The Afflicted

by

07/21/2004

1st Ave & E 16th St, New York, NY 10003

Neighborhood: East Village

It is winter, it is night, it is cold and I can feel deep down inside of me a bug of some sort beginning to develop. It is far away in my feet, beginning to make my feet ache, but soon I know it will creep up my legs and into my torso and that will be the end of me. My body in the meantime, in its gallant effort to ward off the invader, has left me hungry and exhausted.

“I need to go home, eat something and go right to sleep, and tomorrow I will wake anew,” I think silently to myself as the people who pass by me on the street think their thoughts silently to themselves.

But as I enter my apartment my girlfriend is holding her index finger in agony. Just a moment before she had been happily cutting wrapping paper for a Christmas gift with a brand new pair of scissors and then…

With great reluctance she unclenches her hand and reveals the wounded finger: a thin line running along her fingerprint from which deep, rich blood courses. She covers it quickly and begins to cry.

Having grown up without a father I am often at a loss as how to behave in situations that call for a paternal response. At these times I am forced to compensate by piecing together various moments of behavior that I have witnessed in older men. I quickly search the database of experiences in my mind to find ones which could be used as a paradigm. There is my third-grade teacher who would horse-play with the boys at the end of the school day, for instance, or Muhammad Ali, or the guy who taught me how to stock shelves at the grocery store, or the time I stumbled and fell hard while playing basketball and a friend’s older brother rushed over and lifted me up lovingly by my waist.

“It’s going to be O.K., baby,” I say to my girlfriend, imitating someone else’s voice. I embrace her and she cries on my shoulder.

It is 8:32 pm.

Mt. Sinai is only four blocks away, and after a brief internal debate (which I am embarrassed to admit) as to whether to ask my girlfriend if she can just walk the four blocks, I hail us a cab.

“Mt. Sinai,” I say to the cabdriver, whose name is Kruszewski and who wears a cap and jacket of the type worn in films from the fifties that makes everything about him and around him seem grey and rainy.

He makes a left instead of a right on 14th Street and starts heading toward the FDR Drive.

“Mt. Sinai,” I repeat.

“That’s what you said,” he says.

“I would like the one on 16th and 1st,” I say politely.

“It’s on 100th Street,” he says.

“That’s not the one I want,” I say. “I want the one on 16th and 1st.”

“That’s Beth Israel,” he says.

“That’s the one I want then.”

“If you want Beth Israel you have to ask for Beth Israel.”

“I’m sorry,” I say. I’m cowed. “I want Beth Israel.”

He chuckles derisively and says under his breath, “They ask for Mt. Sinai.” And then makes a very aggressive U-turn in the middle of 14th Street.

Two minutes later he pulls up in front of the entrance to Beth Israel. I don’t know if such a fast trip demands a large tip or a small one. I tip him three dollars thinking that under the grave circumstances he has done us a great service for which I am thankful, as if he had borne us through the Bavarian Forest.

Instead of thanking me, he says, “Mt. Sinai.” And he snickers again.

“Look, man,” I say, “don’t be a pain in the ass.”

This makes him laugh even more.

It is 8:58 pm.

The David B. Kriser Division of Emergency Medical Services at Beth Israel is located on Sixteenth Street between First Avenue and Stuyvesant Square. I do not know who David B. Kriser is, but his emergency waiting room contains the following: two Coke machines, one blue door that says, “Do Not Enter,” one television set that is playing the local news with the sound turned low, three windows numbered 1, 2, and 3 where the sick process their forms, a needlessly loud and very garbled loudspeaker that sounds like the subway p.a. issuing instructions on delays and reroutings, thirty or so patients lolling on chairs like they are halfway along on a cross-country bus trip, and a clock. The top story on the local news is about Alonzo Mourning who is about to undergo a kidney transplant operation. There is a clip of him fiercely dunking a basketball against the Knicks, and then a shot of him sitting meekly at a news conference wearing a bulky suit and tie and surrounded by doctors. It seems to be a parable. None of the thirty patients are bothering to watch.

A very friendly nurse greets us as we enter the emergency and briefly examines my girlfriend’s bleeding finger.

“Oh, that’s a shame, honey,” she says with the aspect of a loving elementary school teacher. “You’re going to need sutures.”

She gives my girlfriend some gauze and instructs her to keep the finger above her heart.

“Make sure you fill out the form, honey.” And then she disappears behind the blue door that says “Do Not Enter.”

