I suppose I have not joined the Blog revolution. I still write little notes in my notebook, start stories either on the computer or on paper, but I am still far from reaching blogspace. Yet, the railroad tracks can be bad and I won’t be able to write by hand at times. Maybe that means I should only read while riding the train. Should I be like those power people who dictate? Talk to a machine, then pass it on to a secreatry?
It was nearly midnight Saturday night when I returned to Kepler’s to retrieve my bike after seeing a movie. Near the bike rack sat a man with big glasses and a walker loaded with travel bags. He tried to get my attention by looking at me and vaguely gesturing while saying words I could not understand. It was as if he could not pronounce the words very clearly, in the way people with degenerative disorders end up. I approached him, expecting the usual request for money. But it was not so: he could still not make himself understood by me. I remained silent and felt powerless. He needed something that I could not guess.
Realizing in my silence that I could not understand him, the man pulled a pen and notepad from his pocket. He could write with his shaking hand:
Call 911 for me
Reading this, I wondered what could be wrong with him. He did not seem to need any emergency treatment. He was breathing and was conscious. I asked what was the problem he needed help with, and he wrote:
I cannot stand
I thought he was going to write “Living any more” or something like that, but he stopped writing there. He could not stand up, get hold of his walker, and go away. Having helped elderly people before, I was told that I should offer an arm if they can help themselves with their own strength. So I said “do you want to try?” and offered my lowered arm. He took it, but there was no strength in his grip. So I said “OK, I’ll go inside the store and ask to call 911 for you.”
It was difficult to describe the situation to the store employee, but they offered to use the phone. It was difficult to describe the non-emergency situation, but the operator would send the fire truck. The store employee had gone out to check on the man, and returned saying that he had been sitting there for a few hours already. I decided to stand by him until the paramedics showed up. I felt like I owed him the assistance.
The fire truck came from the station two blocks away blasting its siren. It’s always embarrassing hearing that when you know that it’s not a life-or-death emergency. A police woman showed up with her flashlight and started to talk to the man. She then told me to step away to let the firemen do their work. So I stepped aside, but still wouldn’t leave. the bookstore employee had mentioned that it was better to be there because the homeless sometimes got mistreated. Indeed, I realized that someone with a speech impairment can be the victim of assumptions and jokes. Of course, an older man with a caretaker would not need them.
They got permission to look for what medicine he had in his bag. They spelled it out for their report. There was another policeman who had come to offer his partner’s services “who could speak Spanish,” as if it was the issue. He contributed to making it a joking matter. Finally, a more serious paramedic who had looked through a booklet determined that the man’s medicine was for Parkinson’s. It was no longer a joking matter. Everyone was aware of older people with Parkinson’s disorder, the latest public figure being the Pope. Here was this man, recently let go from a care facility with a disabling disorder, obviously unable to care for himself. They took him for a ride in the ambulance. Before he left, I went to shake his hand and wish him good luck.
It was a sad moment. The joking policeman asked me where I was from, since I had no lost my accent in so many years (thank you for telling me how badly I integrated, I thought). I asked him if someone would notify the man’s family, and he said yes. He also said something like “good job,” realizing that nobody ever cared.
Notify his next of kin, I thought, if there is one. Maybe there was a family, a brother, a sister, who knows? Maybe they had got a phone call one day and decided to let him go. Or maybe he was alone in the world, alone with Parkinson’s disease, the Pope’s disease. He would continue being released one day after another, sitting somewhere until unable to get up, find his way back to a hospital for the night. Nobody will care for him except those who are paid and have time.
I thought, “what should I do?” I didn’t know. I imagined paying for his care in a facility. Then I imagined even that made no sense. The Pope died, surrounded by doctors and nurses, his priest and nun friends I supposed. This man was on his way out a well, surrounded by paramedics and nurses with the occasional doctor to renew his prescription. It was obviously a one-way street. We are all on a one-way street, but we get the chance of taking side trips (sometimes shortcuts). There comes a point where there is no side trip possible any more.