Childhood injuries

I had a mostly-healthy childhood, except for the summer I turned six. That’s when I fell off the basement steps and hit my head, and a short time later I was wrongly diagnosed with asthma.

My family lived in a ranch house that had a largely unfinished basement. The top of the steps faced the back door of the house: to reach the basement, one took four steps down facing west, stopped at a landing and turned, and took eight steps down facing north. The first four steps were enclosed by walls, but the other eight steps had only a handrail, with open space on either side. That is why, when I fell, I did not fall down the stairs. I fell off the stairs, landing head-first on the cement floor.

I do not remember the fall, so I don’t know what I was doing that caused me to fall off the steps. My mother was in the basement and heard me cry when I hit the floor. She feared a concussion and raced me to the hospital after leaving a note for my father. My sister rode to the hospital with us, and she remembers talking with me, making sure I stayed awake, because of a common misperception at that time that a person with a concussion would slip into a coma if he or she fell asleep.

I remember being in the hospital. I was in a ward for children, one with several crib-like beds. I must have been there several days, because I remember that my bed had become a rat’s nest including a few toys from home, hand-made get-well cards from my sister, and coins from well-wishers who I no longer remember. Across the room was a girl named Rosie. One day I scrawled a message to her and tried to toss it to her, but it fell short. She cried, but I remained calm. I pressed the call button and asked the nurse to pick up the message and hand it to Rosie. I remember her name because I named a toy for her, a pale blue rabbit with a rose atop its head.

I was home and convalescing when I had my next medical episode. I was playing with a toy called Rig-a-jig. (see image below) The plastic shapes could be connected in a number of ways, either by putting them sideways tab to tab, or by connecting two tabs with red plastic tubes, the shortest of which was about half an inch long. An almost endless list of projects could be produced by attaching the pieces together. But sometimes the plastic pieces got stuck to one another and were hard to separate. That was the case that day—one of the short plastic tubes was stuck on the tab of one of the colored shapes. Being six, I had the bad judgment to try to loosen the tube with my teeth. I succeeded, but the tube went down my throat. Once again, my mother rushed me to the hospital, where I was X-rayed. The plastic tube did not appear on the X-ray, so the doctor decided that it had gone into my stomach and would pass through my digestive tract without causing any harm.

No one connected that event with the fact that I almost immediately developed symptoms of asthma—the characteristic wheezing sound of asthma when I breathed, which worsened when I exerted myself and had to breathe more deeply. I was not allowed to play outdoors—even my first-grade recess times were spent in the classroom. I came home from school as quickly as possible, which meant that I was always wheezing strongly when I came in the front door. Tests were scheduled to determine which allergens were responsible for my symptoms. Only a couple days before the scheduled tests, I coughed out the plastic tube, and my symptoms disappeared.

When I brought the phlegm-coated tube to my mother, she at first accused me of swallowing a second tube. When I insisted that I was not holding a second tube, but that it was the first one that had disappeared down my throat earlier, and when she noticed that I was no longer wheezing, she called the doctor and canceled the tests. He asked if he could have the tube to show his colleagues. Evidently, I had inhaled the tube and it had lodged in a bronchus, from where it produced the noises that sounded like asthma when I breathed.

Children sometimes do foolish or careless things that cause them harm. I’ve been to the emergency room with my own children more than once. But none of them has ever inhaled a piece of a toy, I am glad to say. Repeating their father’s mistake would be doubly foolish. J.

 

rigajig

There’s No Such Thing as Crazy, part eight

As he greeted them and invited them into his office, Mike introduced his partner, Jenna Smith, to Juan and Laura.  Laura barely acknowledged Jenna. Her face was pale and her hands were shaking. When the four of them sat, Laura put her feet on the seat of the chair and wrapped her arms around her legs. For a brief time, no one spoke.

Juan broke the silence. “Were you able to get Laura’s dental records? Do they match?”

Mike shook his head grimly. “I did get Laura Kinser’s dental records. They do not match the ones Doctor Welz took.”

A loud, long, anguished “No!” burst from Laura’s mouth. She began to weep—not quiet tears, as Juan had seen before, but noisy sobs, occasionally broken by a gasp for breath.

“I’m sorry, Martha,” Mike said kindly. “It was a matter of time before the truth appeared. This is just about the best way it could have happened.”

