Strange things happen when you are on holidays.
Let me introduce you to my mate Bruce*. He is younger than me, in a wheelchair because of a traffic accident, and smokes like a chimney. His language would make a sailor blush: f- this, sh- that, c- most other things. Just about every second word! As long as I sit up-wind of him, we get on surprisingly well. I met him several years ago during mutual stays at The Smokehouse* respite centre, of which I have written previously. He was there, again, during my most recent visit.
One day, he decided he wanted to make a trip by train – there is a convenient rail line not far away – to the Bogan Flats* Shopping Centre. He wanted to get some replacement medication at a pharmacy and, a good example of his generous nature, to buy some fish to take back to The Smokehouse*so we all, including staff, could have a slap-up fish dinner that evening. Nice idea. Very tasty idea.
He asked me to go with him. I have been shopping with Bruce before. He wheels his manual wheelchair everywhere, by himself – he’s very strong in the arms and upper body. I drive alongside in my motorised chair. We make a fast, mobile duo. I said “yes” straight away. A day out riding the rails and plundering the shops would be fun.
The day didn’t start well when we got to Bogan Flats* railway station: it started raining as soon as we got off the train. We cooled our heels (or rather, wheels) for nearly half-an-hour before the sun came out and we could drive/wheel to the shopping centre which is 10 – 15 minutes’ walk from the station. Our first stop was the pharmacy. Bruce* wanted to get his medication ASAP.
Then I found out why he was in a rush.
In the chemist, he handed over a prescription. The pharmacist began to fill it. Then, all of a sudden, it happened.
Bruce’s* eyes began to roll. His mouth jerked uncontrollably. His head went back and forth. I grew progressively more alarmed as this seizure, or attack, went on. I kept asking him, more desperately with each passing moment, “do you need a doctor? Should I call an ambulance?” For about five minutes, he was basically unconscious, unable to talk. I had horrible visions of him being carted off to hospital and me left alone to find my way back to The Smokehouse*and try to explain the disaster.
All this while, the pharmacist just stood behind the counter looking on with great interest. No offer of help, no questions of concern, just a curious bystander waiting to see what happened next. Whatever happened to the Hippocratic oath? Or maybe that’s only doctors.
Finally, after several minutes, Bruce* began to pull out of it. His eyes and head stilled, his consciousness returned. Thank God he didn’t fall out of his wheelchair! He muttered, “sorry about that. This happens when I don’t take my medication on time. If I can just have a cold drink, I’ll be fine” (expletives deleted).
I looked hopefully, expectantly, at the chemist. Surely she would be the Good Samaritan and fetch my mate a glass of water? Oh no. Instead, she said “there’s a place just around the corner that sells soft drinks. You can get something there!” Gee, thanks lady. I suppose you have to expect that sort of thing in a place like Bogan Flats*.
I was worried Bruce couldn’t continue. He repeated “once I have a cold drink, I’ll be okay”. So we went round to the soft drink shop. He bought the largest bottle of Coca-Cola I’ve ever seen and drank the lot in one fell swoop. It really did seem to restore him a great deal.
Worried about him, I wanted to go home. He said “not without the fish!” He was dead-set on a fish dinner that night, so I warily accompanied him to a nearby fish shop. He asked, “what sort of fish, do you think?” I had no hesitation. “Barramundi. Best fish on the market”, I replied. The fish guy had two huge delicious -looking fillets of barra. I thought one of them was enough to feed all of the respite centre. Bruce* insisted on buying both. A mere $70. My jaw dropped in shock, but he would not be swayed. To lessen the financial blow on him, I chipped in half. The two fillets must have weighed a ton; they were very big. He just managed to fit them in the bag on the back of his manual chair.
Thank God he did …
Our objectives achieved, we started back to the railway station to return home. To approach the station, we had to wheel across the railway line at a level crossing. I went first, Bruce* followed behind. Halfway across, I heard a great racket behind me. The rattle of a wheelchair in trouble, accompanied by blistering curses from its owner. I turned to see what was going on.
His wheels had become jammed in the rail tracks. His chair had tipped forward, and Bruce* threatened to topple bodily onto the train tracks. He struggled to keep his balance and stay upright. A nice lady in a passing car, alarmed at what she saw, stopped and offered to help. If Bruce* had fallen, he would have been at the mercy of the next train to come through that level crossing.
What saved him were the two barramundi fillets in his bag. They were so heavy they acted as a counter-balance and, at the last moment, righted the tipping chair and saved him. He was saved by the fish.
We returned, both highly shaken, to The Smokehouse*. All the way home, he kept muttering “Sh-t! It was the f-ing fish that saved me!” We had a long sleep that afternoon to recover from the trauma of the trip.
But, boy, did that barramundi taste great that night at the dinner table!
Almost worth the drama …
*Not a real name.