Black Eye

by Ruth Z Deming

My sister Ellen's car is about ten years old and breaks down every few months. She takes it to a variety of auto repair shops to get it fixed, the latest being Neary Automotive, over in Bucks County, PA.

I followed her there. She parked the car in the jampacked lot, ran inside to tell them it was waiting, and then joined me in my car.

We headed back home where she lives with our ninety-five-year old mother.

After we bumped across some railroad tracks, Ellen pointed out a Dunkin' Donuts and asked if I wanted to stop.

"You bet!" I said, fastening my eyes on the glowing pink and brown sign. I ordered hot black coffee, and an egg and cheese croissant, with no meat. My mouth watered as I looked at the doughnuts I used to order - glazed chocolate - Boston crème with powdered sugar on top - before I developed insulin-dependent diabetes.

Ellen ordered for Mom, who, despite her age, is a voracious eater.

Mom was waiting at home, a lavishly furnished six-bedroom house, where she occupied two rooms - the kitchen and her bedroom. She pretended she would move into an assisted living facility but we all knew she was kidding herself.

Ellen and I waited for Mom - or "Ma" - in the kitchen as she slowly made her way downstairs.

She tottered from her bedroom in her huge black orthopedic shoes that looked like webbed feet on a duck. She hugged the railing like a long-lost lover to get down the seven steps.

The world seemed to stand still as she lowered herself down.

"I'll make it," she would say. "I know what I'm doing."

Finally, we heard her shuffling into the kitchen. My mother! Who used to play tennis, scrub the kitchen floor on her hands and knees, and throw huge parties with yellow lanterns framed against the black sky.

At the kitchen table, I looked out the window at the greenery in the back yard.

Eating used to be so easy for me. But now I had to inject insulin before every meal.

I arose from the table, pocket book in my hand, and went into the dining room. Pulling out my navy blue and pink insulin pen, I pulled down my slacks, set the dial to 12 units of insulin - click click click - and injected into my butt. If it hurt, I'd withdraw the needle and inject in another area where it didn't hurt.

You become inured to the horrors of diabetes, which, if you're not careful, can kill you from "complications," rob you of your eyesight, your toes, the tips of your fingers and on and on.

"Yum! Fantastic!" I said as I scarfed down the croissant. Rarely did I allow myself to eat such a high-carb meal with my diabetes. I'd all but given up bread, bagels, and rolls.

"Really good," said Mom, chewing away. "I love the bacon."

We briefly discussed how our Jewish family had kept kosher from the old country - Hungary - when we entered Ellis Island, but became less and less religious as the years went on. Mom, though, continued to fast on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

The phone rang.

"Car's ready," said Ellen.

We got in the car and drove back to Neary's.

"I'll wait here," is what I wanted to say to Ellen.

Those words did not come out.

"Shit!" I thought. "It's happening again."

I was speaking gibberish. This was my fifth TIA - transient ischemic attack. A leakage of blood in my brain.

Ellen and I communicated by my nodding Yes and No.

Yes, drive me home. I went inside and took two baby aspirins.

Yes, call the ambulance.

Ellen told me to lay down, so I lay on my red couch, that was sprinkled with crumbs from pretzel rods and peanuts. I looked up in the air and saw one of my mobiles swinging from the fake plastic rafters on the ceiling. Joyous and colorful, it was made from a huge Yuengling Beer carton, with decorated egg cartons poking out at odd angles from the sides.

It always swung slightly like wind chimes.

With great fanfare, the ambulance and three police cars pulled up the street. The officers walked inside. By now my speech had returned - perfectly - but I knew I must visit the hospital.

I was familiar with the drill that Officer Brown asked. "Smile, stick out your tongue, what's your name, what's today's date, and what happened to you."

They lifted me into a narrow gurney. I was wearing baggy pants and a black top with rhinestones on it.

Then they bumped me onto the ambulance.

My brown, paint-spattered clogs pointed to the closed door. As a person with diabetes, I've been taught to always wear socks. This protects my feet and especially the toes from injuries, such as bumping into a chair leg. My socks were pink. A kidney-shaped bag dripped saline solution into my arm.

Trapped. Utterly trapped. But not as trapped as I'd be in the hospital.

Occasionally the ambulance used the siren. Look at me, the center of attention. Christ!

The neighborhood passed me by. Such gorgeous houses. Where was I? Flowering trees passed swiftly by. Pink apple blossoms. Tall lilac trees. White dogwoods, with branches shimmering in the breeze. If only I could smell them instead of stale cigarette smoke in the back of the ambulance.

We pulled into the ER parking lot and I was immediately transferred to the emergency room. Here I would stay for an entire day. There were no available hospital rooms.

A phalanx of nurses entered my tiny room and hooked me up so they could monitor my blood pressure and heart rate. More tests were scheduled, including a CT Scan and an MRI.

I was quite exhausted and blinked my eyes when a Doctor Paul Martin came in. I was trying to read his name tag. Partially balding, he moved toward the head of my bed and shook my hand. Such a small insignificant gesture as a hand shake gave me hope and made me feel like a real person.

"Things look very good, Mrs. Deming," he said, looking down at my chart.

"Since your speech has returned, there's probably no permanent damage, but we've gotta make sure."

