19 June 2005

Episode No. 2: Descending a staircase...

I thought of the mental preparation necessary before I order a sandwich, and couldn’t imagine dealing with the staff of a French hospital. I remembered the American Hospital of Paris and wrote down their address. It was early and my building was quiet. On our lower floors there are some psychologists and lawyers. The upper floors are residential. I made it down the stairs with barely any trouble. Even if I could get no farther, I was happy to be down in the foyer. Should I try to make it to the American Hospital, call the paramedics, or go to the nearest hospital?

I went to the phone booth outside of my building and dialed a bunch of numbers to reach T on his cell phone. He is always the voice of reason and would know what to do. Behind his voice I could hear a crowd of people and airport announcements. It was still yesterday where he was. He was collecting his baggage at the JetPort in Portland, Maine.

I encountered his "Oh, what now!?" tone-of-voice when I told him what was happening. He was unable to help me. I was not prepared for that. Days earlier I called him, certain that I was about to have a stroke from a weeklong heat wave. (Though it is an ecologically sound choice, it never occurred to me that an entire country would willingly exist without the aid of air conditioning.) I suppose I sounded like Chicken Little with my previous phone call..and maybe the one before that. Only this time the sky was, in fact, falling. "Maybe you’re constipated?" he asked.

It was a painful taxi ride and I was thankful, for no particular reason, that I had a female taxi driver. I had never seen one before. I chose to believe she was sent by God to make the trip less stressful. There is something comforting about women. If I couldn’t have my own mother with me, I was glad that I had someone else’s mother there. She started singing along to the radio, which is what my mother would have done. A brightly painted parrot swung from her rearview mirror. She was driving slower than I expected. "J’ai malade," I said, "en toute hate!"...which I hoped meant that I was in pain and could she please drive a little faster.

The hospital was much closer than I anticipated. She let me out at the curb, which I thought was rather rude considering the main building looked to be a half mile up the driveway. Once I hobbled inside the gate, I was happy to see the emergency department a few steps away on the left.

Most of the lights were out and the security guard had to summon the clerk to check me in. "Fill out this form," she said, as I groaned, holding my side, shaking, nauseous and dripping in sweat. I put my name and address down, unable to write legibly at that point. I shoved the form back across the desk, telling her I really needed to see the doctor right away.

I thought about the will that I had planned to complete before I left the United States, then reminded myself that I have few assets: 50% of a house, a four year-old truck, and a 401k. I assumed things would get sorted out. I hoped that, after I passed, nobody would decide to publish my old journals out in the garage. They don’t contain my best work. I wished I had called my mother that morning, as I had planned. I handed the clerk my carte d’identitie from my french school and T’s business card, saying that should anything happen to me, please call this man at the telephone number circled in red ink. She didn’t respond. She pointed to a door and asked me to pee in a cup.

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