Sunday, April 22, 2012

After mass

My neighbor Rudy was walking back from church last Sunday -- he goes to St. Mary's -- when a guy riding a bicycle came out of nowhere and slammed into him. He caught Rudy's arm right at the elbow. The force of the impact knocked Rudy down and left him gasping for breath. The pain was so intense he nearly blacked out. Meanwhile, the cyclist skidded wide but didn't go down. As soon as he recovered his riding posture he gave Rudy the finger and screamed, "Watch where you're going asshole!" Then he sped on without looking back.

The morning was cool, damp, and gray. Few people were out. No one had seen the accident nor was there anyone around to come immediately to Rudy's aid. He lay there groaning, his body trying to absorb the shock. He shivered and a wave of nausea came over him. When he opened his eyes, stars shot across his field of vision. He stared at the sidewalk he'd been walking on. It pressed against his cheek. Ants were walking across a crack toward a dandelion. They appeared fuzzy, he told me. Fuzzy ants.

He groaned again as a deep fiery pain began to radiate out from his left elbow. He couldn't feel his hand or move his fingers. He turned his head slightly and saw that his watch was broken. It was a gift from my son. The hands were stopped at 10:16. Mass ended at 10 o'clock. Rudy heaved, then went under for a spell.

He heard a car slow down, followed by some voices. "Hey mister. Are you alright? You need help?" It sounded like a girl. Then he heard a door slam and footsteps. "Mister, are you hurt?" It definitely was a female voice. She said to someone else, "Hey, we gotta get this guy to the hospital. He's in bad shape." It was clear they didn't know what to do, or how to move him, or whether or not they even should. The older of the two girls -- later Rudy said he thought she was one of the hostesses down at The Depot -- dialed 911 on her cell and called in the emergency. The other one said, "Don't worry, sir. We'll stay with you until the EMS gets here." She took off her black pea-jacket and draped it over him. "You've got the shakes. Try to stay awake."

He smelled the girl's scent in the coat. It excited him, despite his pain. She was sweet but not bubblegum sweet -- it was a carnal sweetness he was breathing in and it warmed him. He could hear a siren in the distance. The ambulance was coming. Finally. That was the last thing he remembered until he regained consciousness in the emergency room.

I saw him in the hospital five hours later. He was still out of it, slurring his words. Two bones in his elbow were fractured -- the ulna and the humerus. (He was proud to have remembered the names.) He'd also suffered bruises and abrasions on his face, his knees, and his hands. He claimed that he never saw the cyclist who ran into him nor did he find out who his rescuers were. The girls apparently took off as soon as the ambulance arrived. I sat with him for about an hour until he drifted off into sleep. Rain had begun pelting the window behind me. The attending physician came over to the bed. He appeared as though he'd been up for days. He looked at Rudy and told me they were going to have him stay the night for observation. "The way he came down on his head, we want to be sure that there's been no damage we can't see. It's just a precaution."

The doctor left and I sat there for a few minutes watching Rudy sleep. It was very peaceful in the room. I could hear the rain outside, the muffled voices in the corridor, and the tiny mechanical sounds of the monitoring equipment. I felt myself getting drowsy. Yes, I thought, if one had to go to sleep for good, this would be a good place to do it.

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