Friday, September 21, 2012

Whose life is it, anyway?

Monday morning began in slow motion, after a weekend that had been relaxing, reading my all-time favorite, The Catcher in the Rye between cups of coffee, marveling at Salinger’s ingenuity. I was waiting for the publisher’s call to fix our meeting on the next publication. For the present I needed something more engaging, something that will keep my mind occupied. Overtaken by restlessness I stepped out for a breadth of fresh air. Hopefully when I return to my notebook, some fresh ideas would surface making the next book, a best seller.
Once outside, I strolled lazily, my eyes searching the street. In a distance I saw a man crossing the road. ‘There's something odd’, I thought.

Watching him closely, I realized it had something to do with his gait. It was possible that he was pulling a load, but from where I stood watching him, I found nothing visible. My eyes moved across the street. The traffic signal for crossing was now 2 seconds to go. I grew anxious for him to cover the balance distance before it became a stop sign for pedestrians.

My gaze moved to other people on either side of the road. There was a lady walking briskly, towards me on the opposite pavement. She was clutching a floral print cane basket. A man dressed casually, wore a worried look as he was desperately searching his wallet; a cop car cruised to a halt at the far end of the road and there were a few well dressed walking men making their way to some meeting, heading to a Starbucks or possibly just to an ATM.

I turned my attention to see the man of my first interest. Finally he had reached the pavement. He seemed to be taking a deep breath. So did I. But somehow there was a lingering doubt if all was well with him. I fixed my gaze on him, his legs and was expecting some more action.

As he turned, he began walking slowly towards me I noticed that he was stooping on his left side. ‘Ah! His left leg is shorter’, I thought trying desperately to fix the puzzle. ‘Or is he blind?’ was the next thought that raced through my brain.

Suddenly my human instinct drove me to do things, I normally would hesitate to do. With heightened curiosity, I began my walk towards this mystery man who held my attention captive in the last seven minutes.

He stopped mid way, making me impatient. I continued to stroll wanting to get a closer look.

We were about 10 feet away when suddenly I was stalled by a four wheeler exiting a mall. So deeply engrossed I was on the subject of my speculation that I was surprised to find a vehicle whizzing past.

I looked ahead into open space as the man in pain was not within sight. With a few hurried steps and heart pounding wildly I reached the block where he was seen last. Turning to my right I saw him lying in a pile against an iron railing.

Alarmed at the sight, I took a step forward, reached out gently, “Hello…is everything fine with you?" He looked at me blankly, and I realized his eyes had vision. He was trying to breathe but found great difficulty doing that. He said simply, “Yeah sure, feeling lousy." I asked tentatively, "Is your leg hurting?"

“Not really," he said in a very tired voice. “I think my leg is heavy”.

I was in a fix. I must get him medical help, my mind said. As a visitor to Los Angeles, I had learnt of a County hospital that gave emergency treatment. Yielding to my sense of righteousness, I pulled out my hand phone and dialed 911. I was subjected to questions on emergency condition and exact location. Responding with as much details as I could share, I was relieved and looked at my subject reassuringly. I prayed that I did the right thing.

Even as I was replacing my phone back into my coat pocket, the blare of the cop car, and high pitch roaring sounds of fire engine and ambulance arrested my attention. I was not expecting so much to happen and that too in a matter of minutes.

The emergency services had arrived. Responsible for the phone call, I was asked several questions before the man in pain was placed on a stretcher and lifted into the facility. I climbed onto the ambulance knowing well my responsibility to complete this task.

The ambulance attendant began talking and collecting the patient’s personal data. He was 35 year old Tom Standler and we were heading to the LA County Hospital. The ambulance nurse-cum- technician checked Tom's vital signs during the drive to the hospital.

Blood pressure was – 140/90. Low breathing, so Tom was connected to oxygen.

While the admissions were being done, we were seated near the ER. Many serious accident cases, wounded criminals accompanied by cops were given priority. Others were with serious conditions, needing immediate attention. Tom slouched beside me, resting his head on my shoulders as we continued our wait.

It was almost one hour later that Tom was met by a junior nurse who asked profile questions and how he felt. Tom was unemployed, lost his wife a few months earlier, hence single and neglected. He gave his social security number. I managed to butt in with the BP data, hoping it could give indications. She ignored me, so I was pleasantly surprised when she returned within a few minutes to wheel Tom into a cubicle. I tagged along more out of concern.

The testing process started.

Nurses, interns walked in at different times to check pulse and blood pressure, to collect blood samples. We waited patiently. A stout nurse came in to collect a sample of the urine. But Tom was unable to pass urine, which she noted in the admissions sheet. She walked out.

Tom rested intermittently and I sat wondering if the publisher had called. I quickly made a few urgent calls from outside the ER and returned to find a shocked Tom looking up at me.

Slowly he spoke with as much calm as he could muster, “I have a kidney failure:"

I sat and my first thought was I must console him. But as an after-thought I told him to get treated. He nodded slowly, but thoughtfully while we continued our wait.

Some time later a nurse came in. Tom was being moved to a ward. They would start him on dialysis as his creatinine was 1300. So paperwork for admission started. I looked at my watch. 16.20 hours. No wonder my stomach was growling.

I became aware of Tom's eyes on me. His eyes expressed his gratitude while he vocalized his feelings, “Good we reached on time". He concluded that I should leave. Gathering my wits I agreed, promising to meet him the next day.

I left the hospital premise relieved to be out of the intense atmosphere where people were fighting illnesses. Here, Tom Standler would find his chance to survive. I was glad to have been instrumental in his health recovery.

[The above is not based on any real life story or incidents. Any resemblance to a similar story is purely coincidental.]