Friday, June 05, 2015

Other People's Fluids

Today was a hell of a day.

There were lots of things that happened, but what made this day particular was that some things happened that don't usually happen. I'm going to skip most of those, because otherwise this is going to turn into a even-more-overly-long entry than I already envision it becoming.

The most exciting thing was that someone entered my place of business, and within two hours of him crossing the threshold, he was being escorted out on ambulance gurney, and I had his blood and spittle on my shirt and hands.

I had given the man a half-completed tour before customers and other factors forced a change of plans. Sitting in a chair in an adjoining room, he made small talk with other workers. He'd driven hard to be here today, and had promptly and efficiently downed the better part of two cups of coffee inside half an hour.

Just a short while later, a sort of overly-vocalized yawn came from the adjoining room. I exchanged exasperated looks with the fellow who shares my desk -- "is this the sort of thing that he does? -- and I continued typing. But midway through a separate conversation, I heard gurgling.

Was it water leaking? We've had a problem, and it has rained excessively. But not today. The cold fear showed itself into the back of my conscience. It was very similar to the sound of someone's life in danger. But how could it be?

Rising from my desk and walking to the doorway, I didn't see his head where I had left it. Peaking around, I saw him flat on the floor, writhing and jolting in insensate agony. I began the world's fastest 4-yard dash. Coming up to his fitful body, his face had lost color, ashen in contrast to his dark hair. The corners of his mouth drawn back, tendons in his neck straining. At his lips, a froth of spit bubbling red with blood. And a horrible wet rasping breath, like a drowning man. Without a cry I fell to his side (which I just realized explains why my knee hurts like hell). My hands struck out for his chest and I labored to turn him on his side, fearing that the blood and water would fill his lungs.

I shouted to my desk partner over my shoulder, not even knowing if he was in the room. My voice filled the quiet office. "Nine one one! As quick as you can!" I couldn't turn him fully on his side, the rigor of his limbs and their shaking efforts to keep him board-straight thwarted the bulk of my attempts. My right hand was trapped under his side and I heaved and he jolted, scraping across a plastic grip mat, opening my knuckles.

I needed help. I vaguely wondered why the employee who worked in this half of the room hadn't seen this. Why hadn't he come already? I bellowed his name as loud as I could, the effort of trying to turn a living corpse adding to the volume. I heard his name echo back from the walls, felt my own voice shake my shoes. "COME HELP!"

His frantic approaching boot-falls comforted me. I didn't know whether the paramedics were being summoned, but at least I was going to have help. "Help me turn him!" I shouted at (I fear) rather more volume than was strictly neccesary to communicate with someone already at my elbow.

Hands and boots in my vision cone helped me flip him to the side. Immediate crisis averted, the blood-spit flowed out and pooled on the carpet and on the table leg. Still the liquid-breaths. I looked back over my shoulder, at the masses of assembled instruments laid out in largely-neat rows. The thought of the paramedics getting access entered my mind. Not even stopping to see whether my words were understood, I spoke-shouted at a more reasonable volume (I hope): "Clear these things away from the..." and gestured a pathway with my left hand.

I turned my attention to the man, as he was now undulating and moving in a different manner. He seemed to be laboring to bring his uncooperative arms underneath him to push himself up. I spoke his name and the most soothing words I could muster, trying to get him to lie still, to reassure him. Still he turned, like a man with his extremities asleep, fighting against the buzzing nerves.

He pushed himself to his knees and attempted to raise himself to a stand. I neither interfered nor helped him, but just kept my arms on his torso, ready to cushion a lack of balance or guide a shaky step. He stood but made no words, still shaking in various degrees in various limbs. Grabbing him around the torso, I propped him standing, feeling the body disobeying the mind like an incorrectly-strung puppet.

"It's ok." I kept saying. My own words reassured me, whatever the effect they had on anyone else. Surely it would be OK if I said so? How else could I know to say it?

If I'd been thinking of the larger picture, I would have marvelled at how fast the booted employee had cleared a path. Instead, I merely registered the fact that the poor man and I could step backwards and forwards, a cruel parody of an intimate dance. My arms intwined with his body, supporting him and guiding him, even as his body revolted from the orders of his mind. His face found my shoulder, smearing the sleeve with blood-spit. I noticed this and filed it at the bottom of importance without even really considering it.

The booted employee and I tried to get the living corpse to sit on a cushioned stool, but as much as he made acquiescing sounds and as much as I encouraged him, his knees would not bend. We worked and coddled him. In the background, the sounds of sirens approaching. Isn't it funny how sirens sound different when you know they're coming for you? Even knowing that, I still thought, "wow, someone else is having a bad day!"

