What’s that number for 9-1-1?

BP MonitorI was working in the yard—despite what my neighbors might tell you—when my telephone rang. Now, in my defense, I have a new phone and it takes me a year or two to figure one out. This was no exception. I keep hanging up on people when trying to answer. As it happens, my aversion to talking on the phone is well-known among my friends and family (with whom I have no plan) so I am always suspect when I don’t answer. Sometimes the calls go to voicemail before I can answer. We’ll leave why I prefer texts and emails to another day, although all the other cool kids understand without explanation.

Besides, this neighbor is a person—We’ll call him Edgar—who almost never telephones. He messages me. Not this time.

The long and short of it is that I missed the call, but I saw that it was Edgar so I tried to call back. As I struggled with the dad-burned new-fangled equipment, said neighbor appeared on his front step and shouted to me that he needed my help “for a minute.”

It’s never a minute. That goes without saying—except, apparently in this case. So, that said…I told him that I had to put the dogs in so they wouldn’t follow me across the road. (They mind about as well as my children.)

I herded the dogs into the house and crossed the street to my neighbor’s, where he handed me his house phone and said, “You’ve gotta call 911 for me.”

Let us review:

He telephoned me and then walked out of the house to call to me and then waited while I put the dogs in the house and crossed the road so that I could call 911 for him.

Back to the story.

Remember what I said about figuring out new phones….

Sensing my uselessness, he held out his hand for the phone, typed in 911, and handed it back.

“How do I send?”

He snatched the phone and hit send before handing it back to me.

Someone answered! That was the first thing that had gone right since before I got the first call.

“Good morning,” I said. “We need the Rescue Squad at….”

“Tell them it’s a 69-year-old male with difficulty breathing,” (I also made up the age.)

I repeated what he told me while he called his wife and her sister to tell them what was happening. He explained that his wife was helping her mother who wasn’t feeling well.

The call center said that Rescue was on its way, and Edgar directed me to call another relative I knew. I knew that he would be at work, but I did as he ordered and left a voicemail when he didn’t pickup.

Edgar brandished a boxed pressure monitor at me.

“Do you know how to use this?” he asked.

Of course, I didn’t. I take my own BP every day, a ritual of geezerhood, but my apparatus is a regular cuff attached to a machine. I press a button and the machine does the rest. This looked like a two-inch wrist band with a small monitor attached.

When I tried to wrap it around his upper arm, he snatched it away and said, “It goes here,” attaching it loosely to his wrist.

I began tightening it and he said, “No, it goes this way,” and turned his arm over.

Are you keeping track of how many things I have done right? Because I’m telling you the way Edgar was looking at me said that he was. And he wasn’t impressed.

Another brief recap: He telephoned me and then walked out of the house to call to me and then waited while I put the dogs in the house and crossed the road so that I could call 911 for him. Then he dialed 911, handed me the phone when someone answered, and told me what I was to say. Now I am unable to take his blood pressure, a task I perform on a daily basis, often several times a day.

We pushed the button on the BP cuff and got an error message, so we shifted it, tightened it and pushed the button again. We got an error message. In fact, we got an error message each of the half-dozen times we tried until he ripped it off his wrist and threw it back in the box. I wondered whether the fact that his wrist was about the size of my thigh..when I was heavy…interfered with the device.

His breathing seemed labored, but for a man his size—which was not petite, Edgar probably weighs 325-350—I didn’t think it was particularly disturbing. Of course, I wasn’t the one who was experiencing difficulty breathing.

I should mention that the Rescue Squad is less than a block away, so I kept pacing between Edgar and the window to see what was the what. In the meantime, Edgar seemed to be reaching out and touching everyone on his contact list.

After nearly ten minutes, I saw the Rescue Squad ambulance pass the house…the critical word here is “pass.” And it was going toward the Rescue Squad building.

Edgar called 911 to ask what was going on. The responder said that rescue was en route.

After another five minutes, a Rescue SUV appeared and I stepped onto the stoop to wave. He acknowledged and pulled up in front of the house…well, the next house…the other side of the next house.

When I walked out to meet him as he gathered his equipment, I gave him the basic facts as I knew them and mentioned that I had seen an ambulance pass 5-10 minutes before.

