I Won’t Have What He’s Having

Nancy, Sarah and I are sitting at a corner table at a restaurant in Norwalk.  I am facing the wall. Well, I’m facing my wife and daughter, but I mean my back is to the room.  I don’t enjoy this position, but someone has to take it. We’re just forking into some calamari, when the woman behind me screams.  It’s not like the high-pitched, “I’ve just seen a mouse!” scream, but it’s dramatic. This is one reason why I dislike the back-to-the-room seat. “Oh my god. That man!  Is there a doctor here?” Screaming lady has stood up, and is walking to the center of the dining room. I feel that it’s okay to turn around and check out the scene. You’re allowed to stare when someone is hollering for a doctor.  At first I look at the man who is with the screaming woman. Is he choking? No. That’s silly. Why would the woman have said, “That man,” if she meant the man she was with. But what is it then?

She continues yelling.  “Really! Is there anyone here who’s a doctor?  A nurse? There’s a man down.” The way she says “Man down,” is right out of a movie.  I scan the restaurant floor. It’s mostly just feet and chair legs, maybe a few purses.

“Oh my God.”  That’s Sarah talking.  I turn back to the table and see that Sarah is pointing behind me toward the table where screaming lady was sitting.  I swivel again, and this time, through the floor-to-ceiling window, see the man. He’s outside the restaurant on the steps just outside the door. He’s flat on his back and looks like he’s out cold, or worse.  

The yelling woman has actually gotten almost no attention from the restaurant patrons or staff.  She seems shocked that there is not a single doctor in the room. She turns back toward us, a look of disbelief on her face.  “Really, I’m just a teacher,” I say to myself. I feel like she thinks someone at our table is a closet doctor. Maybe she had been overhearing our conversation over the calamari.  Sarah works for an eye doctor, so she had been talking about the lunch spread with the the big drug rep. She may have been mentioning some of the medications he was peddling. This all runs through my head quickly, but then the reality takes over. I look back at the man. A woman is crouching next to him.  She’s lifting his head off the ground.  He appears to be regaining consciousness.

“Is someone calling 9-1-1?” Sarah asks?  

“I would think so,” Nancy replies.  We scan the room. Many of the patrons have resumed their meal, seemingly unperturbed by the commotion of Screaming Lady or Man Down.  I look back through the window at the front step. They have the man up in a seated position on the sidewalk.  I see him exhale a cloud of mist.  He’s breathing. I see the crouching woman and another woman standing on the other side of the man.  Screaming Woman is back at her seat. She’s talking to her table mate in a loud voice. “I thought he was dead. Did you see his eyes roll back?” Her partner nods. I know, because I am now fully swiveled, not the least concerned about appearing to stare.  “There’s a fire department right down the street. I’m sure they have an EMT,” Screaming Woman says.  She’s no longer screaming, but I don’t know her name, so I’ll continue to call her that.

“Did anyone call 9-1-1?” Sarah repeats.  We look around to see if anyone is on their phone.  Amazingly, no one appears to be dialing, or really paying any attention to the scene.

“I can call,” I offer, reaching for my phone.  No one responds.  I hesitate. We look back at the man. Now the people are trying to help him stand.

“They’re trying to move him,” Nancy says. “I think they should be waiting for an ambulance.”  The man wobbles, and the two women try to help him take a step. Another man appears by their side.  He lends his support. Man Down takes two shaky steps and collapses again on the sidewalk.

“That’s it, I’m calling,” Sarah declares.  She whips out her phone and dials. She tells the dispatcher the address and the situation, and they say they’ll send someone right away.  Sarah stands up and heads for the door to tell the people that she’s called an ambulance. I see them having a brief conversation, and then Sarah heads back toward us.  As she sits down she fills us in. “They told me to cancel it. How would I do that? I don’t think you can just cancel a 9-1-1 call.”

“I don’t think so either,” Nancy agrees.  “Besides, why would they want to cancel it?”

“They’re saying they can take him to the hospital themselves.”

“Why would they want to do that?” I ask.

“Well, an ambulance costs like $5000.”

“What else did they say?”

