There was a mildly Bonnie-and-Clyde feel to it, since we were fleeing Centro Mérdico (sorry, that was a typo, but it’s so apt it stays! And may become permanent!) and I worried: would they send out the security guys? Or maybe the National Guard? I didn’t mean so little to them that they’d just let me go like that, did I?
Happily, we’ll never know, since as we were walking down the sidewalk, Blanca—Raf’s cousin and second wife of the neurosurgeon cousin’s father—was coming up the street. The problem was that there were two railings between us: one at waist high, the other at knee level. So desperate were we to get out of the place that we crawled through the railings, to Blanca’s protest and—very much—my back’s as well.
So we were out of there, passing the sign announcing cremations starting at 199$. This, of course, is just one of the many gallows’ humor that Centro Médico attracts. Nico, Lady’s husband, declined to eat at the cafeteria, located in the basement—but location had nothing to do with it. Or rather, it did, since….
“…It’s right next door to the morgue!”
So I began thinking of all the ancillary business that might pop up advertising at Centro Médico: malpractice lawyers were an obvious, of course. Ambulance services, designer-made coffins. (“The corpse looked stunning as she reclined in a ermine lined coffin studded with diamonds….)
On the more prosaic level, what happens to all that medical equipment that is so vital one week, and so utterly useless the next? How many urinals are wasting their time in bathroom cabinets, when they could be far more gainfully employed reprocessed and reused? I saw myself, sitting in the summer sun outside the emergency room, surrounded by attractively priced and professionally sanitized bedpans, urinals, commodes—maybe even a titanium hip or knee replacement or two. (I mean, why bury that stuff?) The business would expand, go global, and I would be the face of the empire!
Of course, there was money to be made, too, in the personalized bedpan or urinal. Look, if you have to be taking a dump on a bedpan, wouldn’t you at least want to be spreading all over a photo of George W. Bush? Clearly, the possibilities were endless….
It was now dusk, and we were heading into the mountains outside San Juan. The harsh daylight of noon had softened, and the hills appeared almost glowing as we moved toward them. My world had been a bedroom, a bathroom, and—I now remember—one daily trip out to eat breakfast in the morning, and scavenge food for the rest of the day. The problem was that the grocery store was two blocks away, the importance of which I learned on one of the worst days after the fall.
I had eaten, and someone strengthened, had determined to go get bread and peanut butter: it had gotten me through my childhood, it could serve me now. But I could not walk ten feet without stopping, grabbing onto a building, closing my eyes, cursing silently, and then counting my breath until the pain subsided. Still, I was out, I was close to the store—if I could just get there, get the food, and get home, all would be well.
The store is small, crowded, and has the distinct and interesting feature—unique in modern retailing—of the disappearing cashier. Because while you are chatting with your neighbor—poof, Alfredaida (the cashier, whose father was Alfredo and whose mother was Betzaida, and that’s sweet, isn’t it?)—anyway, the cashier suddenly isn’t there.
At first I worried that it was the rapture, and began to wonder why it was she, and impeccable me, who had been seized? Is scanning an entry drug for rapture? But no, she reappeared and now can enter “grocery—2.99” into the register for the item she has just gone to find on the shelves (stopping, of course, to kiss her neighbor and give a detailed account of a recent excursion to Plaza, as well as kissing / caressing three babies….) Anyway, she now knows the price, and everything goes on.
The amazing thing is that nobody—absolutely nobody—complains about this. Can you imagine that scenario in Manhattan? Anyway, all goes well because everybody is in the middle of some anecdote or two—and what’s the worry about a missing cashier or two?
Why this long digression?
So that you will understand why I—my back howling in pain—suddenly realized: I would rather starve than deal with the store. And so, I continued the ten step / pause / curse /breath process back to the apartment. But first, I got to the Always 99 Cents Store, which had nothing healthy to eat, with the marginal exception of a tube of oatmeal cookies and a Hershey’s candy bar. Unwisely, I bought them both.
Unwisely because I am a creature of habit—since the next day? Of course, I did the same thing, and I also did the same thing with the wrappers, which I had dropped on the floor.
I was in bed for two weeks before I could move—barring my one trip out per day—to go hail a cab and go to the emergency room. And so, if I was recovering at all, I was recovering in a pigsty. Why didn’t I ask Raf, or a friend, to come clean it all up? I was ashamed, and did I need the lectures about eating junk food?
So there we were: I had gone from a completely disordered space to an ordered but careless (meaning not caring) space, and now to a view of the mountains. It was that moment in The Wizard of Oz when the Technicolor steps in.
It was also that moment when—at last—I could stop caring for myself (badly) and allow others to care for me.
And so we got to the hospital—but where was the emergency room? We searched everywhere for a sign.
Nor were we surprised when there was none, because Puerto Rico has a curious attitude towards signs. First of all, since everyone knows where everything is, why go to the bother of putting up a sign? And if you don’t? Well, you stop the first person you see sitting outside a gas station drinking beer (another local custom, since when go to the bar when you can get beer cheaper at the gas station? So now, many gas stations have carps or tents and picnic tables and even outdoor speakers barking salsa—great promotion, right?)
OK, digression over….
So there we were arriving at the main door of the hospital, and being told that the emergency room was down below, and the only thing below seemed to be the parking lot—which had no attendant, but did have plenty, plenty—and my back can tell you---PLENTY of …
Right, so there was no emergency room in the parking lot. What did we do? Well, we went back to the main entrance received a variant of the original answer, and did the whole thing all over. Finally, we went into a nondescript driveway and asked a security guard where the emergency room was.
We had arrived!
We went in, were admitted immediately, and walked into the emergency just after, I was sure….
..a code blue