There's nothing like sitting next to a once ten, now three-toed man gushing blood to make you reevaluate your own 'problems.'
My brother Sam has been experiencing tons of strange and intense wrist pains, and today's fun kicked off with his hands going numb, turning blue, and deforming into a creepy crippled claw-like position which made him look like the Crypt Keeper.
"Umm... what the hell should we do?" I ask the reception staff at the physical therapy place.
"Does he want a biscuit?" says a chubby receptionist
"A biscuit. Chocolate or oatmeal?" she asks cheerily reaching into her purse.
"Are you serious? He's shaking and turning blue."
"So... he doesn't want a biscuit?"
"No. No he doesn't want a biscuit. He wants some pain killers. Do you have anything for the pain?"
She looks at me suspiciously and puts down the biscuits.
"Just popping out for a cigarette I'll be back soon." she declares.
Eventually biscuit lady and I decide to call an ambulance, which, aside from how scary the afternoon was, is actually kind of exciting. I feel suddenly like I'm on Grey's Anatomy and although I have no medical training and the phone connection is fine I find myself shouting seemingly authoritative things at the 911 (or 999 over here) person. "He is 18! He has blue hands! He is breathing! With his mouth! And nose! Stat! Shit!"
In the ambulance Sam calms down a bit and I try to get the paramedic to assure him he hasn't damaged his hands for life. Sam is the best jazz piano improviser I've ever fucking met and is understandably upset at the prospect of losing his playing capabilities. The guy goes on and on about tendons and oxygen and calcium and seems really nonplussed. I try to coax him into straightforwardly assuring Sam that he'll be fine.
"He'll be fine, right?" I nudge
"Looks like you're the one who's not doing so fine lass.. calm down there."
"I am calm."
"You've got a wee vein popping out in your forehead says otherwise."
"Do you always turn red when yer fine?"
"Listen, why are we stopping at every red light? Isn't this an ambulance?"
"I hope so, otherwise this is the worst-stocked iced cream truck in the whole damn county" he laughs, pointing to a cabinet full of splints.
Har d har har.
Then we proceed to the emergency room where we wait for 2 hours only to be moved into a small room where we wait for another 2 hours, then a nurse comes in and takes blood while she tells us about how she lives near the world's largest puffin sanctuary.
"Are you concerned the hands are blue?" I ask
"The puffins. The royalty of marine birds. Did you know they can live 30 years?"
"And the hands?"
Eventually they rule out the crazy-bad diseases my mother and I have been driving ourselves insane with worry researching on WebMD, splint him, drug him, and send him home.
The weirdest thing is that the whole day is free- they don't take a health insurance card or ask for a billing address. Thank fucking God for free national healthcare (wtf America, I'd put up with snarky paramedics and ornithological enthusiasts for this kind of treatment anyday). When we finally walk out of there 12 hours later with a bagfull of codeine and wrist splints and haven't paid a penny, I feel like I've pulled off a major jewel heist.
Sam is sleeping and no longer in constant pain, though he can't use his hands even to feed himself Thai food or go to the bathroom, and I cannot help but feel guilty for all of the complaining I've done thus-far on this trip, even right here on this blog.
It's easy to feel very far away from everything we'd like be and to have. Lists of our unfulfilled desires multiply with overwhelming perceived flaws in an ever-mounting mountain of reasons to be unsatisfied, frustrated, just plain depressed.
But for tonight at least, dazed from 12 hours of ER tracklighting and shitty BBC waitingroom television and gushing toe blood and unhelpful cookie-wielding receptionists and the yicky smell of antiseptic and vomit, I'm taking a moment to acknowledge and celebrate the too-often under-appreciated fact that I can go to the bathroom all by myself and feed myself chicken satay without having to use my feet, ending up with Thai peanut sauce lodged in my nose, as Sam pathetically demonstrated before bed.
And although being a superhero billionaire, or an Oscar winning astronaut, or a magical shape-shifting genie that can talk to dogs might be super awesome...compared to toe-less Joe, most of us with all 10 little piggies are having a pretty good night.
I mean, I can pee and eat chicken all by myself. Seriously. Woohoo! And if you can too, then you should smile wide, and you should give yourself a pat on the back for Sam, because he can't even pat himself on the front.
(See Ned- I don't just complain on this blog. I can be positive. I can be uplifting. I could uplift Oscar the Grouch, Squidward, and Eeyore and still have enough lifting power to lift your grumpy bum into sillyville and back- I'm like the Jewish Oprah. Suck it. Mwah.)
much love and limb limberness,