No one in the office had ever heard Susanna shout. When she spoke at all, she spoke in a quiet voice. Her coworkers were startled one morning when she called out, “Somebody call 9-1-1!” It took a couple of seconds for anyone even to think to ask why they should call the emergency number.
Only Susanna had noticed when Conrad collapsed. Perhaps the odd movement caught her eye, or perhaps she had been glancing his direction more often lately. Conrad’s body turned limp, and he began to slide off his chair onto the floor under his desk. Before his head could hit the floor, Susanna was at his side. She pushed away his chair and eased him into a flat position on the floor. She checked his neck for a pulse, which she noticed was rapid and weak, but regular. Next she watched to make sure that he was breathing. He was.
She heard the voice of one of the other men in the office talking to the emergency dispatcher over the telephone. As three or four concerned workers gathered around, she waved them back. “Give him some air,” she pleaded.
Conrad’s eyelids flickered. Then he opened his eyes and began to sit up. “What happened?” he asked groggily.
“You fainted,” she told him. Putting her hand on his shoulder, she pressed him back to the floor. “Lie still,” she said. “Help is on the way.”
“I’m sure I’m fine,” Conrad started to say, but she interrupted him. “I said lie still. You are going to be checked out to make sure that you’re fine. I lost one friend this way—I’m not going to lose another.”
In stunned silence, the sound of an approaching siren could be heard. “You!” she commanded, pointing at Tony. “Go down to the door and guide them up here. They mustn’t waste a second!”
Susanna took Conrad’s hand and squeezed it. “You are going to make it,” she promised him.
Conrad was already feeling stronger. He decided to try a little joke. “If I don’t,” he whispered, “I just wish… I just wish I had spent more time at the office.” No one laughed, but it seemed to Conrad that
Susanna relaxed slightly.
Less than two minutes later, three paramedics were tending to Conrad. “Do you know your name?” one of them asked him. “Do you know what day this is?” Conrad answered both questions correctly. Another paramedic was checking his pulse and counting his heartbeats. “What happened?” the first paramedic asked.
“I guess I fainted,” Conrad said sheepishly. One minute I was at my desk, working, and the next minute I was lying on the floor.” He paused and confessed, “During the night I got up and was sick, and I didn’t think my stomach could handle breakfast this morning.”
The paramedic nodded and gently pinched the skin on Conrad’s arm. “Dehydration,” he announced. “Probably nothing serious, but we’ll still get you to the hospital for a complete check-up.”
“Really—I’m fine,” Conrad protested, but they seemed to ignore his words. They had a stretcher which folded into a chair which would fit in the elevator. As they carefully moved Conrad onto the stretcher, Susanna grabbed her purse. “I’ll follow you to the hospital,” she told them.
Of course the ambulance took Conrad straight to the emergency room entrance. Susanna had to find a parking spot, then find the public entry, and from there try to find Conrad. When she admitted that she was not part of his family, they were reluctant to allow her back to see him. He remembered her promise, though, and asked about her, and soon she was with him.
One machine was monitoring his heart, while another was pumping fluid into his arm. Susanna had no medical training, but on the heart monitor she could see that Conrad’s heart was pumping thoroughly and regularly. He also seemed less pale than he had been when he was lying on the office floor.
She took his hand. “You gave us all a little scare there.”
He smiled weakly. “Sorry about that. I guess I should take better care of myself.”
She smiled back. “I guess you should.”
Conrad squeezed her hand and said, “Can I ask you a question?” She nodded, and he asked, “Back at work you said you had lost a friend this way. Please tell me what happened.”
She drew her breath in sharply, and Conrad thought he had made a mistake. After she let the air out slowly she took another breath. No longer smiling, she said, “I guess I can talk about it.
“We were both in college—our last year, about to graduate. We weren’t officially engaged, but we were making plans as if we were. We both knew what jobs we wanted to have, and we hoped that we found jobs in the same city, because that would make it easy for us to get married right away.
“He was on the football team. They were having a practice, a normal practice, getting ready for one of the last games of the season. It was just an ordinary practice, nothing strenuous, but he suddenly collapsed on the field. They rushed him to the hospital, but he was dead when they got him there.
“Something was wrong with his heart. He had probably been born with a weakness in his heart, but no one ever knew it.” Susanna closed her eyes and tried to hold back the tears, but they flowed all the same.
“I’m sorry,” Conrad said. I shouldn’t have asked.”
Susanna shook her head. When she could speak, she said, “It’s good for me to talk about it. I’ve held it in too long. I’ve been frightened of what would happen to be when I finally came to terms with it.”
“It must have been a terrible shock to you—and to his family and everyone who knew him.”
“It was. I took it very hard. The night after his funeral, I got drunk and walked down the middle of the road, screaming and cursing at all the drivers who swerved to miss me. I wanted them to hit me. I wanted to be dead and buried, just like him.”
Susanna looked Conrad in the eyes. “I was messed up for a couple of years. I dropped out of school and spent days in my bedroom binging on movies. I would go days without food and then fill up on sweets. My parents told each other to be patient, I’d snap out of it. Instead, I kept making myself more miserable with bad choices. Then, finally, I… I….”
An older nurse had been in and out of the medical bay as Susanna told Conrad about her past. When Susanna burst into tears, the nurse wrapped her arms around her and spoke soothingly to her. “I(t’s alright now, Honey. Don’t let it bother you. Things will be fine from now on.”
It took a couple of minutes for Susanna to regain control of herself. “I’m sorry,” she said, wiping tears off her face. “I guess being in a hospital again is bringing back a lot of memories.”
“Well for now,” the nurse said to her, “talk about something more pleasant. The doctor is going to be back in a few minutes to check on your friend, and I have a feeling he’ll be allowed to go home. So—you see?—everything’s not so bad.”
“Yes, let’s talk about something else,” Conrad agreed.
“But one thing before we change the subject,” Susanna interjected. “You won’t say anything about all this to anybody at work, will you?”
“Of course not,” Conrad promised. “If you knew me better, you wouldn’t have to ask.”
As the nurse had promised, the doctor was soon checking on Conrad. “You don’t seem to be in any danger,” the doctor said. “If you can go home and stay quiet for the rest of the day, and get plenty of fluids, you should be fine.”
“I’ll drive you home,” Susanna told him, “and I can pick you up tomorrow and bring you to work.”
And that is what they did.
To be continued… but I don’t know when… I don’t even know what happens next. J.