He left and I was all alone, except for the quiet sounds of the automated machines. One place you don't like to be alone is in the emergency room.

My sister Ellen had followed the ambulance and entered my room. Her dark eyes were huge with fear.

"Ell, not to worry," I said. "I'll be fine. But stay as long as you can. It's lonely in the ER."

"Mommy's waiting at home," she said.

God forbid there was a fire at home, my mom might never make it out.

We didn't allow her to turn on the burners on the stove for fear she'd burn the house down. Sure would have solved the problem of going to an assisted living facility.

These were things we all constantly joked about. Mom has a terrific sense of humor.

My boyfriend Scott, who lives right next door to me, visited shortly after Ellen left. My heart flip-flopped when he walked in. How lucky I am, I thought, as I looked at him through new eyes. He radiated confidence and was a good-looking guy with a shaved head and graying goatee.

"Hey, kid," he said. "I don't want nothin' happening to my Ruthie."

He bent over and kissed me on my lips.

He pointed to "Escape Clause," a John Sandford mystery I'd borrowed from him, which lay on my lap. I shook my head. "Can't get into it," I said.

"Try," he said. "It'll make the time go faster."

When he left, I picked up the book, fanned the pages, and then put it back next to me.

AMA, means Against Medical Advice. So many times I was tempted to jump up and leave. How would I get home? I suppose I could walk. I'm a tough old bird at 72 years old.

"Ouch!" the blood pressure cuff squeezed so tight I thought I'd pass out.

An escort wheeled me to the CT room. I felt like a kid being pushed in a stroller. A great feeling of mobility.

The CT Scan took only two minutes. What? Science had advanced and I knew nothing about it?

The same escort wheeled me into the MRI room.

I have claustrophobia but I promised myself I'd be brave. Never, during my twenty or so MRIs in my lifetime, had I rung the buzzer and begged to be removed.

Tom, in his blue scrubs, was very nice as he rolled me into the tomb.

My eyes were tightly shut.

The moment I feel myself rolling inside, I panic. "Dear God, help me," I think, as the MRI begins its work.

The soothing voice of Tom began to speak.

"You'll hear a series of beeps that will last... One minute, two minutes, five minutes... and so on."

I'd requested to listen to WRTI-FM, the jazz music station. Nothing could be heard above the clangs. CLANG CLANG CLANG.

I was not to move and didn't but clenched my jaw tightly.

Every time I'm in the machine I think about kidnappers who buried their victims in shallow graves waiting for the ransom money to arrive.

At one point, during my confinement, I opened my eyes and saw the plastic interior of the machine. Tom had joked, "There's enough room in there for you and a few friends."

My heart pounded.

"Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?" he said as he rolled me out.

Twenty minutes of hell. But I said nothing.

"I'm just gonna sit here a second," I told him, "before I get out." I didn't want to get dizzy.

Finally I got my own room. I was wheeled to the Toll Building, named after the Toll Brothers who build spectacular homes all over the country and sponsor the Metropolitan Opera on PBS.

The most spectacular feature of the room was the toilet.

My new room was huge. The unbreakable window prevented the occupant from killing himself. The view gave onto a chimney belching smoke. Such a sight always reminds me, as a Jew, of Auschwitz.

Under the windows, beige cabinets were set out from one side of the room to the other.

"Where's the bathroom?" I asked Nurse Jennifer from my bed.

I couldn't wait to take a hot shower and shampoo my dyed auburn hair.

Walking quickly, Jennifer went over to one of the beige cabinets, flung open the door, and revealed a small toilet.

"Are you kidding me?" I responded.

She bent down and swung out the toilet.

"You can pee here," she said matter-of-factly. "Make sure the room curtain is drawn."

The room had no door, just a huge curtain that spanned the entire room.

I would lie in bed, reading, and, I admit, feeling terribly sorry for myself, when the urge to pee would hit me.

So I did. Several times. The saline solution made me pee. The fear from the MRI made me shit.

More professionals examined me. Two types of physical therapists tested my speech.

I lost my temper with them and said, "You're only doing this to get my money." This was probably true.

I was furious, but, again, I was a prisoner.

The hours passed as slow as a dripping faucet.

A huge surprise awaited me.

Nurse Jennifer returned, wearing sneakers, a floral top and blue pants.

"You're being discharged," she said.

"Holy cow! I can't believe it," I said and smiled for the first time that day.

We sat on the bed together and went over the discharge plans. "No restrictions," it said. Plus I was to take two new medications.

"Who should I call to pick you up?"

I gave her Scott's phone number.

He arrived in an hour.

"Couldn't find your room," he said. "Someone walked me upstairs."

"Am I glad to see you, babe!" I said, flinging myself in his arms.

"What'll we watch tonight on Turner Classic Films?" I asked.

"Hopefully," he said, "an exciting black and white film noir."

"You're Little Ruthie," I said as I changed into my pants and warm sweater, "lived in 'noir city' for two horrible days."

As we drove away, I stared out the window of his white Honda Fit. Dusk was falling.

The doctor had called in two prescriptions to the CVS.

We pulled up to the drive-through window.

Plavix and Slow-Release Baby Aspirin awaited us. These well-studied medications, I was told, should prevent me from having another TIA.

There was one ridiculous side effect.

A black eye.

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