exploded and was leaking some vital liquid into my body cavity. To say I was worried is putting it mildly. "You a patient here?" one woman finally asked, barely taking her eyes from the paper in front of her. "No. I'm new. Something's happened to me, and I need help." She spoke over me, pointing down the highway saying, "The hospital is that way. 30 minutes." And she resumed her paperwork.

I paused only a minute to lose all faith in humanity. Then I began the long crawl back to my car. I prayed I would make it to the hospital, but I didn't. I swerved violently off of the road, which was packed with rush-hour traffic, into an empty parking lot as I fought violent pain and sickness.

On my way into the lot, I saw two feet sticking out of a six-foot rusted dumpster. These feet belonged to a man who abandoned his dig to run over to my car. I was trying not to crawl on the asphalt, but I could not longer stand or sit, and I needed to think.

The homeless man climbed into my car and took my keys from me; he started the ignition. "If this guy steals my car while I'm dying in this parking lot, I am really going to lose it," I thought. "I'm just going to park it properly," he called out over my desperate pleas for him to get out of my car and to give me my keys. At this point, Dollar Store employees just arriving for work were rushing over to me, calling out, "Are you looking for a little dog?" Apparently the only rational explanation for a woman in business attire on all fours on the blacktop would be that she was looking for a lost pet. Made sense to me.

The absurdity of my situation began to get the better of me, and while I wanted to laugh, all I could do was cough out my explanation, "No. Dog. Can't. Breathe. Trying. Hospital. So. Far." At which point, the homeless man, who had, minutes before, been ankle-deep in rotten banana peels, whips out a cell phone and dials 911. I don't even have time to think about how freaking bizarre that is before I'm pulled into an ambulance and whisked away to the ER.

The last part of the story isn't nearly as interesting as the first. My doctors treat me like a hysterical drug-seeking maniac for four days, refusing to give me the painkillers that would have allowed me to eat, sleep, or sit still. All I can do is writhe, moan, sob, and beg them to listen to me tell them that my kidney feels like a hot, swollen watermelon. On day four, a specialist recognizes the signs and sends me home with meds that allow me to swallow jello and water. Hurrah.

Seven of the most excruciating days pass before I'm able to function again. Andrew takes off of work and stays with me to care for me. I drop 7 pounds in 7 days but recover. I find myself thankful for a dedicated husband, concerned Dollar Store employees, and the dumpster-diver with hot pink hi-tops and the willingness to call an ambulance. And I wonder, do these things happen to other people? Or just to me?