Paul Kilt stumbled through the double glass doors of the emergency room, dizzy, no… light-headed, still moderately coherent…luckily, and clutching the plush towel over the end of his newly stumped left forearm. The lights, while flickering due to the growing storm outside, were still bright enough to make him squint as he took a deep breath and forged on toward the customer intake desk.
Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen, sixteen steps to the welcomed support of the faux marble countertop and a certain measure of prevention from landing face first on the floor.
His counting steps was something he had done for as long as he could remember. His trying to keep his face from smacking the floor with any ferocity, and losing consciousness, was something he tried to keep from doing since college.
On sixteen, he hit the counter hard and leaned onto it with his full weight, puffing out heavy bursts of air to match the effort. He let his head rest softly on the window as his breath splashed itself across the glass in small, temporary waves of condensation. His head swam. His arm throbbed. His legs quivered. He was sweating and shivering all at the same time as his resistance to giving into shock started to falter.
“Off the counter and on the line please.”
The voice was heavy, gritty, and colored by age, countless cigarettes, a measure of malt whiskey and fair amount of contempt for those she spent her eight-hour work shifts attending to.
“I’m sorry?” he muttered, still trying to catch his breath.
A burly hand reached across and slid the visitor window open with an air of authority.
“Incoming patients must stay off the glass, stay off the counter and stay on the line. We will get to you as soon as possible.” The hand then slid the glass pane shut.
Paul rolled his head along the glass to where he could see the floor, blurry, but still. “Ha!” he thought. There was a line of tape on the floor about a foot away from the counter. Go figure.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I would… love to step back to the line there…the one you have on the floor, really, I would. But I…”
The window slid open again, fast and loud. The business end of a clipboard emerged. “Due to the storm, our computer system is down. Complete the top portion of the information sheet remembering to add your full name, the name of your insurance carrier, insurance group number, family history, any allergies and what brings you to the emergency room tonight. Then have a seat and we will call you when we’re ready.”
He blinked hard to see the end of the clipboard that protruded from the glass partition. It hung in mid air, waiting for him to take it and his place among the others who had brought themselves here for an evening of gentle care and healing.
“Sir?” The floating clipboard jutted out a couple of times indicating a sense of urgency.
He looked down at the death grip his right hand had on the towel, grown damp now from the mix of rain and blood. His subtle laugh forced a tiny hiccup through his body which sent a fresh shiver of pain into his left arm. “Uh…,” he managed through the wince. “I can’t…I’m not really in a position to…”
The clipboard hung in the air for a moment longer and then, ever so slowly, receded back to disappear behind the glass.
“Name?” the gruff voice asked, but he heard it as “nay-MAH!”
“No, Kilt. K-I-L-T.”
“Like the dress.”
“No,” he shifted again, hoping to ease the throbbing coming from the wound. “And it’s not a dress. It’s a traditional garment worn by men dating back to the 16th century and originating in the Scottish Highlands.” He had explained his name so many times in response to the “dress” question that even in his debilitated state, it just rolled off his tongue.
The elongated pause that followed reflected what he was certain to be the deep soul-searching on the part of the emergency room representative as she considered whether or not she would take this any further because she, most assuredly, was not paid enough to “deal with this kinda shit.”
“Address,” complete with an exaggerated hiss of “sss.”
“67 North Algiers Drive, Cardington proper.”
His vision started to blur further, as his head grew heavy. The voice seemed to come from farther and farther away.
“Phone number,” the request came more stern this time.
“Excuse me? Ugh. Do you have your insurance card Mr. Kilt?”
Another pause allowed him to hear more clearly the pounding that was starting to build in his ears.”
“Reason for your visit this evening?”
This time, the pause was his. Not so much for payback as he was trying to stifle throwing up. “Bleeding…to…death,” he managed. “And…the allure…of…good company.”
“Cause of injury, Mr. Kilt.”
He tried hard not to laugh. It hurt too much. His eyes traced his surroundings back and forth as if he might never see anything ever again and he was taking it all in. He felt himself slipping away from the counter and into the nothingness that was both the air of the emergency room and the darkness of being unconscious. And in that very last moment of lucidity, he giggled, “dog bite.”