“Yes,” he said. “That was me.”

This was one of those times that so many questions crowded in at once that I found myself saying nothing.

As we walked to the house he explained that the ambulance was out of service, and as he was alone, he brought the SUV because the ambulance would be of no use if he couldn’t transport anyone without someone in back with him.

Okay. I understand.

When his shoulder mic sounded as if it were mixing cement, he said that a unit was coming from Elkton, in the next county, but only about six miles away.

He asked Edgar how he was feeling now, and when Edgar said “A little better,” he asked him to recap what was going on with him.

In addition to what he had told me, Edgar added that he had been to the emergency room two nights before…with difficulty breathing.

The EMT placed an oxygen mask over Edgar’s face, slipped a pulse monitor on his finger and began to slap the cuff on to check his BP, when Edgar pulled off the mask.

“I don’t want that,” he said. “I’m claustrophobic.”

“Okay” the EMT said equably, and I admired his attitude in the face of what I considered rudeness. He pulled breathing cannoli out of his bag and inserted them in Edgar’s nose…wait, I’m being told that they were breathing cannula, not cannoli, which probably makes more sense. Who says that vowels are not important? It also explains why I suddenly feel a bit peckish.

With Edgar’s nose plugged and his mouth free, the EMT asked whether he had an emergency inhaler.

“Yeah,” Edgar said, “but I don’t use it.”

“You don’t use it?” The EMT echoed?

“No, I don’t like it.”

“Is it…?” Well, he said something in Greek or Latin and Edgar said, “I think so.”

Moving on.

“Do you have a list of the medications you’re taking?”

“Yeah, it’s over there,” Edgar said languidly waving one hand in the general direction of the dining room.

The EMT glanced in that direction and apparently decided to move on.

“Oh, I’ll get it,” Edgar said and he pulled the cannoli–whatever—out of his nostrils and began to stand.

“You probably shouldn’t be standing,” the EMT began, as Edgar pulled the sensor off his finger and began to peel the blood pressure cuff from what might be a bicep under all that.

“No that’s all right.”

As he walked, the EMT asked him to tell him more about his ER visit. His lapel mic made that QWERTCH burst again and the EMT, whom I liked more and more as I liked my neighbor less and less, said that he was mistaken: the ambulance was coming from Stanley, about twice as far as Elkton, but it was a mile out.

As Edgar scrabbled through a pile of papers, he explained that he had been told that he had a lot of fluid in his chest and the ER doctor had given his two breathing treatments before releasing him.

He found what he was looking for and, as he lumbered back to the living room, he tossed it on the table and said “There it is,” before regaining his seat on the sofa.

The remarkably, I thought, composed EMT walked back to pick up the list, confirming what was in the emergency inhaler that Edgar doesn’t like to use.

Just an aside: It’s a good thing that I am not an EMT because I felt my blood pressure rising at what I considered consistently rude behavior on my neighbor’s part. I think I might have just unplugged him from everything and said, “You’re on your own, Bud.”

But we were saved from my own rudeness when I saw flashing lights and went out to bring the new EMTs into the house.

As brisk and professional as the first responder, the two newcomers hauled out a gurney and I guided them into the house where EMT-One gave a brisk, professional summary and handed the list of medications to the new arrivals. He handed it to them; he did not throws it on a table and say “There it is.”

I saw the EMTs look at the bulk of Edgar and then at the stretcher, and I didn’t need Jean Dixon to tell me what they were thinking.

“I can walk out,” Edgar volunteered.

“Are you sure,” asked one of the new EMTs, looking hopeful.

“Yeah, I can walk out to the steps.”

And with that they helped him walk to the door and down the steps where they strapped him to the gurney. As they wheeled him to the ambulance, he told them which hospital he wanted to go to, and as they slid him into the back of their rig, I heard him say, “I don’t want that CPAP; I’m claustrophobic.”

And I locked and closed his door, crossed the street to my house, and turned off my phone.

When his relative for whom I left voicemail returned my call, he said that Edgar’s wife would stop at the hospital…when she and her mother were finished with their shopping.


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