Juan sat in his chair, stunned. Jenna rose to her feet and crossed the room to give the woman Juan knew as Laura a hug. “There, there, Hon,” Jenna cooed. “Things will be fine. It’s not so bad. You’re gonna be alright.”

Laura continued to cry, and Jenna continued to try to comfort her. “Let’s switch to the other office,” Mike suggested to Juan. As if in a dream, Juan stood on his feet, followed Mike across the hall to Jenna’s office, and found a seat.

“Where should I start?” Mike asked himself after he had closed the door and settled into Laura’s desk chair. “It struck me as strange that the woman was so hesitant to see a dentist and denied having seen one any time recently. Hollywood people generally are faithful to their dental appointments. It’s a professional necessity.

“It had already occurred to me that the federal investigators working at the airport probably had requested dental records for Laura Kinser. That guess was correct. I contacted them and traded the information about Ron Lawrence for a copy of the records. They came digitally, of course, and over lunch I took them to Doctor Welz. In next to no time he found three clear differences between the two sets of images—fillings in different places, wisdom teeth present in one set and missing in the other, and, um, I’ve forgotten what the third difference was.”

Laura’s sobs still rang through the building, even through the closed door. Juan found it difficult to concentrate. He clenched his fists. His heart ached for her.

“The crash investigators called me back about an hour ago. They were able to find Mr. Lawrence, and he surrendered peacefully to them. I guess he was having a hard time with the insurance companies—or rather, they were having a hard time with him. He wanted his money quickly, and they were waiting for the results of the investigation. So Ron opened up and told them the whole story.

“That woman across the hall is named Martha Jones. She and Laura met while they were both receiving in-patient treatment in the same ward. Both of them noticed the similarities in appearance, and for a while they were both equally amused. They exchanged contact information and promised to keep in touch.”

While he spoke, Mike was toying with a bottle of water. Now he stopped and took a sip. “Martha became obsessed with Laura. She pumped her for every scrap of information about her life. When Laura stopped responding to her questions, she began reading everything she could find about Laura. Her doctors could see that she was identifying with Laura in a way that was not healthy. They tried to work with her, but they had little success.

“Ron had met her once while Laura was still in the hospital. Now he went to visit her again. That required her permission, but of course once she knew who he is, she accepted. Without any details, he asked her if she would be willing to double for Laura. She accepted quickly. Monday morning he returned and signed her out of the hospital for the day. I don’t know how he convinced the doctors to let him do that, but he managed. From there, I think you know the rest.”

Juan nodded. “I wonder what his plans for Martha were after the explosion. And I also wonder what’s happened to the real Laura Kinser.”

“The real Laura Kinser is out of the country on a long vacation. I gather that wherever she is, they aren’t paying attention to news from America. I wasn’t told the details of why Ron wanted so much money or what he was going to do when Laura returned.

“As for Martha, he said that he was planning to return her to the hospital on Wednesday when she escaped him. We’ll never know whether or not he told the truth about that.”

Juan nodded again. Martha’s weeping was becoming quieter. “What’s to be done with her?” Juan asked, gesturing in Martha’s direction.

“Just before you got here, I made arrangements with the hospital. They’ve been searching for her all week. They will find transportation to return her; I said they could pick her up here.”

Juan thought for a minute. “I can drive her to the hospital, so long as she stays calm—and if she wants me to.”

“That’s mighty generous, under the circumstances. Are you sure you want to, though?”

Juan nodded yet again. “Yes. I want to.”

“Well, let’s check with her then.”

The men crossed the hall. Laura had stopped sobbing, but her eyes were red from crying. She looked up at Juan. “I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice catching in her throat. “I’m terribly, terribly sorry.”

Juan shrugged. “I’m not going to hold any grudges. In fact, it’s probably better this way. I don’t know if I could handle being friends with a real celebrity.”

“You actually want to be my friend… after all the lies I told you?”

“I do indeed. This week has been quite an adventure.”

Martha smiled weakly. “I had you fooled the whole time, didn’t I?” Juan nodded. Martha sighed. “For a little while, I actually got to be Laura Kinser.”

Juan didn’t stop to consider whether his next words would help her recovery or slow it. He truthfully told her, “In my heart, you will always be Laura.”

The End. J.

First Friday Fiction–Susanna, part two

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.”

“How awful!”

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.