Monday, February 1, 2016

Just Another Trip!

At some point, it was clear: I would have to go back to the Emergency Room. So then it became a question: would I return to the same ER from which I had barely escaped? True, they had (I believed) treated my ailment correctly, but as for the rest of the treatment? It was unlikely that I would meet the same doctor, but still….

And so we started off, this time to go to another emergency room at a hospital specializing in ambulatory surgeries. An excellent facility, but I had chosen to go there on a Saturday, since Raf would be available to be at my side. That made sense, except that, while the ER had doctors and nurses, the radiology department was closed. So that meant going back to the facility of Monday morning, waiting another three hours, and then seeing the doctor, who told me that I might have a fracture. Then again, it might be an old injury. Anyway, if I wanted to, I could do a CT scan.

Did I want to? Of course not: I wanted to go home and go to bed. Which of course I did, and then called my internist, who would be available on Wednesday of the following week.

And so I waited another nine days, and then went to see my doctor: a tall, wiry, woman in her mid-forties. Supremely competent, she also is a worrier: in addition, she spends time that she doesn’t have. Yes, her waiting room may have every seat taken, but she still takes ten minutes to see if she can coax a smile or laugh from a depressed patient. (I know—the patient was me….)

She was instantly alarmed.

“Marc, you have two compression fractures. And we should get an MRI as soon as possible….”

I was, of course, in pain—that was explicable, but why had I lost another seven pounds in the three weeks since they had weighed me in the first emergency room? What was going on? At any rate, she gave me prescriptions for half a dozen medicines, ordered lab tests and—most importantly—ordered an MRI.

“It tells you just as much as a CT scan, and it only takes a few minutes, instead of the twenty minutes or so for a CT scan. Get that as soon as possible.”

During this period, I was able to do only one thing a day. So I grabbed all the prescriptions, went to the pharmacy, and then went home to bed. The next day, exhausted from having woken up at 3 in the morning, I decided to stay in bed and rest: hadn’t I already been several weeks with the pain? Was anything truly that urgent?

And so on Friday I went to get the CT scan: I walked down to the bus station, and saw that the T9 was about to leave. Clearly, I thought, luck was on my side.

How little I knew….

It was almost Christmas, a holiday that leaves me cold. But not so the seventy-year old lady—rail thin—but with the lungs of an elephant. Which she was using, all the better to belt out Puerto Rican Christmas carols. How did I know they were carols? By the lyrics alone, since she was so out of tune that the melodies were almost indecipherable. To compensate, she incorporated telling political commentary (mostly about our governor). All well and good, or rather, it would have been, if she were not accompanied by a younger woman, who had the loudest laugh I had heard in all of 2015. And so for twenty minutes, it was song, commentary, and gales of laughter.

I was ready to slug both of them….

Worse, the bus had no shocks, and the road was full of potholes. So while my ears were being blasted by caroling, my eyes were trained on the road, and the inevitable lurch that would occur. Finally, I arrived, did the test, and then staggered out to catch the bus back. But I was hungry: I had eaten nothing all day, and there was nothing much at home to eat. So I went to a local café, owned by a student of mine, and ordered a Cubano sandwich.

The day was almost over: all I had to do was catch another bus back, go to the pharmacy, and then go to another store. That was it, and what could go wrong?

I waited for the bus. Then I waited some more. Then I waited and waited and realized that—although I had been sitting in the café looking out the window to the street, I had seen no buses go by. So for an hour on a Friday afternoon, there had been no bus service on the busiest road in San Juan (called Avenida Ponce de Leon—a nice touch).

But wait, there was service, since a bus was approaching! I stood up to hail it, since—another local custom—bus drivers will sail right by unless you indicate that you are truly wanting the bus. After all, you could just be resting your feet and absorbing the carbon monoxide, right?

So I hailed the bus, and the bus? It sailed right past me, since it was jammed packed. OK—it was jammed packed at the front, but at the back there were actually empty seats. Nor is it the fault of the driver, since a driver’s job is to drive--anybody can see that--and if people don’t step to the rear, well, whose fault is that? He just drives—got it?

The pain is getting worse and worse, since I’m fatigued, but I go back to waiting, and then—the gods are merciful—I spot a taxi! So I hail that, and get in, and greet the driver, who asked me if I had called from the Iglesia Santa Mónica. I tell him no, but that I’m in pain and that he has got to take me back to Old San Juan. So we go around about that, and I point out that an actual customer—that would be me—is better than a putative customer—that would be Santa Mónica, or her agent. Anyway, we’re moving toward San Juan, which augurs well, and even if I have to keep arguing all the way back home, well, that’s a small price to pay. Oh, in addition to the 18 dollars for the half-mile fare.

So we are moving and arguing, and then we get to Iglesia Santa Mónica, and guess what happens? Of course, a woman flags the cab, and the taxi driver gets out of the cab, and then it turns out that the argument that he and I had been having was nothing more than a warm-up, a rehearsal for the real argument that took place in front of Santa Mónica’s very nose (all right, her statue’s nose, but I swear that as the argument progressed, the statue of Santa Mónica looked increasingly disgusted….)

