Sunday, February 4, 2018

Seeing Death

Don't fall asleep, I tell myself. Some people who fall asleep never wake up.

Another voice in my head said - But sleeping would be so nice. All the pain would gone. Then life would be so happy.

I don't need such temptation right now, I think.

And even another voice says - Just die and the pain will all be gone. You can be with your Lord in peace. No more suffering. 

Don't fall asleep, Paul. I tell myself. You might never wake up again. 

I read somewhere that sometimes people who are put down with anesthesia never wake up.

I'm on a motorcycle. We're heading to the local hospital. 5 miles left to go.

All the while, my head is nodding. It's hitting the driver's back.

There's a guy behind me. He's pressed so close to me.

It's good. It assures I won't fall off the motorcycle. He's from my hostel; he came to help me.

I can feel my arm slip and lose power and fling in the wind. On my right shoulder - blood is seeping and gushing and staining one of my favorite t-shirts. The stain is large and dark and wet and a dark brown. It's full of blood.

I feel tired. It hurts a lot. The pain is throbbing. I've lost too much blood, I think. I don't want to believe it, but it's around 4PM; and I feel so sleepy.

Don't fall asleep, Paul. You might never wake up. I have to remind myself. I think about seeing some of the people I miss and love. But they're not here.

You have to pull through - I think.

Then another voice says - Why even live? 

I remembered when I was 5, they took me to the hospital for stitches. I remember the bright hospital lights and my father being worried - more worried than my mother. I remember the doctor putting the needle through my skin and what that felt like - even though I was numb. I remember what it was like to be 5 again.

We make it to the hospital.

* * *
Two hours before getting to the hospital, I was swimming in the Caribbean Ocean. I was returning back to shore. While swimming to shore, I scan for boats. I didn't see any.

But then I see a speed boat with passengers coming straight for my head. It's going so fast, the nose of the boat is lifted.

Oh sh**, I think. The fu*@@! doesn't see me. Is he blind? Is this happening? Oh sh**!!! - Dive now!!!! I think.

I swim like a frog underneath the boat, but I don't go deep enough. I remember the color of the bottom of the boat. I remember the sound of the propeller hitting me.

Oh no. I'm hurt. I didn't avoid it! 

The propeller slashed into my shoulder.

I pop my head up and signal for the driver to get me. He's an old man - screaming something foul in Spanish. I don't understand. My shoulder hurts. I just tread water with eggbeater kicks and ask him to help me go back to shore.

He keeps driving away but the passengers force him to get me. When the boat approaches, I left myself out of the water, push my hand on the edge of the boat and use all my strength to lift myself into it. One of the passengers holds my hand and pulls me in.

Blood and salt water flood the bottom of the boat. I see the gashes on my shoulder.

Oh, no.

The passengers look horrified and keep staring at me. The driver keeps screaming at me. But I don't understand. I think I'm in shock. I'm dazed and confused.

He doesn't look at me directly. And it's not out of guilt.

His eyes are blood shot. He's old. My first two thoughts are: Are you nearsighted? Are you drunk? He's not even wearing glasses.

He brings me to shore - only a 3 minute ride. I was almost there, but I don't know if I could've swam back myself.

I walk on the beach, looking for a mirror. How bad is it?

A crowd draws near - looking horrified. People tell me in Spanish - You need to go to the hospital.

"I don't need to go to the hospital," I said.

I'm looking for a mirror. But a lady stops me and says in Spanish: "I'm a doctor. Let me help you." So, I let her.

She asks for a medical kit.

The people at the local bar bring one. They follow her instructions. They told me - "Your head got slashed."

I couldn't feel it. I put my hand to my hair. My hair was soaked in blood. The blood flowed on my hand.

I see - I thought.

I understand everything she's saying. I follow her Spanish. I can't believe I'm understanding everyone talking to me in my condition. After cleaning my wounds - and not being afraid of my blood - she tells me I need to get stitches on my head.

I said, "Ok."

I remember she looks like an angel to me.

The driver comes to the crowd and starts screaming at me again. The crowd looks at him with disgust. The old man doesn't even ask if I'm ok.

Her boyfriend walks me back to my hostel. I told him he didn't need to. He insisted.

We talk a little about where I'm from. They're from Argentina. He's an accountant. I told him I'm from Los Angeles.

The boyfriend explains to the hostel people what happened. I get my stuff, such as my wallet. I keep my bloody shirt on. A clean shirt would only be blood-soaked later.

I thank the boyfriend, named Nacho. I hire a motorcycle.

A hostel guy accompanies me to the hospital. He sits tightly behind me. It's tight, but later, I realize it's good, because I might have fell off the motorcycle.

* * *
The doctor at the hospital sees me immediately. There was no wait. They take me to a room.

The nurse tells me to lie on my good side. She injects a few shots of anesthesia into my head. It stings.

Blood is covering everything. My arm. My shoulders. My shirt. The plastic mattress I'm on. I'm still conscious though.

I think: What if the propeller hit my face? What if it took out my eyes? What if it cut through my skull? I'm very lucky. I'm very lucky. I'm very lucky. 

The doctor gets a needle and thread to stitch me up. They clean my shoulder wound.

He tells me no stitches needed there, even though I'm bleeding profusely. They dress my shoulder wound.

