My cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number. I answered anyway. To my surprise it was a friend of my friend’s, a respected artist known by the name, Wisdom. I was jarred, immediately on alert. Wisdom told me he’s not one for drama, “Normally I wouldn’t call… but Keith and I were talking on the phone and he stopped making sense.”
I grabbed my bag and shouted I had an emergency and bolted to my car. My speed was hampered by the winding mountain road – and by the four door sedan I was driving. The drive felt like forever and a second. I pulled up and braked so hard, the tires skidded on the gravel. I jumped out and ran for the door.
The heat of the day was searing and dry. The sun was bright overhead. The house looked foreboding. I was afraid to look inside.
I entered the room. It was dark. And quiet. The usual noise of television was missing.
In the shadows I saw him. He was on the floor leaning up against the bed. His legs were straight out, his torso tilted to the right. Drool pooled up in the folds of his faded flannel shirt. But it was his eyes that caught me by surprise – they were full of mischief. He saw me and said, “Hi. I fell. I can’t get up.”
I ran next door for help. I was in luck, he was hanging out with his friend, a paramedic. He took over, asking the questions that are now so routine for treating strokes. “What time is it?” he asked. Keith blurted out, “333.” That was his favorite number. The paramedic shot me a very concerned look, it was noon. I sighed relief, somewhere his consciousness, the purity of his being, was there. I studied his face; it was glowing with innocence, the bright-eyed look of the Fool.
The ambulance roared him away. I followed behind wondering what this next bit in my life was going to look like in my life, as my hair whipped in the sharp wind as I sped down the highway. The temperature must have been 100.
I felt calm as I crossed the parking lot toward the overhang of the emergency room entrance. This was a familiar sight for me, part of the landscape – my mother worked as a medical technition drawing and analyzing blood. I grew up walking through the automatic glass doors opening wide, into the bright lights, past the receptionists, straight to behind the scenes like I ownded the place. And this time I was ready for a battle. I knew he couldn’t stay, he didn’t have health insurance.
The air-conditioning was a relief. The attendants asked me questions. I said I don’t know and kept walking. I went through a swinging gray door. Straight ahead the grey-blue privacy curtain around Keith’s bed was open. The drab neutrality was soothing.
Keith was sitting upright, his legs rocking back and forth freely like a child. His bare chest hooked up to machines. His arms punctured by IVs.
I walked to the cold metal railing and stood beside him. He was beaming. A glow was literally coming from his entire being. He looked like a new born baby who delighted in just being.
“I want to go home. I’m all better.”
“If you can get up and walk out of here, I’ll drive you home.”
Curiosity replaced anxiety, I wanted to see how he would handle this particular crisis in his lifetime of physical ailments.
I went to get a nurse to free him from wires and needles. A nurse came over, I explained. She shook her head with a sad expression, she understood and didn’t like it was that way.
My companion swung his legs around, put on his pants, shoes. He pulled his shirt on as he stumbled, with focus, out of the room, bolting for the door.
I thanked the nurse and ran to catch up. I felt surprised and not surprised.
He was already out the second glass door and turning toward the parking lot by the time I went past the attendants. They shouted at me for his billing information. I shrugged and pointed and said, “I’m sorry but I have to go.”
As soon as we got home, he laid face down on the bed and said, “I’m just going to go to sleep now.” I told him okay and went outside to call in reinforcements, convincing him to go to the VA. I knew they would take care of him. He was a Marine.