Well, it was a full Latin argument, which meant that arms were raised, hands were hurtled through the air, every slight since childbirth was invoked; the couple approached each other, got nose4 to nose but still manage to shake fingers in each other's face. They backed off in disgust, only to regroup. The woman had called the taxi, the driver had picked up the wrong person, and was it her fault that her cab had been abducted? Of course not, so the obvious thing to do was to evict me from the cab. After all, I could call a cab myself, just as she had done!

I suddenly could abide no more. I had been weeks in pain, and now, all I wanted was to lie down, alone in my room, and count my breaths until—perhaps—I could sleep. And so I put my head out the window, introduced myself, inquired after her health—she was fine, and much invigorated by the argument—and then I told her I was not fine. I told her about my back, about the pain, and I begged her: just get in the cab, and I would pay her fare.

Well, we were back on the road in no time—and I was wincing and gasping and crying out over every pothole, since the cab was as shockless as the bus had been. But we arrived, and I got out of the cab, preparing to go to CVS for wine. Here, the woman leaned forward, touched my arm, and murmered, “Diós te bendiga!

That was the nice part.

The less nice part? The cab driver, who having quoted me an 18 dollar fare, took the twenty I gave him, thanked me, and roared off!

Did I object? Was I upset over two dollars? Of course not, since having a bad back teaches you things: all of the petty things that you worry about are, well, petty. All I wanted was to get home, and put my back to bed. So I grabbed the bottle of wine, went to the self check-out, scanned the bottle, and then swiped my ATM card in the machine. No problem—hadn't I done this hundreds of times?

Who can say what happened? I only know that the machine, instead of asking for my PIN, inquiring if I wanted cash back, asking if I wanted to support St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, and then processing my transaction—the machine decided to comment on my entire day by cooking up a never -before-seen screen. And the commentary was?


What? I had waited and waited and waited all damn day, and I was in pain—horrific, now—and I was within two blocks of my bed, and now? Please wait?

And guess what? I waited, and waited, and waited—and all of a sudden all of the staff of the CVS had disappeared, and I was alone, alone with my machine, and the message—which I hardly needed—to wait.


Or rather, I wasn’t alone, nor should I have expected to be, since I had seen the Carnival Cruise ship dock, as I was being blessed and fleeced on exiting the taxi. So now, the entire cruise ship—the passengers, I mean—is flowing through the doors of the pharmacy. OK—not flowing, since Carnival apparently has this requirement: nobody can take the cruise without carrying at least 300 extra pounds on them. So I am watching the machine telling me to wait, and also watching and marveling at the cruise passengers, who have invented a wonderful new way to enter a building!

They’re coming in sideways!

In the meantime, the pain is stabbing now, and I am wincing and weeping and at last see someone in a blue vest, and she comes and presses buttons or maybe waves a magic wand—I’m in too much pain to tell—and then I have to figure out: will I walk through the store, trying to move around elephants, or will I go out the front of the pharmacy, walk around the block and up the two blocks to my home? Stupidly, I chose to walk through the store.

Well, by dint of going through the last aisle of the pharmacy—the only passable thoroughfare—I get out the door, and can anything else go wrong? Of course not, though the gods of Puerto Rico—those deities who practice absurdity the way Paganini practiced the violin—yes, the Gods of Puerto Rico decided to send an entire classroom of school children rolling down the (narrow) sidewalk I am walking up. True, I am taller, but also true, they were thirty times more numerous. So I am stopped dead in my tracks, as swarms of children—all so cute in their tiny little uniforms, out for a field trip in Old San Juan—surge past me. But not to worry, because guess what?

They’re singing!

And what are they singing?

Alegrí, Alegrí, Alegría!

Joy, joy, joy!

My back is in agony, I am in agony, and the endless river of children sweep past me, until at last there is an adult, clearly the teacher, since she gives me a teacherly smile—I don’t know how they do it, but they do—and wishes me a merry Christmas. Oh, and also blesses me, which is needed, since suddenly, my guts give out, and I have got to go to the bathroom.

So there I am, holding my belly, which is spasm-ing  badly—maybe out of jealousy, since the back has been getting all the attention, or maybe in sympathy. Or maybe it was just trying to divert—who knows, since I am now rushing as much and as fast as I can to get to the bathroom, and I drop all of my packages—the little bag carrying half of a Cubano sandwich (my dinner) and the bottle of wine and the knapsack with my iPad and my Kindle and the various detritus that such bags attract, and I race limply for the bathroom and yes, make it just in time before my bowels explode. Relief! I stumble out of the bathroom, and then prepare to gather up the bags, so that at last, at last, I can go to the bedroom and lie down and call this debacle over. And what do I find? Everything is just fine, especially for the cats who…

Are fighting over the last crumbs of my sandwich!