“What are sutures?” my girlfriend asks. “Are they the same as stitches?” I do not know.

My girlfriend can’t write, so I fill out the form for her. It takes her half a minute to get her precious insurance card out of her pocket, and another half a minute to sign her name, which she does in wonderfully precise cursive and leaving a small dramatic drop of blood

We hand the form to a woman behind window number 3.

“Take a seat and we’ll call you,” the woman says.

We take a seat and wait.

“They’ll call us soon,” I say confidently.

Ten minutes later no one has called us.

“When will they call us?” my girlfriend asks.

It is 9:21 pm.

One can’t help but notice that the emergency room on this particular winter evening is filled primarily with black and Latino patients. The exceptions to the rule being myself and my girlfriend, another young couple, and a man who has an enormous, Three-Stooges lump on his bald head. A number of the patients are holding small dozing children on their laps who wake from time to time from their restless slumbers to produce prolonged adult-like coughs which indicate that it is they, and not their parents, who are the patients. A photocopied piece of paper taped to the wall exclaims, “Stop the Germs!” And it instructs all coughing and sneezing patients to cover their noses and mouths. The children hack away, taking no note of these instructions. Nor do their parents. And after one little four-year-old girl has finished emitting a cough from the Black Plague, a woman next to me in a large floral dress, shifts aggressively in her uncomfortable chair, sighs obviously and says under her breath, “Cover your goddamn mouth, bitch!”

There is no ventilation in the waiting room. I remember that I have not eaten dinner yet and I worry that the illness percolating in my feet is being given sustenance and is beginning its upward climb. I begin to feel hot and sweaty and slightly nauseous. A very short Latino man holding his feverish daughter in his arms enters, followed by an apologetic-looking mother. It is 9:48 pm.

At 9:58 pm a voice calls over the loudspeaker, “Sanchez. Window Three.” A very old Chinese man attempts to bring himself to a standing position with the help of an empty granny cart.

“He’s moving too slow and has missed his chance,” I think shamelessly. “Call the next name, Window Three.”

The old man slowly pushes himself past me using his granny cart as a walker.

At 10:01 a blue door opens and a doctor sticks his head out and calls a name. A mother and father rise with their flu-ridden son and disappear behind the door. I am covetous of that family and of that blue door.

At 10:09 pm it opens and a patient exits into the waiting room, purchases a can of Coke and attempts to return back through the blue door, but finds that the blue door is locked from the outside. The patient knocks on the blue door. No one answers. The patient knocks louder. No one answers. The patient pulls harder on the doorknob. The blue door does not budge. The patient looks around briefly to see if there is another means of egress—there is none. With great desperation the patient pounds on the blue door and miraculously it swings open and the patient slips back in having learned a valuable lesson.

At 10:31 pm my girlfriend makes an empirical observation: flu victims have priority over everyone else. Why this is, I do not know. I am beginning to be concerned that we could be here until midnight. I do not say this to my girlfriend though.

Instead I say, “It shouldn’t be too much longer.”

A tall, white teenager with acne enters. He is wearing baggy jeans, a New York Giants jacket, and is pressing a white rag to his forehead which is covered in blood. I look for the blue door to swing wide and for him to be whisked inside. Instead, the elementary school nurse hands him gauze and tells him to fill out the form, honey. He takes his seat beside us. I’m sure we’ve been bumped lower on the list now.

“I think they should take him before us,” I say to my girlfriend magnanimously.

And it is then, at 10:43 pm, that the loudspeaker summons us to Window Three.

My girlfriend fills out the forms in triplicate. She signs her name all over the place without reading what she’s signing and then she presents her insurance card. I’m proud of that insurance card. I fantasize that once Window Three sees that we are armed with an insurance card we will be apologized to and ushered promptly through the blue door. A sign above our heads reads, “No patient without insurance will be refused service. That’s the law.” Window Three instructs us to return to our seats and wait until the blue door calls us.

“But don’t you understand that we work?” I suddenly want to say to Window Three. I did not know I was in possession of such a thought and I am ashamed of it. I am further ashamed by the realization that just the other day I heard Rush Limbaugh saying something similar and I derided him for it, priding myself for thoughts of equality and justice and brotherhood.

But now I am thinking: “We pay taxes. We have insurance. We’re citizens. We speak English. We went to college. We were born in this country. Doesn’t that add up to something?”

I am not like Rush Limbaugh, however. I want the poor to have access to good, affordable healthcare—I just want to have access first.

