Friday, July 25, 2008

Richy Will Never Be a Pirate

Richard knew that he wouldn't make it home to change in time for the performance, so he put his tux on before setting out for the hospital. He needn't worry about his trombone; it was already in the concert hall.

He set off down the street, walking very deliberately. The world titled a little with every step. He stopped. It still tilted. Oh well, he thought to himself, I guess it's going to do that either way, I might as well keep going. He began walking again.

He'd been off kilter for a few days, really off kilter, the universe in constant, personal, motion. On Tuesday he'd had a granola bar for breakfast, and ever since then, everything he'd tried to eat had burned his tongue. Between that and the sore throat, he hadn't had more than water and some applesauce all day. This morning – Wednesday – his vision had gone a little blurry, which made classes hard. Particularly the theory course. Professor Brown's tiny, cramped musical notation had become impossible to read, even from the front row of the lecture hall, and that was the last straw.

Nearly twenty minutes of toddering later, and Richard had found the hospital's vast parking lot. Among the signs pointing this way and that, he spotted the one for Prompt Care, and followed it to the right. Inside a pair of automatic sliding glass doors, he gave his name – Richard Hoffman – and insurance information – the university's – and symptoms to a permed lady behind the counter. Then he sat down to wait his turn, eyes closed. The world moved less that way.

The clock above his head read 5:13 when he next looked at it. Prompt Care, ha. Well, he though, it's not like I didn't need a couple hours of sleep. I hope they didn't call me yet, I think I would have noticed that. I hope. Just as he was settling back into semiconscious waiting, Richard heard his name.

The nurse led him into a little screened enclosure, where he was instructed to sit on an examining table. She seemed a little put off by the tuxedo, but she took his blood pressure and temperature, and listened to the itemization of his symptoms cheerfully enough, with no more than a handful of hhmmmms. Then she swabbed the back of his throat, as Richard tried not to gag.

She left. Richard reclined on the table and closed his eyes again. He didn't get quite the chance to drift off this time, as the doctor came up shortly, with a, "Richard Hoffman?"

To which Richard answered, "Yes. That's me."

"So, let's see," the doctor went on, "you're dizzy, your mouth burns and your throat is sore, blurred vision, anything else?"

"No, that's about it. Aside from the burning when I eat, my tongue is kind of numb though."

"Well, I don't really know what to make of this; you look fine. Let me try a few things here." At that, the doctor strode off again, but momentarily came back with a tongue depressor. She broke it in half and said to Richard, "Stick out your tongue please."

With some trepidation, Richard did as he was asked. The doctor began prodding at his tongue with the splintered end of the depressor. "What does that feel like?" the doctor asked.

"Ot ukh," Richard tried telling her around the stick in his mouth.

"What was that?"
"I said, not much. It doesn't really feel like much besides a little pressure."

"Hmm. Why don't we have you get a CAT scan?"

After the CAT scan, Richard was brought to the emergency room. The hospital's policy, though, was that patients must not be allowed to walk there. Richard was obliged to be pushed there in a wheelchair. On one hand, he found this ridiculous, he was perfectly capable of moving under his own power; on the other, not walking around did mean that the rest of the universe held a little stiller around him.

Once in the emergency room, it was discovered that they were short on space at the moment, and that there was nowhere to put Richard. And so he sat in the lobby there, in the wheelchair, wearing his tux, and with a blood pressure cuff around his arm. I feel like an idiot, he thought to himself. At least there are interesting things to watch here. And so there were, enough minor catastrophe to hold his minor morbid attention. Another young university man came in, with a lip ring, the flesh swollen and broken around it, looking like he'd been hit in the face. A mother trailed two small children, one of which was crying over skinned knees, while the mother was more concerned over his possible broken finger. Half of an older couple seemed to be having heart trouble, though Richard couldn't discern which one the complaint belonged to.

At last, there was a spot for him. Richard had begun to think that everyone had forgotten about him, as lacking in urgency as his condition was. The doctor who had prescribed the CAT scan came back, saying that it had gone very well, and it showed nothing wrong. The throat culture had produced no bad results either.

"Now, I know this sounds absurd," she continued, "but you've got sea-sickness."

"What? How is that possible?" Richard asked, "I've never been sea-sick in my entire life. And besides, the nearest body water bigger than the campus pond in a hundred miles away! I don't believe you."
"I told you it was absurd. Anyway, it's not exactly sea-sickness; there's a virus going around, it cause the symptoms of sea-sickness. Let me write you a prescription." She scribbled something out, and gave Richard directions to the pharmacy.

After filling the prescription, and finding a water fountain to swallow one of the pills with, Richard began his slow shuffle back to campus. On his way to the concert hall, while trying to straighten the wrinkles out of his tuxedo, he pondered over the afternoon's hospital visit. Saddest of all, was the dashing of his dreams of pirate-hood, having gotten sea-sick on dry land.

Submitted by Shaker rowmyboat

About the Work: "[This] is a short story, based on real life -- that is, a friend did actually get sea-sick in Syracuse, NY, and go to the hospital in his tux. When I heard, it was too good not to fictionalize."

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