Sunday, March 10, 2013

No. 452 – Bloom

Performer: Eric Johnson
Songwriter: Eric Johnson
Original Release: Bloom
Year: 2005
Definitive Version: None

You might want to pull up a comfy chair for this one—or skip it altogether. This likely will be the longest entry of the entire blog. I even cut it in half.

Regrets. To me, life is fairly simple: The fewer regrets you have, the happier you are, period. I don’t regret a thing about my parting with my grandmother. But May 7, 2008, was a day full of regrets. The first one was I didn’t kiss Laurie goodbye, like I usually do in the morning before I go to work. Maybe it wouldn’t have changed anything, but … we’ll never know. All we know is what happened.

When Laurie went to sleep on the couch the night before, so she—and I—could get some sleep after a miserable last two weeks, things seemed to be looking up. She had been to a doctor who was working on her problem and gave her sleep pills to break the insomnia she seemingly was suffering.

I slept like a rock, which probably is why I slept through my alarm. I do this sometimes: The alarm goes off; I turn it off … and promptly fall back asleep. When I awoke, it was 6:30—a half-hour after my alarm went off. Oh CRAP! I showered as fast as I could, got dressed and rushed out the door. I could barely make out Laurie on the sofa in the dawn twilight. All I was, I overslept, gotta go. Bye! I made my train.

That afternoon, the magazine staff met to pitch story ideas for upcoming issues. I was in the midst of a glorious pitch on eBay and online auction sites when the door to the conference room swung open. It was the office manager, who said, you have an emergency phone call. She was pointing at me. My blood chilled. I knew right away what it was about. Laurie. I told the office manager to forward the call to my office and ran down the hall.

The call was from Michael, a close friend of Laurie’s (and mine), who said there was something wrong with Laurie. He said another of Laurie’s friends, Doreen, had called earlier—just to say hey—and said Laurie sounded really out of it. She called Michael to have him check it out after trying and failing to get hold of me. When the same thing happened, he called the emergency squad.

I was afraid of this. I explained that Laurie hadn’t been feeling well and had been given sleeping pills to help her, and she probably was sleeping so hard that she seemed out of it when she likely was fine. Michael thought it went beyond that.

Well, obviously I had to get to the hospital right away to find out, and when I hung up and looked down, my message light was flashing. I had four calls—from Michael and Doreen—saying something was wrong with Laurie, and I needed to check on her.

My boss came by, and when I told him what was happening, he offered to drive me to the hospital that instant. Thanks. Michael told me Laurie was taken to Swedish Covenant Hospital, which isn’t far from our apartment.

An aside: Based on the experience of that day, if you’re in Chicago and you have to go to the hospital, don’t ever, Ever, EVER go to Swedish Covenant Hospital for any reason if you possibly can help it. Aside from the medical staff being incompetent, they’re uncaring. Five years later, I still flip the hospital the bird whenever I drive past it—which is almost every day.

Anyway, my boss dropped me off outside the ER, and I went in to find Laurie. A nurse directed me to one of the rooms, and when I got there, it was a frightening scene.

There must have been three or four people in the room, working on Laurie. She seemed to be strapped to a half-dozen monitors, including an EKG. She was trying to get out of the bed by rolling up and over the railings, while others were trying to hold her down, and she was completely incomprehensible—and afraid. She seemed to recognize me when I went to her, pulling me to her in embrace, but she couldn’t say anything, let alone explain what happened. Her blood pressure, which I could see on one of the monitors, was above 170.

Michael and Steven showed up at the hospital soon after I did to check up on Laurie. What’s going on? I don’t know. No one’s told me anything—particularly Laurie. Satisfied that I had things under control, they left. If only they knew.

Soon after, Laurie was wheeled off for a procedure—a CAT scan, I think. A woman who said she was a caseworker at the hospital asked whether I knew if Laurie had a drug problem. I knew she didn’t and explained about the sleeping pills. No, I didn’t know what they were or how many she took. This was an overdose?

That’s how they were treating it, she said. I told them about all of the bizarre behavior that she had exhibited for the past week, but it didn’t seem to matter. The symptoms seemed to fit what they had been told by 911, Michael and the paramedics.

When Laurie came back from her procedure, she was better. Whatever they had given her to counteract whatever they think that she took seemed to have worked. Laurie was alert and clear as a bell. What the hell happened? She started to tell me, but someone came in and asked unrelated questions.

Laurie went back to her story. She was sleeping, she thought, when the phone rang. It was Doreen, and Laurie wasn’t able to speak. Then Michael called, same thing. She couldn’t understand it. Michael called again and asked, do you want me to call the paramedics? Laurie said yes. How many sleeping pills did you take? Two. Two? Just like the prescription says. Two pills couldn’t possibly have done this, could it?

We were interrupted again before Laurie continued: What happened next? The front door to our apartment building is locked, and I imagined the paramedics breaking in to get to Laurie, but Laurie said she let them in. She said she remembered speaking with them, and she thought they were going to leave, but, she said, when she said my name, that was go time. Really, what did you say? I was trying to piece together a puzzle.