The old man with the outsized lump on his head is too loudly and too drunkenly inquiring of the teenager how exactly he came by his bleeding head. The old man has found a soulmate. The teenager looks down at the floor and says something under his breath, something that contains the subtext of teenager mockery.

The man presses on with advice. “Well, you go and tell them, you go and tell them that—”

“Shut the fuck up, man!” the old man with the cane in charge of the television says suddenly and all ill heads turn.

You shut the fuck up,” the man with the lump says boldly, but without looking at him.

At this the television man stands. He favors a bad leg that causes him to bend slightly to one side, and he is paunchy, but he has the physique of someone who played football in high school thirty years ago, the muscle and aggression have been retained.

“I’m not trying to sleep out in that cold tonight, motherfucker. You hear me?”

And it is then that it becomes apparent to me that half the patients in the waiting room are not patients after all.

The man with the lump looks up at him contemptuously and chuckles.

The television man cocks his cane back as if he has just seen a mouse run by. “Say one more word. Go ahead and say one more word,”

A moment passes. And then the man with the lump slouches in his seat, mutters something that only he himself can hear—a final act of defiance—and closes his eyes.

My girlfriend, who is usually frightened by such outbursts, has seemed to thoroughly enjoy this spectacle. It has helped to make two and a half minutes pass and for this she is thankful to the man with the cane. It has also made me forget about my gnawing hunger and the fact that I had gone home this evening with the intention of being in bed by 9:30. I look at the man with the cane settling back now to watch the television and I imagine him as a latter-day Bolshevik, channeling his aggression in to rallying the waiting patients.

The disembodied voice calls for Smith to come to Window Three. And a family of five rises and shuffles over obediently. It is now 12:13 am.

Sitting in front of me are two Latina women in their early twenties with a small boy of about five, and they are all causing me consternation. I will describe them: one of the women is pretty and slim and wears jeans that reveals an ass that belongs on a two hundred pound woman. The other woman, possibly her sister, has curly hair and bug-eyes and a bandage that runs the width of her throat. How does one manage to come by a cut on their throat like that?

But it is the little boy who is most disquieting. Dressed in a snazzy velvet sweatsuit, the type worn by hip hop artists, there is something about the way he moves and holds himself that is incongruous for a little boy. He seems to be both big and small at once. He stands and holds himself like a man, but he speaks in unintelligible sentences, indecipherable to all but his guardians. There is a violence in him, a manly aggressiveness that manifests itself in little boy ways, like boldly standing on tops of chairs, or sticking his hand up the slot of the Coke machine, or knocking on the glass window of Window Three, or pulling hard on the forbidden door knob of the blue door. The more I watch him the more his body seems to shrink, a five year old in the body of a three year old. And he seems far too comfortable and familiar being in the emergency waiting room. In short, he frightens me.

The woman with the large ass—let us assume she is his mother—says, “You better stop that, Manny.” And there is a friendliness in her tone that I distrust, a permissiveness that belies a deep violence.

Manny continues to climb from chair to chair.

“See, that’s how you got the bump on your head in the first place.”

There is no visible bump.

“Come here and give me a kiss,” she says. And when he declines her invitation, she rolls her eyes as if to say, “just like all those other men”.

It is 1:03 am and the television is showing images of Guantanamo Bay. Thin men in orange jumpsuits are slowly being led around by armed soldiers. The prisoners’ faces are covered with black goggles and surgical masks and their arms and legs are shackled. Some others sit cross-legged in steel-mesh cages with their heads bowed low. Then we are shown a very grainy photograph of a Middle Eastern man, his face expressionless, his bushy beard unkempt, his eyes like cold-steel. The news cuts to a white, female newscaster with an expression of concern and the features of a Playboy bunny. Then it cuts to Alonzo Mourning.

It is 1:12 am the teenager with the bleeding head wound is arguing heatedly with Window Three.

“Fuck that, man! Fuck that!”

The window prohibits us from hearing Window Three’s response.

The teenager returns to his seat and puts his Giants jacket on, judiciously avoiding getting blood on it.

“What did they say?” I ask him.

“They’re not going to be able to see me until six in the morning. Fuck that shit. I’m going home.” And then he exits still pressing the gauze to his head.