“Apparently he had a root canal today and he took some Vicodin.  Then he drank at dinner.”

“Ohhh. That could do it,”  Nancy says.

At this point the woman and the man that had been helping Man Down, return to the restaurant and pick up a coat and a purse from the table that is diagonally behind us. “Wait, were they sitting right there?”  I ask.

“Yeah,” says Sarah matter-of-factly.  I had assumed that they had finished a meal and were leaving the restaurant when the man collapsed.  Apparently he had just left to get some air.

The couple goes back outside and walks Man Down toward the parking lot.  They’ve just gotten out of my sight when the fire engine pulls up from the other direction, its red lights flickering off the walls of the restaurant.  We watch as the woman talks to the fireman. She appears to be explaining the situation. Moments later the ambulance and a police car pull up. The man who had been with Man Down approaches the responders and seems to be waving them off.

“It looks like they’re telling them they don’t need the ambulance,” Sarah says.

“I would not want to be driving that man by myself,” Nancy says. “What if he passes out in the car?”

“Do I need to go out there?” Sarah asks.  “I did give my name.”

At that point the couple who had been eating with Man Down walk back toward the entrance to the restaurant.  They open the door and head to their table. They sit down at their table as the ambulance and police car drive off.  They resume their meal. Really? I think. I swivel back toward the wall and face my wife and daughter. Behind me I hear Screaming Lady say, “Well, that was some excitement.”

“Was I wrong to call 9-1-1?” Sarah asks.

“No, I think that’s exactly what you should have done.  I don’t think they should have taken that risk. We can just hope that they get to the hospital and he’s okay,” Nancy says. I let her know that I agree, wondering why I wasn’t the one who called.

Then, though it seems a bit inappropriate given the previous events,  I reach my fork across the table and stab another calamari.  

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16 thoughts on “I Won’t Have What He’s Having

  1. Well, wasn’t that an exciting dinner. Naming the man Man Down was quite effective in keeping track of what was happening to him. I don’t like to sit with back to the restaurant – I much prefer to be able to people watch a bit during dinner. I think Sarah did the right thing by calling 911, too! Love her take charge approach! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah. I felt a bit sheepish that she had been the one to call, especially since she got a little bit of the stink eye from the man who came back to his table. Apparently he didn’t like having someone else make the call. We said, “Better safe than sorry,” is the right “call” in this case.

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  2. I was also struck by Sarah’s take charge attitude. She recognized a problem and a room full of people that appeared to assume someone else would take care of it. You’ve raised a thoughtful girl!

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  3. Great writing here. I was interested throughout. I suppose it was a little “inappropriate” in some eyes to go back to the calamari but calamari is delicious and Man Down is probably just fine!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So much works here. Obviously, it’s a great story (how do you end up in these situations?), but your writing makes it even better. Juxtaposition everywhere: opening with the names of your dinner companions then using generic (but very apt) names for those involved in the drama, the screams of Screaming Lady vs the intimacy of your dinner conversation, the concern at your table vs the relative apathy of the rest of the restaurant. Then there’s the relative distance of Man Down, shaken when it turns out he was originally seated close to you. And the frame of the mundanity of your dinner as you start and end with the calamari. It’s really very good.
    Sidenote: please tell Sara that she was right to call & that she should not hesitate to call again. I have been the only one to call when something happened – twice! – and it made all the difference. We don’t need to apologize for doing the right thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Gripping! It’s so sad that medical care costs can prevent people from seeking care. We don’t know what they were really thinking, but I’ve heard horror stories! I also liked your technique of naming the characters in the story.

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    1. That was our conversation on the way home. My daughter was telling us that there’s a real problem now with people calling Ubers instead of ambulances, because they can afford them.

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  6. First of all – spectacular title! I just heard a piece today about people knowing famous lines from movies they have never seen (I’ve seen this movie and know the quote!). I also love Man Down and Screaming Lady. Fantastic character names. And the tension of this piece works so well too – should I call? Why didn’t I call? Why isn’t anyone calling? (p.s. My father refuses to sit with his back to the door….says he’s worried about Jesse James!)

    Liked by 1 person

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