The caseworker came in, interrupting us for a third time. ARGH!! All physical tests were coming back negative, she said, so it would seem Laurie was OK to leave, but the caseworker had questions that she had to ask Laurie—in private.

Of course, they were drug-related—and worthless. I wanted to hear everything that happened as best as Laurie could remember it, but I wasn’t going to now. So I made a decision that became Regret No. 2. Because Laurie was taken to the hospital by ambulance, she didn’t have her purse and therefore her insurance card. I said I’d get it and come back with my car, so I could take Laurie home.

When I got home, I grabbed the sleeping pills to show the doctors what she had taken and noted with some satisfaction that, yes, the exact number remained that should have been there based on the timing of the day and the doctor’s directions. This had been no drug overdose.

The whole thing took about an hour, maybe a little more. But when I got back to the ER, things had changed and not for the better.

The staff mostly left us alone after the insurance matter was resolved. I was taken aback that they seemed unconcerned by my producing the sleeping pills and how much had been taken. Isn’t this a big clue? Apparently not. I thus assumed that they thought Laurie was sneaking something unbeknownst to me.

OK, so where were we? Laurie couldn’t remember any more of the story, unfortunately. But, worse, she started to get fidgety. Her blood pressure, which had calmed to a more normal level, was going up again.

Laurie could speak, but her thoughts were growing jumbled and incoherent. Her gaze grew more frightened, and she started mixing conversation with increasingly long gaps of silence. She told me that she really hadn’t felt well since that day in Mexico a month ago when the dogs were outside our casita.

Some history: A couple of days before we left San Miguel, a new vacationer moved into the casita next to ours. We shared a common entryway and a small patio, and into this very small enclosed space, the guest brought a pair of very large dogs.

Large dogs generally spooked Laurie anyway, and these dogs, obviously spooked themselves by their long journey to San Miguel and being left alone in cramped, unfamiliar quarters, were skittish. They completely freaked Laurie out one morning when she went outside without knowing they were there and they began to bark loudly. Neither was tied up, but they didn’t bite her.

I wasn’t afraid of dogs, and I went out to make friends with them out of necessity. One was a very old, golden lab, that if left to its own devices would have stayed under a shady bush and paid no one any mind. The other dog had at least a lot of German shepherd in it if wasn’t a full shepherd. It barked at me loudly and repeatedly and pulled the lab out of its hidey-hole to bark, too.

Well, if they were going to bite me, they would’ve lunged for me right away. I held out my hand, not moving, not flinching, as Laurie watched in fright from the kitchen. Finally, the dogs stopped and sniffed my hand, and soon I was petting both of them—first the lab, then the shepherd. Laurie came out, and I had her do the same. We told the casita owner, and he asked the guest to keep the dogs inside when she was gone. We didn’t have a problem after that, or so I thought.

Hearing this, I now understood Laurie’s problems with the Huicol coyote from Mexico. The coyote symbolizes the trickster in mythology, Laurie had explained when she tried to get rid of it, and the “bad juju” that she thought she was channeling from it all started with the dogs. Twelve years of therapy down the drain, she said at last as her agitation increased.

And then … and then … I … watched … Laurie … go … away.

It didn’t happen all at once but slowly and as surely as I’m writing this now. She stopped speaking completely. Her eyes closed. I was hopeful she was just trying to sleep, but she seemed to be in some state between being awake and asleep. She sucked in her breath, and her body shook. Her blood pressure steadily rose.

Right about then, a nurse came in to tell us that Laurie was being discharged. I wished I could tell you this woman’s name, because I would love to trash her worthless reputation permanently on the Web. Unfortunately, I never got it.

Anyway, as pleasant as can be—and with absolutely zero regard for how Laurie was doing—she went about her task of preparing the room for the next poor sap who had the misfortune of being there. I only hope that she was acting out of cluelessness rather than malice. At the time, I saw no difference.

Hello, Smiley! Look at the blood pressure reading! Look at HER! This woman is not OK! Nope, she assured me cheerily, the doctor said it was OK, so she can go home now. The doctor was long gone.

I should have raced into the ER and demanded someone with a brain come in and look at Laurie at once, but I was too shocked to react. I did nothing. How many regrets can one person have from one day? The only thing that calms me now is knowing that even if I had reacted thusly, Swedish Covenant literally wasn’t equipped to deal with the situation. It wouldn’t have made any difference, and, in retrospect, it might only have made things worse.

The rest of that day—now late at night—was spent mechanically and laboriously getting Laurie out of the bed, getting her dressed, getting through payment with Laurie trying to vault out of the wheelchair onto the floor, getting her into my car, getting her home, up the stairs and to bed.

She was exhausted, not overdosed. You don’t suffer a relapse from a drug overdose. All I wanted was for Laurie to get some sleep. It was, again, in retrospect, a completely unreasonable hope that sleep would take care of things.

In truth, I was shell-shocked. It’s like I knew—really—what was happening, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I was inert. I didn’t dare even putting a name on it. It was unthinkable, but it was true: Laurie had suffered a complete mental breakdown. She ran to the edge of a great cliff and flew off into the sky.

The nightmare had begun.

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