He said I need an X-ray, which their hospital doesn't have. It's a small hospital with only three rooms. The town probably has less than 1,000 people.

I tell him there's a lot of pain. He wants to inject me with a huge needle of pain killers. I refuse.

Though the needle isn't attractive, if I broke a bone, I read that painkillers slow down healing. I told him I'd rather pop some pills.

Then the police bring in a guy, who got into a knife fight. I turned away, when so much of his flesh was removed you could see bone and blood and sinew.

I pay the bill. It's $26 USD. Outside, Ingrid and Jon, my hosts are waiting outside. Jon looks really worried. They give me some pills.

I smile, though. I tell him it could have been worse.

Ingrid asks me if I'll be going back to Cartagena.

I said, "Why would I go back there? It's not my home. Let's go back to the beach -where I can rest." I feel safer with Jon and Ingrid anyways.

* * *

At the beach, I try to lay down on a plastic mattress outside. I'm tired.

But too much blood spills from my head and stains the mattress and the deck. I feel bad.

Jon and Ingrid said they'll clean it and not worry about it. I think a hotel chain would charge me for the stain.

They tell me to sit. I stop bleeding. Ingrid cleans my shoulder would and dresses it. She also washes the blood out of my hair. I feel embarrassed that someone is doing all this for me.

I tell her not to. I tell her I can do it myself. I tell her I can bathe in the ocean. She won't hear a word of it.

I ask Jon for whiskey to help the pain. He says, "No."

I oddly get hungry and that's a good sign. They cook me fried chicken and rice and potatoes and get me a few coconuts.

Ingrid is convinced I broke a bone. We're going to go to the hospital tomorrow for an X-ray.

My friend says I'll know if I broke a bone in the middle of the night. He says I'll wake up and feel unbearable pain.

Ingrid makes me take off my bloody shirt. She says she'll wash it.

* * *

I wake up in the middle of the night. I have some pain. I pop a pill. The pain eases. I can fall asleep again.

I'm worried that I broke a bone. But it's not too painful.

* * *

I sleep well. In the morning, I notice that there are some blood stains on the sheets but not much. I'm getting better.

* * *

After waiting an hour in the hospital, I see the manager to see if I could be seen. She does her best, but the guy controlling the line doesn't move it.

There's sick and injured people everywhere. They look miserable. I imagine Hell to look like this. Lots of injured people and the line doesn't move. Nobody appears to be in charge. You can come in. But you can never leave. Guards are at the gate to make sure you pay the hospital before you leave. No discharge papers - no leaving.

One lady who looks like a prostitute comes in. The police punched her in the stomach and ribs. She's screaming that she's in so much pain and that she wishes she was dead. She salivates like a rabid dog.

Bored, I walk through the hospital and see all the dying people. An old lady doesn't have an eye. An old guy is gasping for life. This is the House of the Dying. And some director can film Resident Evil or a zombie movie here. It actually reminds me of the set of 28 Days Later.

Jon gets smart and hears the old guy who controls the line say he's hungry. So Jon bought him snacks. After, the guy who controls the line puts our papers at the top of the list.

In 20 minutes, I got X-ray'd, the X-ray was developed and analyzed.

The doctor said there was no broken bones or fractures.

I'm relieved.

The doctor says, "You're very lucky that propeller didn't rip off your arm."

I shudder even thinking about it. I told him, "I imagine Hell to look like this.

He smiles and says, enjoy it while you're in here."

* * *

After buying Jon a nice dinner in the city, we can't get back to the beach. It's too late. So, his mother is happy to receive us. We sleep in the attic. We sleep well.

We leave in the morning.

* * *

Back at the beach - we try to find the name of the driver of the boat. Apparently, he went into hiding.

We find out his nephew also killed someone recently. The boy was 14 year old local and swimming. The propeller ripped into his head and cut into his brain. He was a friend of the boy who lives at the hostel. The boy who lives here seems to want to go after the driver more than I do.

I keep imagining what would have happened if that boat hit me full on in the head. Would I have died? I don't want to think about it. But that was such a close call.

Later, I go see the bar and the doctor and Nacho. And everyone is happy to see that I'm alive and well. We chat for a few hours. I buy a few beers. I thank everyone.

I can use my right arm and eat again. I'm recovering quickly.

* * *
An Appointment in Cartagena
by Paul Cook

There once was a lawyer who was swimming in the Caribbean waters. But he saw Death with his sickle approach him, and he immediately dove in the water. Death swiped his sickle into the sea and wounded the lawyer's shoulder and head and scraped his neck. But, Death did not take him that day. The lawyer was harmed, but alive. 

A few days later, the attorney was at the hospital from the damage, and Death was there - only this time, not for him. So the lawyer approached Death and asked him, "Why did you come for me, when it was not my time?"

And Death said, "It was your time. I was asked to take you. But I was cheated."

"Who cheated you?"

"That, you will have to find out. Remember your scars. They are scars of blood and salt and water. Until next time, Counselor. Until, next time. We will have to play again.

"Lawyers," Death said, shaking his head. "Never easy, but one less is always better."

At that point, Death took the arm of an elderly gentleman and walked out of the hospital with him and waved good bye to the lawyer.

* * *

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20b-21, NIV).

Cheating Death by Cain
(Permission to reprint received 3 of Feb. 2018.)

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