Whose life is it, anyway?
And I was restless. After a relaxed weekend, reading my all-time favorite, The Catcher in the Rye between cups of coffee marveling at Salinger’s ingenuity. But Monday morning brought back my anxiety. I was ready early but the suspense of waiting for the publisher’s call seemed eternal. It left me in an irritable mood.
A couple of times, the manuscript was picked up, only to put it with a loud thump on the table, “Done with this…” were the thoughts playing in my mind. I needed something more engaging, something to divert and keep my excitement on my work – yet mentally engaged in something where my mind would be busy churning many ideas.
Overtaken by urgency to do productive work I stepped out of the hotel for a breadth of fresh air. I would return to my notebook and rework on some areas of the manuscript. Manuscripts are forever in a draft stage. The next publication should change my path to glory.
Once outside, I strolled lazily, my eyes searching the street. Far away, at a distance I saw this man crossing the road. I was puzzled. ‘There’s something odd’….
Watching him closely, I realized it had something to do with his gait. “Ha! He may be pulling a load”. But I was so jobless, so I kept a close watch. From where I stood nothing more 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. I could breathe freely now, I was sure he would be doing like-wise. But somehow I was still drawn to him and there was a lingering doubt. “Was everything okay with him?”
I renewed my investigation. It seemed it was something about his legs. So I kept my gaze fixed on him, expecting for 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 mercilessly trying 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.
Suddenly feelings of humanity overtook, so speculation was replaced by deep concern. When he stopped mid way, I became impatient. “Gosh! I may get a call and don’t have time!” I decided to cover the distance in several long strides to reduce the gap between us. Was he was blind? I could help reach his destination, maybe carry the load. I permitted myself some sly glances in his direction.
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 could have had an accident!
As the vehicle moved away, I looked into an 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 detail as I could share, I was relieved and looked at my subject reassuringly. I prayed that I did the right thing.
Even before I replaced 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.
As soon as the ambulance arrived, in top speed attendants lifted Tom to a stretcher cart and we went in top speed till we reached admissions. We were seated near the ER.
I was now wondering what was the delay. I looked around.
I was shocked to see many seriously wounded people were wheeled in. Some were accident cases who needed life support. So they were moved into ER as a priority. A cop came with a wounded criminal. The cop nudged the nurse in charge to be quick, “You need to push this cart forward. This guy is the mastermind… all others killed in the shootout…”
The criminal was looking bloody eyed and I was worried about our own security.
So many waiting to be attended, my heart sank. 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 was equally shocked and sat as if stoned! Recovering my composure I did my best to console him, narrated an incident of a friend involved with the disease and general things till it struck me that I should motivate him.
“Tom, you must get treated now, here. And don’t leave this place till the doctor discusses options with you.”
He nodded slowly, but I saw his eyes grew thoughtful. I knew I needed to give him some private moments so excused myself. I went out of the cabin, saddened with the thought of Tom being alone, ill and homeless. I went back to the cabin with a coffee. He sipped a little, letting the hot liquid bring him some energy and pushed back the cup. He couldn’t drink more.
It was a few hours later that a nurse returned to shift Tom into 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 with mixed feelings. I was relieved to be out of the intense atmosphere where people were fighting illnesses. I was pleased to have made a quick decision to call for emergency services. 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. You may like to read similar stories in – Who Lives, Who Dies with Kidney Disease, available on Amazon.com. visit http://www.kidneydiseasebooks.org for more information]