Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's All Normal

By Kate Ottavio
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XX Month XX Date 20XX

I had just swung my leg around the stationary bike seat to begin thirty minutes of sweating. Thrilling. Nothing unordinary about this day. I had gone to work and headed to the gym shortly after 6pm to get my growing and ever-widening pageant-girl rear-end back into shape at my more than average gym (what does that even mean?) packed with gay men who look like their muscles might pop out of their skin (which leaves me incredibly immersed in my workouts with no problem, of course). Beefy dudes with cutoff t-shirts and tight spandex shorts make my eyes focus straight ahead, at the mirror at the front of the gym. I stare at my self in almost a punishingly focused way to just get my damn sweat on!

I don’t know what it was that triggered me to look over to my left, but I did. And I saw a body on the ground next to the leg press machine it had been on just seconds before. I couldn’t tell you if the body was still or moving. I knew who it was: my main objective was to get the hell over to Steve to make sure he was ok. ALIVE.

Crouched beside him with a large trainer by his head, I tried telling

Steve everything was ok. But Steve was unconscious. He couldn’t hear me. Steve was having a seizure.

Staff members from the gym rushed to our sides. “Call 911! Someone call 911 please!” The lady above me looked at me like I was speaking Russian. “Go!” Screw feminine decorum. My…Steve was violently convulsing and I didn’t know what to do.

I had never seen anyone have a seizure before. And despite my “service” as a resident assistant during college, I’ve never seen anything more frightening. Steve’s skin turned yellow, then green, then white. His jaw was clenched even as he foamed at the mouth, resulting in a drenched sweatshirt only soaked more by his sweat. Why did he wear a thermal long sleeve and a sweatshirt to workout in this sauna of a gym? Is he nuts!?

He was making the most disturbing growling noises, drowning out any other music that may or may not have been playing over the speakers. I couldn’t tell you. His pupils were gigantic. And the shaking. The shaking was the worst part. Not being able to control his tall, heavy body, but desperately trying to do so to protect him from flailing around and injuring himself further, was defeating.

A thought came to mind amidst the deafening silence in my head as Steve approached minute two of his seizure. He had fallen onto his left shoulder. A shoulder that he had just had reconstructive surgery on due to so many breaks and dislocations caused by his seizures. There was fresh scar on his shoulder that no one could see underneath his layers of clothing.

“He needs to get off this shoulder,” I told the trainer.

“We can’t put him on his back. He’ll choke,” he replied firmly.

I didn’t have the energy to argue.

Frustrated, yet oddly calm, at this point there was nothing else left to do but wait. Wait for the ambulance. Wait for Steve to stop shaking. Just wait.

I looked around me. A man was kindly maintaining his distance while fanning Steve with a magazine he had probably pulled from his treadmill. Others awkwardly used this opportunity as an excuse to gawk and stare while pretending not to. I wouldn’t be surprised if seeing what was happening was enough to end someone’s workout for the day. Looking around at all these stunned faces made me wonder why they were so shocked when I should have been and wasn’t. When something like this happens, I guess you just have to do what you have to do.

The seizing finally came to an end. The ambulance arrived. Almost startled, yet relieved at the site of the two young, seemingly strong men, I unwillingly stepped away from Steve, knowing that my immediate job was done. I was actually so focused on Steve I hadn’t even realized they had arrived until the trainer told me. Down in the basement of the gym, there are no alarming lights to be seen. No greedy, selfish, nosy onlookers on the street wondering what happened and who is being put into the whaling ambulance.

My phone vibrating in my sweatpants pocket brought me back to real life at this point. Eric, my boyfriend…my loving, adoring, nothing-wrong-with-him, wonderful boyfriend of six years…is texting me.

“Hey, darling. When do you think you’ll be home tonight? Want me to pick something up for dinner?”

And so it sets in…the sinking feeling that I have two very different obligations.

As Steve lay motionless on the gym floor with the ambulance crew trying to talk him back to consciousness, my mind quickly returned its focus back to him. Steve is not my boyfriend. I have no obligatory reason to go with him to a hospital. But I had to go. Not a single fiber in my body said “go home to your boyfriend.”

The EMTs loaded Steve on to a wheel chair because they couldn’t get a gurney down the two flights of stairs to the gym, nor would one fit in the elevator. I saw this as the more embarrassing option for him – poor Steve. He had to sit upright and be wheeled out of the gym like a crazy person, hanging his head in shame. He had nothing to be embarrassed about. But he was. He was painfully embarrassed. Imagine losing all control of your body and not knowing or being conscious of what happened for that long. You would be embarrassed too.

As I crawled into the dimly lit ambulance outside in the city darkness (odd how dark one block away from Times Square can be), right behind Steve’s stretcher, he came-to a bit, looked at me with those blue eyes and said, “Thank you.” The EMTs, Steve and I rode on the bumpy New York City streets to the hospital. No one made any eye contact.

I don’t know if Steve remembered anything from that night after the seizure. I can’t imagine how it utterly rocked his mind and body, ravaging any proper mental function and recollection. I don’t know if Steve remembered anything from that night because we haven’t spoken since. Is he too embarrassed to speak to me ever again? Did this startling, life-interrupting-experience make him realize that he was in fact still in love with that ex-girlfriend I had no idea about? Did he run back to her? Or did he not even remember that I was there at all? Any of these options are heartbreaking to me, no one more painful than the other. So now, I sit home at night with my loving, adoring, nothing-wrong-with-him, wonderful boyfriend of six years, and go on with everything, acting like (of course) it’s all normal.

Elizabeth Kent

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