Consider that you are dropped into one of the busiest cities in the USA at rush hour on a Friday night.
You are suddenly teleported into an unfamiliar vehicle in an unfamiliar city…and expected to follow an ambulance carrying your spouse to a hospital you’ve never even heard of. Whoops. With an anxious teenager riding shotgun.
That happened to me last weekend.
Barreling down I-85 just across the state line into Georgia, my husband suddenly slammed on brakes and jerked the wheel to the side, landing us about where an on-ramp entered the interstate. Nonplussed, I simply figured there was a blue light flashing behind us.
Mr. B had suddenly become very dizzy and lost most of his vision. “You’re going to have to drive,” he said.
I schlepped us down to the next exit where I pulled over and checked his blood sugar. 170. Certainly not contributing to his dizziness. My son got out and helped him try to walk it off. It didn’t work. A recently diagnosed early diabetic on blood pressure medicine, Mr. B had left his blood pressure cuff at home.
We decided to motor on, with me at the helm of his F-150 pickup truck, dizzied myself by the array of controls. I had driven this truck exactly twice on very rural South Carolina roads. I didn’t even know were the door locks and window locks and seat adjustment buttons were, much less how to work the navigation system and cruise control, yet I was in command of this beast of a truck at 75 to 80 mph for the next hour and a half.
Some of it was bumper to bumper stop-and-go traffic, some was easy cruising. And some was rush hour in Atlanta. All the while checking every few minutes to see if my Mr. B was still breathing. His eyes were closed and he was uncharacteristically silent, responsive but barely. I tried to stay calm for the lad beside me.
There are a few cliches about Atlanta. One is the old joke that when you die, you have to be routed through Hartsfield on the way to the pearly gates. The other is that if your middle finger is disabled, you can’t drive in Atlanta. Both are pretty close to true.
With the help–or hindrance–of the navigation system, I muddled my way to the Omni at the CNN Center in downtown.
I consider myself a pretty sophisticated person. I’ve been a good many places by plane, train and automobile. Driven in most of them and am competent at checking in and out of hotels, motels, country inns and B&B’s. Ditto for campgrounds and, yes, even yurt villages. But this downtown hotel confounded me. Parking valets and bellmen descended on us like ants at a picnic. I had no time to decide which bags we would take in and which we would leave in the truck.
We had coolers of drinks and snacks, a shotgun and a case of shells, two laptops, grocery bags of sugarless snacks and our raggedy assortment of what might loosely be called luggage. I felt like we were the hillbillies arriving in Beverly Hills.
Somehow we managed to get Mr. B up to our room and receive our luggage from the bellman. Whereupon he tried to walk and fell down and said, “I hate to say it, but you’re going to have to take me somewhere.”
I tried to call the concierge desk and the damn phone didn’t work. “Excuse me,” I said, coolly, like I did this every day, “I’ll just go down there and talk to someone.”
Things came unhinged from there. Our concierge said protocol dictated that she would have to call security and 9-1-1. Then she quickly, diplomatically and calmly accompanied me to room 415. We got there before security and my husband was still out flat on the bed, eyes closed, poorly responsive.
While we waited for the paramedics, the phone maintenance guy drifted in and in broken English explained that he would have to come back later and reprogram the phone. We paced and waited…and waited…and waited for the EMS to arrive, with me fretting, thinking, I’m glad he’s not having a heart attack. Truth be told, I didn’t know what was happening to him. Recently he has lost weight because of the diabetes, and this has helped his blood pressure, but I feared a stroke. And time is critical with those.
The paramedics arrived after twenty minutes. Given the traffic, I could understand that, but it did little to instill confidence in having him get the help he needed.
They assessed him and advised that they transport him to a hospital. I was given two choices, and considering what I’d heard about one of them, hoped that I’d chosen wisely. Things moved very quickly from there. While one EMT set an IV, the other tried to give me directions to the hospital. Uh, slower, I’m trying to type this into my cell phone. The next thing I knew, he had an oxygen nose piece on and was strapped to a gurney and being loaded into an ambulance.
An ambulance that I was going to have to follow through downtown Atlanta at 5:30 pm on a Friday…in a truck that I was just learning to drive.
We made it. I ran a couple of yellow lights, got separated from the ambulance once but never lost sight of it. I even managed to thread the big 4WD pickup into a parking garage at the hospital with just a few inches to spare and my son coming unglued, yelling “Don’t scratch his truck! You’re gonna scratch his truck!”
Less than an hour and a half later, he was treated and released, the diagnosis being vertigo. Relieved, I navigated to a Walgreen’s with excellent directions from the nurse and got his prescription filled. We made it back to the Omni and somehow led him to the room.
He stayed in the room for two days, wobbly and nearly blind, before beginning to toddle out a bit. A little over a week later, he is gradually feeling more and more normal.
Gimme a truck, any truck, and I guarantee that I can drive it anywhere under battlefield conditions.
And the irony? His physician was in the same place as we were..at the same time as we were running around like chickens with heads cut off…and we didn’t know it.