Running Errands. To Run From Errands. Running to Errands
Parker and I are trying to turn onto Merrimon Avenue out of the Shell gas station in downtown BigCity, NC. We had to stop and ask for direction to Ross, where Parker wants to buy shoes, although he doesn’t know where the store is and while his need to have my fashion advice is sweet, I find myself growing frustrated as the afternoon passes by and we have yet to settle down into our study time. My mind is tight and annoyed and he’s about to gun the engine when we both see a man lying face down in the middle of the road, body twitching like a hooked fish and an SUV headed straight for him.
The SUV screeches to a halt and traffic in all lanes swerves, stops, then stares. Parker is fumbling with his seatbelt and I leap out the passenger door and the words, Check the scene for safety, scroll across my adrenaline-doused mind.
The scene is relatively safe. Cars are stopped. Horns are honking. Some people are yelling, though I don’t know where from. I am the first responder and Parker is just two seconds behind. I put my hand on the man’s back.
“Freddie! FREDDIE!!!” A woman from behind me screams. I do not turn to look at her. My eyes are locked onto his torso, where I’ve placed my hand to check for breathing.
“Oh my god, oh my god,” another woman screams. I turn to see her leap from the SUV, blonde hair unfurling behind her in slow motion.
“Go into that gas station and call 9-1-1!” I point directly at her and shout.
“We’ve got them on the cell right now. What street are we on?” Her husband runs up behind her, phone in hand. More people have gathered on the sidewalk. Two? Three? Four? Five? People are at my back, shouting his name. Come on Freddie. Stay with us, stay with us man. Freddie, oh Freddie!
Parker has his hand under the side of Freddie’s head so when he lurches he doesn’t keep hitting it repeatedly on the pavement. “We’re on Merrimon!” he shouts to the man with the cell phone. The flesh of Freddie’s face hangs loosely from his skull bones and his eyes are locked straight ahead. His arms appear pegged to the middle of the road and his legs seem small and unmanly, jerking like a toddler’s who is trapped in a high chair. Let me go!
“He’s having a seizure, stick something down his throat so he doesn’t choke. Oh my god, don’t let him choke!” the blonde woman is screaming at me, backing away, clutching her husband, but none of them matter. I know her advice is a wive’s tale and dismiss her to I can regain focus. My left hand is already on Freddie’s wrist where I feel a pulse. My right hand registers deep, infrequent breaths felt through his back. I scan for blood, which there is a speck of near the top of his head, though I cannot see any open wounds.
“Freddy, I’m going to help you. Is that okay? We’re going to help you. Just keep breathing.” No response.
“He’s having a seizure, help him! That’s my friend Freddie. He’s homeless, he’s having a seizure.” The friend’s screaming is heightened and emotional and the only thing really tugging at my focus.
I turn to her and give her a task: “Check his ankles for an epilepsy or diabetic band!”
“Do you need help? I’m calling 9-1-1!” another driver shouts, this time from an onramp a block away. I see him, his face, his open and gasping expression. I register his existence but that is all. That is a person, in a car, wondering what the hell happened.
From the side, another man approaches, breathless. “What can I do?”
“Keep the traffic stopped!” I shout, sticking my head above the crowd to get a glimpse of the busy street. No one is moving and everything is clear and I feel my hands move up the length of Freddie’s torso to grip to back of his neck. I look at Parker and say. “I’ve got hands on stable but I don’t want to move him. I don’t know how he fell or if he was hit. I don’t know the point of impact. I don’t want to mess with his spine.” More messages scroll across my mind’s eye: Only move the victim if it’s a matter of life and death. Don’t reposition the spine unless you are certain of the method of injury, and furthermore… I am not certain. I still do not know if he was hit or if the bleeding is from a simple fall. I do not know if he bounced, if he fell more than his own height, if the bleeding is from hitting the pavement or from a sideswipe by a moving vehicle.
“We could try moving him, though,” Parker says, moving his hands to Freddie’s sides. We place our hands on his sides and push/pull a little bit but I don’t give it my best effort. Freddie’s body is a quaking brick wall and while his breathing is severely labored, he is breathing nonetheless, which is the important thing. I hear the blip-blip of the fire department somewhere in the distance and stick my head up to check the traffic again.
