On the Main Road

Friday afternoon, the eve of the sabbath. Riding home from my shift in the Emergency Department at Alice Springs Hospital I would have missed her if I’d been abiding by the law. Luckily I was riding along the footpath when I came upon her. She looked about fifty but I reckon her true age at mid-thirties. Her large face seemed inflated, her eyelids puffy, her lips swollen, her natural flabbiness accentuated by deforming scars and oedema. The face was bronze in colour. Her gaze was inward – even when I was abreast of her, when I addressed her, I was absent to her. 

In all our minutes together we were never more than ten metres distant from people passing in cars and on foot. But in our leaden ballet we would dance alone.
She was shorter than I and a good deal heavier. The weight differential would matter when I’d struggle to lift her. I was a metre from her when I first registered her human presence. A slender tree at my right shoulder obscured her from sight. Abrupt movement caught my eye, a straining, forceful jerking of her thick neck and thorax as if she sought to escape. In fact the opposite was the case. 
The woman’s hands worked to adjust a cord that looped once around the tree then twice around her neck. I saw the cord and stopped. With all in place she suddenly slumped. Don’t! Don’t do that! – these were all the words I found. I flung my bike aside and threw myself towards the woman. She grunted but did not speak. My arms about her did not arrest her fall. The cord tightened. I remembered the knife in my lunchbox. As I groped frantically in my backpack she thudded suddenly to earth at my feet.  
A white cord floated down after her. The cord was a lengthy bootlace, the sort you pull on to tighten your running shoes. That slender tie would never support ninety kilograms of self nihilation.
Lying on the earth her silent body did not move. Was she breathing? A wave of alcoholic air reaching my nostrils answered that question. Was she conscious? I spoke. No response. I shouted. No answer. I placed my right thumb into the small bony notch above her eye and pressed hard. This truly painful stimulus evoked no movement, not a flinch. On the Glasgow Coma scale I reckoned her score at eight of a possible fifteen.
As I crouched in all my clinical perplexity an Aboriginal woman appeared at my side. Gesturing in the direction from which I’d been riding she said, The hospital is just back that way. Did I smile as I thanked her? I don’t know.
My lady was alive, breathing, intoxicated, apparently unconscious. In the long seconds since slumping she had not moved. What harm had her spinal cord suffered in that violent moment when the bracing cord arrested her fall? I could not know. My phone: where was it? Fast fingers delved and delivered from my pocket. I rang triple zero. The voice asked, Police, Fire or… Ambulance! I shouted. Ninety seconds after giving location and clinical details the siren sounded behind me. The vehicle pulled up alongside my waving, jumping body. A tall woman blonde woman alighted. She would have been in her thirties – like our patient, and unlike her. I answered her questions. A friendly smile lit her face as she said, Big shock for you, I’d imagine. This time I did smile. After a shift in Alice’s Emergency Department I’d become inured to shocks. The paramedic crouched over our patient and I heard her say: Hello girlfriend! as I mounted and headed home for the peace of Shabbat.

5 thoughts on “On the Main Road

  1. Shalom Howard,
    I wanted to thak you for your time with us at the women’s group last Sunday, but missed saying goodbye to you.
    Your time with us was most enjoyable, entertaining and generous.
    My Ima has read the two books i chose for her and in particular, loved your book about your father. I believe that it spoke to her heart more intimately than the book Raft..
    So you see you ahve a new fan.
    wishing you kol tuv,

    shabbat shalom,
    Vardi Jacobs


  2. Have you really ‘become inured to shock’? I imagine writing is one way of coming to terms with the shocking things you experience.


    • anna

      yes, it is writing, more reliably than anything else i know, that brings me into some composed posture following an experience that throws me from balance

      as for ‘inured’, i realised quite soon after posting this report, i should have spent more time editing, claimed more space in expressing myself

      not inured, never inured to the harms, the self harms, the pain, the losses, the minds overturned, the bodies burned, shrivelled, swollen, burst, broken

      but working in Alice Springs Hospital, a collecting place for such harms, a congregation of the broken, I become less surprisable – in that sense, inured to shock

      heaven forbid i ever become truly inured, if that expression were to convey not caring, not feeling, not registering that here, this person, this human, this one, my fellow bleeds or falls or despairs

      heaven forbid i ever become so dulled by experience that i fail to record, to count in the account books of my conscious being, the passing or the attempt to pass of a human, the extinction of a life or of hope

      good , good question anna

      thank you

      Liked by 1 person

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