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February 19, 2024

New Normal

By Pete Armetta

As the number ten bus rolled out of the busy hospital parking lot, Eddie showed the driver his state-issued ID card, the one that shows he's legally classified as disabled. He gets to ride this bus for free, which really helps under his present circumstances, although he would certainly prefer to be driving his own car. Well, any car as long as it was safe and affordable.

Driving was now a luxury.

He made way slowly to a seat -- one toward the back of the bus -- but close enough to the center exit so he could skedaddle outta there once they reached his stop. It'd only be fifteen minutes or so really and Eddie didn't have anywhere else he had to be today. He was grateful for the air-conditioning -- not that he couldn't tolerate the oppressive summer heat well enough -- but because on a day of "doctoring" with all its back and forth and waiting and consultation and general flurry of activity all around, Eddie couldn't help but feel heated up.

The new normal.

The bus was crowded with the usual suspects. Eddie knew a few of them by face, and he did engage in conversation quite regularly on this route, with anyone friendly enough to want to engage. It made up for all the time he spent alone, and he believed it was a good thing. He organized and fussed with the bit of paperwork he had in his lap: his two new prescriptions and the stop order on his trusty old blood pressure medication. That med had consistently kept him at one-twenty over seventy, so why'd they wanna change it again? He also had a list of his upcoming appointments with the various doctors. Damn paperwork. The way Eddie saw it, a person needed a secretary to keep up with it!

An elderly lady sat across from him. Eddie had seen her before riding this route and in the shopping center too. He remembers her usually having a friend or could-be family with her and was always involved in some bantering and joking -- but today she was alone, canvas grocery bags she'd brought from home sitting at her feet. One of the bags had inscribed on it: Don't Worry, Be Happy. The lady smiled at Eddie with recognition, and once he got settled, Eddie smiled back. The bus picked up speed as it started down the mountain back to town.

"It's mighty hot today, wouldn't ya say?" The lady was talking to Eddie. "Did you have doctors' appointments today?" Eddie didn't realize she was addressing him and looked up from his paperwork. She asked again. "Did you have to go to the doctors on a day like today?"

He didn't know what kind of day like today she meant, but nodded in the affirmative. She was looking him up and down, her expression one of interest and curiosity. He was looking at her too, still mindlessly shuffling with his papers. He smiled again then shifted his attention out the window.

"I know you live over by the market, right?" she continued. "I see you over there and I see you up here at the hospital pretty regular too. I usually have my daughter and aunt or one of them at least with me when I ride."

"Ma'am?" Eddie said. "Yeh, I had a doctor's appointment."

"And you live over by the market right?"

"Yeh, behind the market. Down old State Road 1422."

"Oh yeh I see you around," she looked at the papers in his lap. "You got a lot to do, huh? I hope those doctors are treating you well -- hard nowadays I know, with everything that's going on."

He didn't know the everything that's going on she meant, but said, "Yeh, they're okay. It's a full time job keeping up with them and keeping up with my own health. Too bad I don't get paid for it!"

She threw her head back with a loud laugh, and held onto her big stomach with both hands. "Now I heard that!" she said. "Hey Gussy," she yelled up to the front of the bus. "You hear what this kid said? Imagine if we could get paid for going to the doctors and for just being sick? I mean for all the work it is? Hahaha."

The lady got laughter and amens from the front-of-the-bus posse on what had started out as a quiet ride.

Except for this lady.

"Well what you got anyway?" Her eyebrows were raised as she looked Eddie straight in the eye. "You don't look sick. I mean if you don't mind me saying so."

Eddie's stop was coming up and he was glad. He'd stop in the market real quick for a couple of necessities, then go back to his apartment and hole up till the next time he had a commitment -- that wasn't till later in the week. He really didn't mind that he didn't get paid for being sick of course. All he did mind was the actual being sick part of it. Often people didn't take into consideration what sickness does to the body and mind, the physical and mental upkeep and exhaustion, and with the cure often being worse than the disease.

Eddie was just about maintaining.

He looked out the window. "Ma'am, I have a lot of tests being done right now, I mean I've been sick for a while. And I have new treatments I'm being asked to endure." The lady leaned forward and was straining to hear. "But my health just worsens, unfortunately."

"Oh, so you're busy then it sounds like. Well I hope you got good support from your wife or people or somebody at least. That's always a blessing." She reached down into one of the bags and pulled out her knitting needles and yarn and placed them in her lap.

"No, I really don't. But I'm used to it."

"What kind of tests if you don't mind me asking?"

"I have to start taking a lot more medicine and seeing new doctors and whatnot. That's all fine, but I pretty much know the drill they're gonna give me before they do. And I'm really too tired to take all of it on right now." Eddie was somber and recited the facts as he saw them, as if he'd recited them a million times. Well he probably did, but 999,999 of those times was to himself. Not much use talking about it is how he saw it. But today he was tired and woozy enough and frustrated and beaten down enough that he risked launching into a stream-of-consciousness with anyone who'd listen. He didn't really want to do that but this lady was nice. "I'm too tired to take all of it on right now by myself is what I'm saying. I don't have the strength or wherewithal anymore."

"Oh well you gotta do the tests, you gotta do the treatments right?" she said. "What other choice do you have?"

Eddie clasped his hands in his lap. "I plan to refuse treatment. I mean when the time comes."

The lady had furiously started up with her needles. She was knitting what looked like clothing for an infant baby.

She paused. "Refuse? But that's not okay, is it? I mean not good for you. I mean not if you have a bad condition, whaddya mean refuse? Do you have a bad condition? Medicine does wonders ya know, right?"

The rest of the bus was quiet. The lady's voice dominated, carrying to the front-of-the-bus posse, while Eddie's voice was muffled. The bus could easily hear the lady's line of questioning, however had to strain for Eddie's response.

He answered the lady's question. "Yeh it's a bad condition. But I plan on letting things progress naturally. I mean all the diseases. There's no use trying to stop them."

The bus pulled into the parking lot of the shopping center. Someone up front dinged the bell requesting it stop. Eddie leaned forward in his seat then stood up. "Okay time for us to get off right?" he asked his lady friend.

The lady looked up from her seat. "So what does that mean what you said there, 'no use trying to stop them?'"

Eddie stood in front of the exit door as the bus slowed down for their stop. The lady was up with her bags right behind him.

"Exactly what you think it means."

Article © Pete Armetta. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-03-11
Image(s) © Alan McCormick. All rights reserved.
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