There is a stunned silence in the waiting room. My girlfriend and I look at each other. Six in the morning? I look for the kindly nurse, but the kindly nurse is nowhere to be found. I go to Window Three, but no one is behind Window Three except for a gaunt orderly who looks like the kind of guy who still lives with his mother, tiredly filing and refiling manila folders. I tap the window to get his attention.

“Excuse me,” I say. “Do you have any idea—”

“It’s going to be six in the morning before they get to you and that’s all I can say.” He says like a man who has been ordered around for most of his life and has decided that it is simply more expedient to alienate the patient before the patient can alienate him.

“I’m just asking you a question, man.” I say, imagining myself taking him by the collar and shaking him roughly like in the old movies.

He looks at me with the expression of a frightened indoor cat on a window ledge who is suddenly unsure if the glass will really be able to keep the barking dog out. I instantly regret having raised my voice.

“It’s going to be six in the morning,” he says and then he turns away with a world-weary look that says, “See, how they all are, Ma.” He collects his folders and exits.

It is 1:22 am.

The poor are used to waiting and are comfortable with it. That is what it means to be poor. The poor wait for the mailman to deliver the check, they wait for the broken elevator to arrive on their floor, they wait for their friend or family member to get out of prison, they wait in long lines at crappy supermarkets to purchase bad food. The poor are rich with time to kill. When I was a poor child living with my poor mother in our poor apartments, we would spend our time waiting for buses that took a long time to arrive—especially in winter. But it was better for us if they did not arrive right away. We had nowhere important to go.

The man in charge of the television has fallen asleep, his hands folded over his cane, his chin in his chest. His nemesis is sleeping, too. Manny is climbing happily from chair to chair. The woman with the bandage across her throat is speaking softly about a relationship gone bad. A couple of febrile children have arrived and been ushered away for treatment. My body has achieved a transcendental state, and my hunger and fatigue have receded.

A thin young man with dyed blonde hair and a dangling earring in one ear and the improbable gay-porn name of Brett Frost is summoned through the blue door. I would like to open that door myself. I am reminded of Kafka’s doorkeeper: “If you are so strongly tempted, try to get in without my permission. But note that I am powerful. And I am only the lowest doorkeeper. From hall to hall keepers stand at every door, one more powerful than the other. Even the third of these has an aspect that even I cannot bear to look at.”

The Andy Griffith Show is on television now. I have always liked The Andy Griffith Show. When I was a child it came on right before supppertime and I would watch it imagining that I was Opie, and that Andy was my dad, and that we lived in Mayberry and we went fishing together. And then my mom would call me and I would sit down with her at our fatherless table and eat a pathetic meal of white rice and frozen peas and carrots. I would spread the concoction evenly over my plate and imagine that it was a pie. Then I would eat a slice of it and reshape it again, filling in the missing wedge.

My mother was a latter-day Bolshevik and had a custom of leaving me home alone at night while she went out to plot The Revolution with others. Sometimes I would wake in the middle of the night and pad into the living room where she slept and see that she was still not home. On these occasions I’d turn on all the lights in the apartment and pull out my toys. Grimm-Brother thoughts of her never returning would dance around my mind as I played. I’d listen astutely to the sounds of the apartment building, doors opening and closing, footsteps coming and going. I have an early snapshot in my mind: I am probably no more than four years old, sitting on the floor in the living room, my sticker book clutched in my hand, tears streaming down my face and then the front door, like a miracle, opening and my mother coming to the rescue.

And on that note, the blue door opens and we are summoned.

It is 3:01 am.

A combination of hunger, fatigue and six hours of quiet contemplation had produced trance-like, fantastical visions of what may lay beyond the blue door. A quiet, clean room, a doctor waiting just for us, food, a bed for me. I would be able to eat and rest as my girlfriend’s finger is being sutured. A ride home. Once past the blue doors, I had imagined, and it will only be a few minutes more.

Instead, I find a corridor filled with unfamiliar patients and their loved ones lounging uncomfortably in uncomfortable chairs as if their flight has been canceled and they are waiting for the first one in the morning. Hospital beds line the hall containing the more unfortunate patients in various states of undress. At the end of the hall, are makeshift little rooms, no more than six feet wide, divided by curtains, like a triage set up near a battlefield. A constant, low hum of voices and footsteps can be heard, punctuated now and again by a loudspeaker, exceptionally loud and exceptionally unclear, summoning doctors here and there. Doctors hurry toward those summons. There are no windows or clocks and this gives the space the feeling of anytime.