Above the sirens, a continual stream of phone conversation to the emergency dispatch from my desk partner. Letting them know exact locations, staying on the line to ensure that a handoff was made between EMS teams. It reassured me too, but I filed it very near the bottom, along with the bloody sleeve.

Then the team was in the door, asking questions, unpacking devices, taking samples, making readings. In response to requests for biographical info, I raised my head and yelled a command to my wisely-removed employees in the adjoining room. They moved with a speed unthinkable, because the very next moment there was information in the hands of a paramedic.

The poor man's convoluted answers to standard consciousness questions sealed his journey to the ER:

Paramedic: "Can you tell me your name?"
Man: "...why wouldn't I... know my name?"
Paramedic: "Do you know where you are?"
Man: "Sure. I'm right in the place where... the stuff is... that I was..."

His speech was thick. Maybe he bit his tongue or lips, and that was the source of the blood.

They invited him to the stretcher, and he went with the simplistic compliance of a confused child.

One of the EMS techs explained a little about what they thought might be the problem, explained where they were taking him. I gave him a business card, in case they needed to contact me for anything. It was the first of my gestures that had a dull sense of self-awareness to it. What did *I* know? I should just be quiet. The card-gesture felt stupid and hollow.

They say it was most likely a seizure. They disappeared out the door to the waiting vehicles.

The other two employees and I felt like trespassers in a forbidden empty room. The silence made me even more self-judgmental. Had I said the words "aspirating blood" too many times? Did I even know what that meant? I probably just sounded stupid. My hand hurts. The skin of my arms is jumping around, as though more energy needed to be bled off from myself. My hands shake.

Conversation happens. We three are bewildered. I sit on the recently vacated cushioned stool, no longer able to bear the thought of continuing to stand. Yet my knees only feel weak when I am actually already sitting. I would probably be able to stand again, but I'm grateful that there is no immediate need.

My voice seems unnaturally sing-songy. The pitch is animated, as though trying to compensate for only yelling.

I drink two glasses of the orange juice I leave in the fridge for mornings. I realize that it's the only thing I've had to drink today. And I haven't eaten anything, despite it being two o'clock. How could that be? I can't... think why that would be. But I should probably remedy it. There's blood-spit on my hands and my shirt. How did it get on my hands? Oh well.

I leave the office to change shirts, shower, and eat.

Driving home, my brain goes into overdrive. I momentarily burst into tears twice, for a second. Later, in the shower remembering a similar incident years ago with other mentally-altered employees I helped, I laugh uproariously, even though the thought isn't funny.

I stop at Walgreens to buy disinfectant and a bandage for my hand. The clerk tells me to "have a good day," and I think about that. In the parking lot, I spot a dime under my car trunk. I pass it by, throwing my shopping back into the car. But I stop and go back, spending time and effort to extract the dime from under my car. It's shiny. I take a picture of it to put on Facebook.

I post it without context. Just the words:

And then I found a dime in the Walgreens parking lot. ‪#‎ExcitingDay‬
 — feeling drained.

Several people "like" it, finding humor in the banality of the sentiment. Context is key, I suppose. I purposefully didn't say anything, because what would be the point? The story is too long to put on Facebook. Why concern people with the pointed, intentional vagueness? An update that begs the question: "Oh my god! What happened?"

Driving to the closest restaurant, my eyes mist over with tears again. It's like I've been up for three days, and have lost the often-strong grip I have over my emotions. Feelings come flooding through me, making me feel off balance. I really don't want to cry when I'm ordering my hamburger.

And when I get finished with the day, I feel the need to talk about it. But who would I call? Who can I pile this story on? Not a friend, surely: they've got their own things going on. It's a Friday night, after all. Everyone is letting off the steam of the week.

So I go to a local sub shop and have my second meal in four hours. I sit alone, eating a sub called The Experience. I feel like I would laugh at that, were there someone else in the room to acknowledge it. But there isn't, so I don't laugh. I sip my tea thoughtfully. I enjoy the heat of the jalapenos.

The sandwich tastes like it usually does, so I guess everything is back to normal.


  1. Oh my, what a day!! Didn't know you had a blog until now, although I do enjoy reading it. You are welcome to call anytime-- I can always lend an ear. I miss our talks!


  2. I've had this open in by browser to comment on for months and months now. I think because I have a name for this type of thing. It's a mismatch of significance.