Sunday, April 5, 2009
The first words I heard this morning, from a sound sleep, were “Boppy, I need you to help me. I’ve opened a vein.” Her voice was coming from the bathroom. Moving as fast as a fat person with arthritis can move (not very), I made it down the hall and opened the door to see She holding on to her ankle with a very bloody cloth, and large puddles of blood all around her, soaking the bathmat, stretching across the tile floor. I tried to follow her orders and listen to what had happened at the same time, all the while blind without my glasses, in a state of shock, and desperately needing to pee.
“I was drying off and heard a noise; I thought it was a bug.” “No, I’ll keep pressure on it. Hand me a bandage from that box on the top shelf.” “It made a sound like a whine.” “No, that’s the tape. Open that package.” “I looked around and down and saw the blood.” “OK, now the tape.” “I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from until I saw it spurting like a broken hose from my foot.”
About this time, the heat, steam, blood and shock in the room started to hit me and I said, “I need some air. It’s so hot.” Black dots ran in front of my eyes and I knew my hair was soaked with sweat. “Dammit, you have to talk about the heat right now?” We have an ongoing battle about heat versus air. She was not grasping that soon I would lying in an unconscious heap in a pool of her blood. It vaguely crossed my mind that the police would have a time trying to figure this one out. I flung up the window and stuck my head out, handing her the scissors and some more pressure bandages. Blood had soaked through the first one. Then I managed to help her wind an Ace bandage around her ankle to keep everything together.
I wanted to call 911, but She wouldn’t let me. The blood did not appear to be soaking through the Ace. We need to think what to do, we agreed. By now, we realized that a varicose vein on her foot had formed near the surface of the skin and then burst. Because she is on blood thinners for her heart, the vein was pouring out blood in a brisk and unstoppable fashion.
Ultimately, we got to the ER up the street before it started getting crowded. People were either still asleep or getting ready to go to church on Palm Sunday. My own church was going to have a live donkey in the procession.
When the doctor removed our homemade bandage, the vein started arcing blood again. His calm and collected demeanor was reassuring, and he and She got to telling doctor/nurse stories while he ligated the vein and sutured her. We were all amused in a kind of relieved way and joked with him when he tripped over the “Wet Floor” sign at the door of the treatment room on his way out. Picture the yellow cones, with “Piso Mojado” in Spanish underneath “Wet Floor” in English.
When he came back in the room after the results on She’s pitifully thin blood were available, he said “You know, I tripped on that sign because it’s in Spanish and I don’t know Spanish.” “You need to learn some!” I encouraged, taking the bait. “I am NOT going to learn Spanish,” he replied. “I am an American. I live in America. The language here is English. If they want to come here, they need to speak English.”
“America is changing,” I said with what I thought was an amazing amount of empathy, patience and fairness. I was obviously still in shock over the morning’s incident, or I might have started a verbal bloodbath on the spot. “Unless you are planning to retire by say next year, you really should try to learn a little Spanish.”
“Well,” he said with what I thought was a comfortable arrogance, “I have no intention of it. They can’t change the language of America. They want to change the language. They want to change the Constitution.” “Who’s ‘they’?” challenged She from the gurney.
I wasn’t sure what the man was talking about. All I could think about was how Virginia had recently changed its Constitution, to exclude people like Dr. Powell’s current customers from civil marriage. Historically, the Federal Constitution has been amended for inclusion, rather than exclusion purposes, and I know there are people who would like to change that. But I digress. We were all still trying to smile and maintain a modicum of courtesy. We didn’t want a confrontation. We wanted to go home and make sure we were still alive. She was dressed and ready to go. “Hasta luego,” I nodded to Dr. Powell. “Oh, I know that one,” he said, as he turned to go to the next patient.