My girlfriend and I take a seat facing a door that reads, “X-ray. Do not enter.” Beside us are two men who I had not seen in the waiting room. One is a thin black man in work boots, with a fine white powder covering his jacket, pants, hands and hair. The other man is Latino, with a face like a friendly pie, who holds a pizza delivery bag on his lap. They do not look up at us.

A tall, young, black orderly walks by pushing a cart.

The hospital bed directly in front of us contains an elderly white man who is sound asleep. In the bed in front of him, lying on her stomach, is a very sexy young Latino woman sporting a white undershirt and a severely foul mouth. Standing beside her, with a shaved head and a wandering eye, is her boyfriend or husband. His hands rest lightly on the edge of the mattress.

“Fuck that shit,” she says.

The husband giggles.

Paramedics enter suddenly, swiftly pushing a young man in a stretcher. His neck is in a brace and his shirt is covered in blood. He disappears through a door. Several police officers and a distraught young woman follow them in. The chatter in the hallway falls silent for a moment.

“Can you rub my back?” the woman asks. And her lover obliges her with a deep look of affection and concern on his face. I suddenly feel insecure about the amount of care and attention that I have been showing my girlfriend.

A tall, young, white man, dressed in khakis and looking like he has just come from law class at NYU appears around the corner. He is doubled over, grimacing, clutching his groin as if his penis has been sliced lengthwise. There’s a couple of people waiting in line for the bathroom and with short mincing steps he takes his place behind them. Patients eyeball him anxiously, concerned that at any moment he may defecate on the floor.

The orderly pushes a cart past us in the other direction. “My mom said that I’d grow up to be something,” he says good-naturedly to no one in particular. “But all I do is push stuff around.”

“Ooh, yeah, that’s where it hurts,” the woman receiving the massage says. Then she calls out loudly, “I need to see a fucking doctor.” Her husband giggles the way you did in middle school when a friend said something obnoxious to the teacher, delightful and shocking, you could attach yourself to the defiance without really having to own it.

The orderly passes by again.

“Excuse me,” I say to him summoning courage, “do you have any idea how long it’s going to take until we’re seen?”

He stops and takes a look at my girlfriend’s forms. Then hands them back.

“It shouldn’t be much longer now,” he says in a friendly tone.

“Thank you,” I say triumphantly, “thank you very much.”

Then he presses on with his cart.

“I like him,” I say to my girlfriend.

A very short doctor, who has compensated for his height by being extremely well-built, appears and comes towards us.

“This must be our doctor,” I say.

He passes by without stopping and goes into the X-ray room and pulls out a man in a stretcher. The pizza delivery man beside me stands with his bag and goes to them.

A white nurse with a nametag that says “Esther” appears. She is big boned and built like a high school gym teacher, her white nurse’s outfit hugging her body, her greying brown hair pulled back severely in a bun. She disappears swiftly around the corner.

The white man passed out in the hospital bed has not stirred.

“Do you think that man might be dead?” I ask my girlfriend.

The door to the bathroom opens and the two people waiting in line display that rare quality of goodwill and humanity by letting the man with the missing penis go in front of them. Even gripped in the throes of pain, he has the presence of mind to thank them politely.

“Can you tell me if there’s a bruise on my back?” the massaged woman says, pulling her shirt up revealing a black bra.

Her husband flushes. “Oh, I don’t know if I should be looking there,” he says giggling, trying unsuccessfully to avert his eyes from her bra.

“Oh, come on,” she says. “I need to know.”

“I’ve been to Fordham Road. I’ve seen your brothers,” he says to her.

It is then that I realize that he is neither her boyfriend nor her husband, and that what I have been witnessing is a first date.

“The leg is broken in two places,” the doctor is saying to the pizza delivery man, who in turn translates this into Spanish for the man with the leg broken in two places.

“I’m going to give you a sedative that’s going to make you sleepy,” the doctor says. And he demonstrates “sleepy” by briefly closing his eyes and wobbling his head.

It is 4:12 am.

The NYU student emerges from the bathroom, but strangely his condition has not changed, he is still doubled over and grimacing. He slowly makes his painful way to a folding chair, step by step, like a man with severe osteoporosis, and with the greatest of difficulty, he sits.

The doctor wheels the man with the broken leg away and his friend sits back down with his pizza bag.

“What’s wrong with your friend?” I ask him.

