Whose life is it, anyway?

Monday morning began in slow motion. The weekend had been relaxing, reading my all-time favorite, The Catcher in the Rye between cups of coffee, marveling at Salinger’s ingenuity. And Monday morning seemed far too boring. Waiting for the publisher’s call seemed eternal till the appointment was fixed. 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 publication a hit.

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, nothing was visible to me. 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. A lady was 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 people either side of the road in formal attire 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. My breath grew normal, 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.

Hmm, something was wrong. I kept watching him, amused at my new diversion.

My human instinct prevailed keeping my curiosity active under the circumstances. Now I sought a clearer view of this mysterious character, on which my attention remained captive for the last seven minutes.

He stopped mid way, making me impatient. I didn’t have all day to wait for him to come closer. I decided to stroll reducing the gap between us. If he was blind, what harm if I looked straight at him or even stared at him. But I relinquished such thoughts and permitted sly glances in his direction.

I moved forward.

We were about 30 feet away and suddenly I was stalled by a SUV exiting a mall. So deeply engrossed I was on the subject of my speculation that I had ceased to be aware of my surroundings.

As the vehicle moved away, I looked 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.

Hours 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. 18.20 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 accidental.]


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