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Ebony, my earth-angel

July 30, 2010

Due to travels [Indiana, Wisconsin, Colorado, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France], it’s been awhile.  I’m taking advantage of the fact that my right leg might need to be amputated to catch up on everything I’ve neglected for the past month, awkwardly splayed out on a coffeeshop couch, ignoring the “Where does she think she is, her living room?!?” stares.

It’s been a weird couple of days.  I just returned from two weeks in Europe, on a wonderful adventure that included lots of bikes, french fries, breathtaking blue skies, chocolate, outdoor markets, boats, and aimless sauntering.  Because of the good price, I took a not so ideal route home: Amsterdam > Oslo > Stockholm > Chicago.  Ridiculously high costs – $50 to take the train into Oslo during an eight-hour layover so I disappointingly didn’t, and food so expensive I had to guiltily settle for $15 bacon-flavored chips and chocolate biscuits –  and having to sleep in the airport, uncomfortable and freezing, has led me to hate Norway, which by all accounts is a lovely country not deserving of my loathing.  A too-bad ending to a picturesque trip.  And then there’s the possibility of becoming a peg-leg.

A few days before returning to the States, my right buttock started to hurt.  Then my right thigh.  Then my right calf.  Then my right foot.  Not a sharp pain and not all of the time, so I was able to get around, even going for runs, walks of 7-8 miles, and biking the Dutch out of the Netherlands.  But the pain started to get more intense and more constant, probably due to the long flight and the running with suitcases.  I wasn’t worried though, since I wasn’t training for a marathon or facing days of heavy lifting and mountain-climbs.  I’d just return to Chicago and low-key my social and professional life, lounging at BBQs as others brought me margaritas, editing videos in the calm of my Wilco-infused home-office.  But while driving home from dinner and drinks last night, the pain was so intense I started bawling and almost had to pull over.  It was if I was giving birth through my thigh and foot, while simultaneously being sliced with razors while someone poured vinegar into the cuts, while the dentist drilled my teeth which stupidly had relocated to my leg.

Being self-employed, I am reluctant to see medical professionals since I pay for everything out of pocket [I have a Health Savings Account, which is health insurance with an uber-high deductible, catastrophe insurance basically].  But when I couldn’t feel the bottom of my foot and when tingling sensations followed by strange pulsations overtook the bottom-right of my body, I became worried and the pain became too intense to be a “ride this one out” situation.  And that’s how I found myself at the infamous Cook County Hospital today.

I’ve never been to a public hospital before.  Tip: don’t show up at 1PM.  After fighting horrible traffic, hobbling from the parking garage which conveniently is fifty-three miles from the main entrance to the info desk only to be told to go across the street from the sparkly new building to the dingy scary building that was swarming with scary-looking people and wandering the halls due to poor signage searching for someone to save my life, I finally got to the appropriate waiting room and was greeted with the words, “Registration is closed for the day.  You may come back at 7AM tomorrow.”  I sat down on a scary-looking chair and started to cry.  After a few minutes of wretched self-pity, I realized I only had a few minutes left to make it back to the parking garage before the first thirty-minutes were up and the rate would increase; if I had actually been a patient, I only would’ve had to pay a nominal $3 fee, but because I only attempted to be a patient, I didn’t have the required documentation to show the parking attendant and thus would have to pay the full rate.  So crying and hurting, I hobbled across the worn, cigarette-strewn grass fifty-three miles back to the garage.  I made it to my car with five minutes to spare.

Ok, deep breath, it’ll be ok.  Your leg hurts because you were traversing Europe.  You just saw a lot of people in much worse shape than yourself.  You’re driving home to sweet digs in a sweet neighborhood.  I drove down the ramp, silently heaving and wiping away slowing tears.  And then I saw the line of cars.  And the one parking attendant.  I broke down again.  Fifteen minutes later, ten minutes over the deadline, defeated, leg throbbing, I pulled up to the gate.  The nameplate on the booth said “Ebony.”  She looked to be early twenties.  I gave her my ticket.  She glanced at it and asked, “So what brought you to the hospital today?”

“Well I tried to be a patient, but didn’t make it in time.”

She nodded and took my money.  Sweet sweet Ebony then handed me back a surprising wad of change – she charged me the $3 patient rate.  I mustered what I hoped was a Thank You, Nice Nice Lady smile but probably looked like a drunken, snotty sneer, and began the trek home.

So now instead of visiting with an out-of-town friend who won’t be back till December, instead of swaying my hips at a friend’s BBQ, instead of returning to my beloved yoga and stairclimbers, tomorrow I’ll be clutching my bag in an uncomfortable chair in a depressing hole in the wall, retracing my steps to figure out what I did to my leg, envisioning how hard my life will be as a cripple, maybe for twenty minutes, maybe for six hours, before an overworked resident gives me a once-over and shoves a prescription for pink-eye ointment into one hand and a bill for $3,000 into the other hand.

I hope I’m able to remember that it’s all relative and to have some perspective.  And to think of Ebony, sweet sweet Ebony.

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