He tells me that the man in the stretcher is his brother and that he was delivering a pizza when he was knocked off his bicycle by a BMW when it made a U-turn without looking. The driver had been talking on a cell phone. I imagine his brother pedaling furiously through the cold to deliver the pizza on time. The doctor says it’s probably going to be three months before he can go back to work.

The orderly passes by again.

“Excuse me,” I say.

“They still haven’t seen you yet?” he says in disbelief as if he’s never seen anything like this before.

“No.”

“Any minute now,” he says.

“Thank you,” I say. “Thank you.” I am a prisoner happy to be lied to and he is the warden happy to lie. Together we can construct our make-believe.

Esther appears and stops abruptly in front of the NYU student.

“Who said you can sit here?”

“It was empty,” the young man says meekly, looking up at her from his waist.

“Who said you can sit here?” the nurse demands again.

“I just needed a seat.”

“You can’t sit here.”

Esther watches as the young man slowly rights himself as much as he can and then hobbles off like a refugee in search of a place to rest for the night. Then she proudly folds the chair and removes it from the hallway.

“I need to see a motherfucking doctor,” the woman with the bad back calls out to no one in particular.

Another doctor appears.

“Here comes our doctor,” I say.

He stops before the dead white man.

“Mr. Sizemore,” the doctor says too loudly tapping the man sharply on the chest.

The man does not stir.

“Mr. Sizemore. Mr. Sizemore.” The doctor shakes him by the shoulders, then pulls open his eyelids.

“What were you drinking tonight, Mr. Sizemore?” the doctor asks as he perfunctorily checks the vital organs like he was examining a cow.

Mr. Sizemore does not respond.

“Vodka,” the cadaver mutters.

The doctor presses down into the man’s abdomen and then checks his pulse and his eyeballs.

“What do you want us to do, Mr. Sizemore?”

No response.

“You want to sleep it off?”

The man grunts in the affirmative and the doctor swiftly exits past us.

I watch the man fall asleep contentedly in his bed. Perhaps he will sleep there forever, I think, and the rest of the us—the deserving—will wait here forever.

It is 5:01 am.

And it is then that, like Jesus finally returning, a doctor appears before us, much to the jealousy of all who wait. All is forgiven. The kindly doctor unwraps the gauze from my girlfriend’s finger, which by now has congealed and has stopped bleeding altogether. He examines it, cleans it briefly and from his pocket produces a needle which, without so much as a warning, he plunges deep into her finger. The bystanders in the hallway look in horror and then away. My girlfriend clutches my arm. Blood drips down her hand and onto the waiting room floor. (When would that be cleaned?) I have the presence of mind to quickly move my legs away so that blood does not drip onto my pants.

Then we are ushered like Hollywood celebrities into one of the makeshift rooms where my girlfriend can lie down comfortably as the finger is being sutured. We wait for the Novocain to take effect, the chemical reaction being the only thing between us and freedom.

A few years ago, before I had found my girlfriend and fallen in love, I had the most horrible allergic reaction to an antibiotic called erythromycin, which I have to take for a heart murmur when I go to the dentist. I was beginning to feel nauseous in the waiting room and the dentist, without so much as looking up at me, decided that I should reschedule my appointment and go home. When I boarded the 4 train at Eighty-sixth Street the muscles in my chest and stomach had begun to tighten involuntarily causing intense pain in my abdomen.

The pharmacist made a mistake, I thought as the train hurtled southward, they gave me the wrong prescription.

I tried to stay calm, but the thought panicked me. My breathing became short and labored and it was all I could do to keep myself from collapsing on the floor of the train. Even in this distressed state I had the wherewithal to keep myself composed and sitting upright on my seat. I knew I would not be able to make it to Fourteenth Street without vomiting, so as the doors opened at Fifty-ninth Street I exited swiftly. A phalanx of disinterested rushhour commuters surged past me trying to make their way on, jostling me from side to side. I felt suddenly, acutely, what it will one day be like to be old and frail in New York City, and that I had walked past many people in need—sometimes even sneered at them—and that if I was going to keep myself alive today I was going to have to rely solely on my own ability. I pushed through the crowd and mounted the stairs, and another wave of people came down towards me, like soldiers at Normandy. I was convulsed in pain as I began the long march up the mountain of steps, flight after flight, until I reached a platform and made my way towards the exit sign only to be greeted with more flights of stairs.

My girlfriend’s Novocain has taken effect. On cue the doctor arrives with the needle and thread for the five sutures. I hold her hand as he begins. It will take all of ten minutes.

It is 5:50 am.

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