Sunday, June 11, 2006

Pretty Scary

Just at closing time yesterday I went downstairs on some errand and was told that one of the women in the natural food store below the shop was sick. Her coworker, a younger woman, didn't know what she should do. She'd asked one of my employers for help. He was about to go check it out. We went in the back door of the food store.

The woman in distress was lying on the floor on a couple of steps between a store room and an office. She was mumbling incoherently and did not seem to be capable of moving. Her coworker told us she'd taken an herbal muscle relaxant. Obviously that stuff works. I've seen rugs that weren't that relaxed. The delerious rambling was disturbing, though.

This was obviously bigger than we were. My employer had worked in the local hospital for many years before he retired to put more time into the bike shop, so he checked vital signs and sat with the patient while I called the hospital emergency department and the ambulance company. Then we rooted around trying to find exactly what the patient had taken. In fleeting moments of lucidity she tried to tell us, but even at her closest approach to normal she couldn't put together a whole sentence. She couldn't even lift her head.

Her pupils were dilated appropriately to the light level, but her eyelids remained at the same half-mast all the time. Her arms and legs lay limp, her feet at forgotten angles, as if her nervous system was abandoning ship.

We found a bottle of what she seemed to be trying to name. When the EMTs arrived, we gave it to them. They noticed it was still sealed. We couldn't find an open bottle of the same stuff.

We all tried to stay calm and upbeat. She wasn't getting any better, but she didn't seem to be getting any worse. Then again, she was pretty damn bad. The ambulance took her away. We dispersed.

I've known her for several years now. She's a nice and caring person as far as I can tell, but quiet and shy. She's not one of those caring people who comes on with the sisterly or motherly rush. I realized as I made my way home that I don't know her last name.

All night I wondered if we had intervened in time or if I'd seen some of her last minutes of life. Could she have quietly just continued down, down, slowing, numbing, slipping away? Or would she bounce right back when they pumped her out? I couldn't do anything more than I had done. It just hovered in the near background of my thoughts all night and through breakfast. I was assuming the best, but I would not dismiss the worst until I knew.

She recovered. I haven't seen her yet, so I don't know if she has a sense of humor about it. If she doesn't now, I'll make sure she gets one.

Any near-catastrophic experience you survive becomes part of your legend. I don't know if they all make you stronger, but they can all be played for laughs.

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