This is the third in a series of articles about my recent trip to the emergency room, my intestinal surgery, and my recovery afterwards. Here is an index to all of the articles in this series.
As the ambulance arrived at my house I couldn’t help but think back to the first time I’d ridden in an ambulance 16 years ago. It was February 5, 1990 under almost exactly the same circumstances when I took my first ambulance ride. I had severe cramping and needed to get to the ER but I couldn’t sit up or wear my back brace. I remember the exact date because I had plans that evening to attend a birthday party for my young friend Anne Chapman who was about to turn 14. I don’t know how I recall that the party was scheduled for the day before her actual birthday which is February 6. I remember it was unseasonably warm and a bright sunny day. Not the kind of day you wanted your only trip outdoors to be on a gurney in an ambulance.
I don’t recall anything about the EMT who drove the ambulance but I will never forget the one who rode with me in the back. Her name was Mitzi and she was about my age. On the 20 minute ride to St. Vincent Hospital we discussed a variety of topics in between questions about my medical history. It was amazing how much of our life stories we managed to get in in a short period of time. I told her I was college-educated in computer science, did work from home computer consulting, volunteered at church etc. She told me about her kids, her struggles as a single parent, working hard to get her EMT certification during it all, and her mixed emotions about the fact that her teenage daughter was about to make her a grandmother at the ripe young age of 36.
I have to admit it was a strange feeling to realize a woman only slightly more than a year older than me was about to be a grandma. Here was a reasonably attractive single woman my age with whom I developed an instant rapport. She was someone I had my usual slim yet not impossible chance of dating and any day she was going to be “Grandma Mitzi”. It certainly makes you feel especially old when you’re lying there with your gut on fire to begin with 🙂
When the ambulance carrying myself and Mitzi arrived at St. Vincent that day 16 years ago, she smiled and promised to check up on me later. Much to my surprise she did. A couple of hours later while waiting in the ER she stopped by to see how I was doing. She confessed to me that despite the fact that it probably violated some regulation or rule, she had written down my address and was going to send me a get well card.
It was during this visit to the hospital that they first diagnosed my diverticulitis. They put me on antibiotics for a few days and sent me home. Sure enough a few days later I got a get well card from Mitzi the EMT. I couldn’t imagine why she’d taken such an interest in me but I know better than to let an opportunity pass me by. I sent her a Valentine card in reply including a rather mushy, extremely flattering letter. It thanked her for taking good care of me and keeping me distracted from my pain during my ambulance trip.
I don’t recall the exact sequence of events after that but I think we started exchanging phone calls after that. She would be sitting around the ambulance garage for hours waiting on a run with nothing to do so she would call me up and talk for a couple of hours. At some point we made a date and went out to dinner. She picked me up in my van and we went to Olive Garden. I had my usual chicken parmesan. By this time her grandchild had been born so it was now official… I was so old I was dating grandmothers! We only went out one time but continued to talk by phone for the next couple of months. She didn’t like being called at home so mostly she called me during her idle time at work. Eventually she just stopped calling sometime in July.
One of the things she said to me on that first and only date (or second date if you count the ambulance trip as our first date) was that she considered me “dangerous”. It was probably the most flattering and empowering thing anyone had ever had ever said to me. I asked her what she meant by dangerous and she said she was scared that I had the capacity to worm my way into her heart. Mitzi was a very tough person who had been dealt lots of problems in her life and she had built walls around herself. She identified me as a person who could break down those walls, get inside her, and reveal the mushy parts that she didn’t like to admit were there. There had been women in my life who had admitted to me bluntly that they felt “safe” around me because of my disability. While I consider myself a gentle person and a description “safe” ought to be a compliment, in that instance it was actually quite insulting because it meant that the woman didn’t really think of me as a real man. When Mitzi described me as “dangerous” it was very much a complement to be and my manhood.
Although the relationship didn’t really go very far, in many ways it very much changed my life. I had always presumed the only way I could develop any kind of a relationship with a woman would be if she had lots of time to get to know me and to eventually see the real me that is often obscured by my disability. I always figured once they got to really know me then perhaps they could look past the wheelchair, the bent up spine, the contracted joints and other deformities and limitations. I couldn’t possibly conceive of being on the receiving end of anything that remotely approached “love at first sight” yet much to my surprise when I was in my most physically vulnerable and helpless condition lying on a gurney unable to move my arms, drive a wheelchair, type on a computer etc. somehow an instant chemistry developed between me and this woman. It was a chemistry that led to a interesting, entertaining, and overall satisfying relationship that lasted several months.
The confidence, experience and adjusted self image that I gained from my relationship with Mitzi the EMT led me to much greater success in other relationships very soon after that.
So it was with some degree of disappointment that when a couple of young male EMTs showed up at my house the morning of August 8, 2006. I still had a nice ambulance ride chatting with one of them. I asked him if he’d watched the new TV series “Saved” on the TNT network about paramedics who work for a private ambulance service. He said he’d seen one episode and wasn’t very impressed. I kind of enjoy the show but probably wouldn’t watch it if it wasn’t for the fact there’s nothing else on during the summer. We talked about the Brickyard race which was just a couple of days earlier. Rural Metro Ambulance provides the ambulance service for the Speedway. During a Brickyard weekend they keep the unit there on standby 24/7. The boss had told these guys if they would do an overnight shift, he would get them a cush job on race day. They agreed and ended up watching the Allstate 400 at the Brickyard from the Allstate suite. Air-conditioned, lots of free food, no runs whatsoever! They had a great time. During the trip I also told him a much abbreviated version of the story about Mitzi.
It was a pleasant enough trip to the hospital. The guys that took care of me were friendly and competent but the only way any of us were going to get any action that day was if we had come across some damsel in distress on the side of the road along the way. That didn’t happen. Oh well… I guess Mitzi was a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience.
In our next installment they try to figure out what’s really wrong with me.