WILL I DIE OF HEAT STROKE?
by Ruth Deming
My metallic gray Nissan with its red racing stripe sped confidently into the parking lot of Staples, a seven-minute drive from home. Friendly Dave installed an anti-virus protector onto my laptop.
Back to the car I went, gently placing the encased laptop onto the back seat. I slid in the front, and turned the key in the ignition. Silence. Not a sound. As quiet as a winter snowfall. I tried once more. Nothing. Nada.
“Why didn’t you call me?” asked my boyfriend Scott later on. “You know I’d do anything for my Ruthie.”
I had absolutely no answer for him.
All I knew was that I would walk home. It couldn’t be all that far. A forty-five-minute walk perhaps. After all it was only a seven-minute drive to get there.
With insulin-dependent diabetes, I knew I must fill up on food during the walk home so I wouldn’t go “low” and pass out.
Dunkin’ Donuts, with its warm brown and pink colors, is right there in the parking lot.
Walking into DD, I felt the cool of the air-conditioning on this hot July day. Studying the menu on the wall, I ordered something that wouldn’t be too sweet. A buttered croissant was the perfect choice. When I sat down to eat, unwrapping the tissue paper, I realized we were in a blistering heat wave here in suburban Philadelphia. Luckily I was wearing shorts and a tank top.
Let’s back up a moment. In 2011 I had a kidney transplant. Sixteen and a half years on lithium for bipolar disorder had ruined my kidneys, both of them. My oft-estranged married daughter Sarah Lynn donated her kidney to me. Ah, she really loved me.
I was not going to sacrifice her 38-year-old kidney. I was not going to die of heat stroke on busy Terwood Road, crumpled up on the sidewalk like a dead mouse.
My immunosuppressants are two: Prednisone and Tacrolimus. How fortunate I was to take these meds. Prednisone was invented by Arthur Nobile in 1950 and sold through various drug companies. Today its generic version is incredibly cheap.
Tacrolimus was discovered in 1987, when I was a young lass of 42, working as a psychotherapist in Bristol, Pennsylvania. Few people knew I had bipolar disorder. And I certainly had no inkling that one day I’d be knocking on the door of Tacrolimus to save me. Or that, in a twist of fate, my bipolar disorder would vanish, like a helium balloon disappearing in the clouds.
As I sat munching on the buttered croissant and sipping on ice-cold water, I planned my route home. Straight all the way down Terwood Road.
I put on my blue long-sleeved shirt to shield me from the sun. Normally I wear sunscreen since a small percentage of transplantees develop skin cancer. Not me. I would walk in the shade at a brisk pace.
Out of the air-conditioned doughnut shop I came, bursting into the inferno of the day.
“You can do it,” I said to myself. My body remained cool from the A/C for less than five minutes. It was eleven a.m. The sun shone with a malevolence as if it would burn me alive like Joan of Arc.
And what was this fairy-tale that I’d be home in forty-five minutes?
A stillness prevailed over me. My wandering mind never wandered. All I thought of was the next step ahead of me.
Damn! My shoelace was loose. I had bought a pair of cheap black sneakers at the mall and had painted them – yellow, blue, red, and gold – and stooped down to tie them in double-knots. How vulnerable I felt as the traffic whizzed by.
Onward I marched. What if I panic, I thought, and fall down in a faint.
What if a car careens off the road and kills me. Well, at least they would know the identity of the dead: a tiny – four-foot nine – 72-year-old woman.
My gray canvas backpack was securely attached to my back. My driver’s license would identify me. My hair was blonde on the license photo, unlike now, when it’s a lovely fake red. About two-hundred people would mourn my death – I was the founder and director of New Directions, a support group for people with depression, bipolar disorder and their loved ones. My kids knew what to do with my lifeless body: cremate me and toss my ashes into the Pennypack Creek.
Step lightly. Step lightly. There on the right was Old Tyme Burgers and Shakes. The last time I was there I’d ordered a cheeseburger and fries and glass of iced cold water.
“How is it?” Julie had asked.
“Oh, it’s delicious,” I said, swiveling on my stool with the red cushion.
Step lightly. Step lightly. I thought of hitch-hiking the rest of the way home. Not a good idea. When I attended Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont, I’d hitched and a dirty old man with tufts of nose hair had picked me up. I knew if I needed to, I could open the door and roll out. This was no Ted Bundy, serial killer, who popped his victims in his van with no door handles.
Step lightly. Step lightly.
Off to the right was the office of my nephrologist, voted “Best Doctor” in Philadelphia by his peers.
“Why?” I asked the slightly balding Dr. Ghantous.
“They say I spend a lot of time with my patients.”
He would always tell me the creatinine level of my new kidney. “Point seven or point eight,” he’d say.
“That’s excellent,” he’d tell me in his slight Lebanese accent. He always boosted my self-esteem when I left his office and drove home, a quick five minutes away. I rarely veer far from home.
My shadow on the sidewalk revealed my uneven shoulders. A reminder of an operation the same year as my kidney transplant for my devilishly painful sciatica, an unstoppable pain, both day and night, that ran from the toes on my left foot all the way up to my left buttock.
Thankfully my plantar fasciitis had finally gone away. Exercises I did every morning did no good and made the bottom of my left foot ache even worse. Were the opposite sides of my foot engaged in a boxing match?
My whole health history revealed on this walk home.
When I walked the slight breeze I created cooled me off a bit. Not so when I waited to cross a busy street. The seconds ticked off as I waited for the light to change. I’d touch my toes to keep up my momentum.
The sun seemed to drain the life from me. Was my blood thick and viscous? Desperately, I wanted to run, like I did as a kid. Seventy-two isn’t terribly old but my legs and a foot whose bones, two years ago, had literally broken in several places would not bow to my wishes.
Walk spritely. Walk spritely.
One fear was left as I neared my yellow house on Cowbell Road. My three-bedroom house where I lived alone – now that my two children were on their own – was at the top of a hill. Whatever energy I had left would require a massive effort to make it to the top of the hill.
Looking at my colorful sneakers, I bounded up the hill. There was Sean’s mail truck parked in its usual spot. Did I care? There was my favorite house made of warm brown wood and the tall ornamental grasses on the lawn. Did I care?
Finally I burst through the church-red door into my house. Thank God I was home. I turned up the A/C, went into the kitchen and splashed cold water on my face.
The clock over the sink read 1:30. It had taken two whole hours to walk home.
On my white Ikea shelves, I chose a tall glass, stuck it under the water dispenser on the outside of the fridge, and listened as cold water splashed into the glass, like Niagara Falls. I took small sips, gasping with relief at each swallow.
Sitting on the stairs, I carefully removed each sneaker.
“Yow!” I cried out in pain. My sweaty feet stuck to the sneakers I had worn without socks.
“Yow!” I hollered again. A blister had formed beneath my right toe.
Bent over double, I limped into my bedroom, fell on my face on the mattress and slept for an entire hour.
Not bad for a woman of seventy-two.
About the Author:
Ruth Z. Deming is a poet and short story writer who lives in Willow Grove, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her works have been published in Mad Swirl, Literary Yard, Scarlet Leaf Review and other writing venues. She runs New Directions, a support group for people with depression, bipolar disorder and their loved ones. “Yes I Can: My Bipolar Journey” details her triumph over bipolar disorder. A mental health advocate, she educates the public about this treatable illness.