In the Way

Last winter I was hit by a car; knocked clean out. Didn't break anything, but tore my jacket up to the elbow. Felt part of my scalp become an abrupt toupee. Got some blood on the pavement.

Somebody called 911, somebody drew a chalk outline, not knowing the outcome but playing it safe, and somebody else a few sheets to the cold wind asked my companion and only witness "Whersh he from?" in an admirable show of interest.

The first thing I recall telling the paramedics in the back of the ambulance (after "Four" in response to "How many fingers?") was "I'm insured." That, at least, proved my head was still firmly on my shoulders. I also remember shivering quite violently for some time.

My other misfortune that night was to have been a pedestrian in a city an hour's bus ride from my home in Jersey City. Because after the X-rays, after the urine sample ("Does he drink?" the optimistic policeman at the scene had asked my companion), and after the stitches which didn't hurt but the painkiller shot for the stitches, which did, after all this, a nurse told me I could go home if I wanted. At 2:00 in the morning.

"It's up to you," she said.

Where is Englewood? I thought. That's where the hospital was. Where, bus-wise? How are we going to get home in the middle of the night, me with a goddamn bandage on my head and my sleeve flapping? What, getting hit by a car isn't an anxious occasion in this town?

"The main thing is, you're lucid, you're obviously the same person you were before you got hit, you're OK."

Add tired and disoriented and not a little worried about what should happen in case I woke up in the middle of the night with my brain seeping out of my ears, and she was right.

"The CAT scan was OK," she added. Despite your ambulance confession, we're not sure who's going to be paying for this, she seemed to be saying.

My witness and I stayed.

The next morning the man sharing my room promptly turned on the TV, wrecking my head. The doctor came in and was cheerful. "The reason for keeping you here is to make sure you're alive the next morning," he said.

I was so we left. The proper people were informed I wouldn't be at work for a few days. Recuperation was sleep and tomato soup, and more sleep. I sewed my jacket somewhat like the nurse had sewn the top of my head. I worried, idly, about everyone at work signing a 'Glad to have you back'-type card, and presenting it on my return. "It wasn't serious," I'd blush.

It certainly wasn't. Literally minutes after my return a welcoming committee of one descended on me.

"Where were you?" the store manager demanded. "I tried to call."

I was hit by a -- "Didn't you get the message?" seemed an understatement.

Yes, but she had expected me back sooner. "Are you OK?" she asked as an afterthought, not particularly waiting for the answer. Whistle while you work.

The bill from the cheerful doctor arrived fast enough to cast doubt that it had been delivered by the post office. Then another bill, for the X-rays. Than another. This was worse than AT&T.

When it came time to unlace the stitches, my local hospital refused to help me without ironclad proof of my address. It did no good to explain to them that some of us truly have nothing to pin us to any particular co-ordinates. I contemplated bringing in some cockroaches to positively identify me, but called the hospital in Englewood instead. They told me to talk to my doctor.

"I'm a brain surgeon!" he fairly screeched over the line. "Anybody, ANYBODY can take out stitches." It was starting to look like I'd have to get my scissors and tear them out myself. Another call to the hospital and someone finally agreed.

Two weeks to the day after the black thread was knotted firmly into place, a nurse stood over me shaking her head, claiming me pretty much a liar. "What are these? We haven't used this type in ten years. You didn't get them here."

I begged to differ, weak on defence, but her feelings were as firmly entrenched as the stitches.

"No. You couldn't have. We don't use this type here." She spared me the gentle treatment, held them in front of my face like stunted spaghetti: "Not here."

There were snow flurries the day my witness and I travelled back to the city of the accident to get a police report. "Vehicle was proceeding south in the right lane... attempting to make a right turn..." it says. One page shows me as a stick figure lying, spread like a swatted fly between Line A and Line D. "As the vehicle made the right turn, it struck the pedestrian."

The policeman at the window wouldn't give me the driver's phone number so that we might talk insurance. "Get a lawyer," he advised.

Lawyers are anathema to a do-it-yourselfer. They're the first official sign that mistakes have been made and that you're going to pay for them. The policeman told me to let the experts handle things; that if I tried to reach her, "She might hit you with a harassment charge."

It had never occurred to me that the same person who had knocked me down with her car, who hadn't later tried to get in touch with me to see how I was, who hadn't even yet been formally charged with anything [and never would be], might want a little privacy. How silly of me.

With the snow flurries it was almost as cold as it had seemed that night, when lying on the street, shivering and bleeding, unable to remember what had happened -- shock, blessed shock -- not only couldn't I believe that they were putting a neck brace on me, I couldn't believe I was being such a nuisance. Sorry, ma'am, I got in the way.

New York Press, June 1989