“He’s breathing, he’s not loosing too much blood. We’ve got to let his body do what it’s going to do,” I say to Parker. “He’s not wearing any medical bracelets but the paramedics will be here soon.” I turn to Freddie and speak calmly: “Freddie, just keep breathing, just keep breathing.” I am petting his back and holding his wrist when I notice the puddle of blood above his head. It has doubled in size to about the diameter of a paper plate. It is deep crimson and thick as syrup. Freddie’s eyes roll back into his head and his body stops moving. Drool has collected at the corners of his mouth and his nose is running, a thin yellow stream dangling into his agape mouth. I can register a pulse, but his gurgling breathing has stopped and for a moment I think to myself, This man is going to die. This is his last view of the world. He’s letting go, he’s fading back, he’s drifting away. He’s going to die right here in our hands. I breath out a feeling of calm, an offering, something for him to take with him if he’s going to go. The mantras don’t come to me in this moment but my body fills with something utterly unfettered.
“Freddie, stay with us Freddie! He hit his head, oh my god!” His friends continue to shout. “He’s homeless! He had a seizure!”
I keep my left hand on his wrist and use my right hand to check his back pockets for a wallet. An outside thought enters my mind in slow motion. The reason I’m doing this is because my father is diabetic and carries a card. Seizures can happen from concussions, from epilepsy, from blood-sugar imbalances, from…. I hear the sirens again, this time closer. I look up to check the traffic for safety again and see a woman rushing towards me. She throws a blanket at Parker, “Here, take this!” then turns to me. “Do you want a pair of gloves?” I nod yes and she tosses them at me then backs away.
My hands are shaking slightly and I can feel Parker watching me struggle to slip my hands into the latex gloves. I get them on without ripping them and pull the cuffs of my coat down to cover my wrists. Then I flip my scarf backwards so the dangling ends don’t get in the blood. I stand up to approach the bleeding at a better angle. Another thought: Well-aimed direct pressure. I remember this from my Wilderness First Responder Course, which certification I let expire last 18 months ago.
I cup my hands beneath the right side of his face and guess where the blood is coming from. Perhaps above the eyebrow? I’m unsure, but help is on the way. Let his body do what it needs to do, I keep thinking, watching the blood puddle to see if it’s growing too fast. Too fast, and I’ll have to really get in there and find the spot. Slow or not at all, and I don’t have to risk tweaking his neck. Freddie opens his eyes and his torso tightens into a knot, raising his head and arms temporarily off the ground. He is effectively curved into boat pose, something I’ve learned in yoga class. He gasps for air, a relief after the shallow breaths he had been taking for about…ten seconds? Thirty? A minute? Freddie looks around, eyes moving and scanning the scene and although I am frightened, I try to catch his eyes in mine for reassurance. His movement suggests slight awareness but then his torso slackens and his head falls again. Parker is there to cushion it and I’ve got the blanket on the bleeding and before I know it, the fire department has arrived.
The woman from the SUV whose husband placed the first 9-1-1 call drives by and shouts from the window at me. “Tell them he was walking across the street. We saw him raise his hands high in the air and fall and hit his head. He had a seizure!”
I repeat this to the fire department rescue squad. Slowly, people start to back away. Parker and I get up and I keep my arms bent at the elbow, a safe distance from the blood on the gloves. We cross the street back to his car and I remove the gloves carefully and throw them in the trash. People everywhere are staring at the whole scene. A young girl comes up to us. “Is he going to be okay?”
“He’s breathing. He should be fine. He had a seizure,” I say what I know, or what I think I know. I try to be reassuring.
Parker and I get in the car and go shoe shopping. He finds a coat too, and decides to buy it.
Later, I drink a double soy cappuccino and try to do homework. I wash my hands before I eat my muffin.
On the way home Parker and I are talking about sexual expression and he tells me I’m scaring him. That it’s all too much, too fast. That there’s such a thing as pacing. “Don’t you see the story you’re building?” he presses. I blush next to his razor sharp vision.
“Yes, I see the story I’m building,” I say, but I am thinking about the story of Freddie, which I will never know and which most people will never know. I can guess at the ending though, and it has something to do with no one to pick him up from the hospital and no warm bed to lie in after his body unwinds itself. “I’m trying to go slow, Parker. But we can’t just see each other every other day and have it go slow. You can’t just be that way if you want it to go slow. Don’t you see how you refuse to associate with your own attraction? There’s a distance. You’re holding a cushion up.” I think about his hands under Freddie’s head.
“What actions? Be what way?”
Does he not understand the significance of slow dances? Of playing music together? Of daily visits to the work place? It must be me. I’m going to turn into one of those seriously disillusioned women. Maybe I already am one. I’ll wear my desperation on my sleeve and write trashy romance novels just to get my kicks. I’ll change my name. No one will ever know the real me. I’ll keep my too-big heart to myself. I’ll crumple it into a tight, seizuring ball and try to make all the love disappear.
Our conversation circles, deepens, heightens, and hurts for three hours. My muscles grow tight. My heart is pumping a familiar crimson red blood. I can feel it pounding through my ears. I can’t seem to sit still. Sometimes I let out deep, sad breaths.