Friday, December 7, 2007
The Big Scare.
The hospital waiting room.
Sitting cozy in the train station in Berlin at noon, I never would expect that 24 hours later, I would be sitting in a plastic chair in a hospital waiting room in Torun, Poland.
It all happened so quickly. I was walking with my cousin Tomek and his wife Ala, up a flight of steps outside in the city. When Ala reached the top, I saw her heels buckle a little. I thought that something got stuck on her heel. It was raining and she had worn high heels by accident. She called for her husband, then walked down some steps where I saw her stumble and then crumble to the floor. When I ran over, she was lying on the ground, blood and foam coming from her mouth, eyes blankly looking ahead. She was making weird gurgling noises. It looked like she was having a heart attack. Someone on the street called the ambulance from their cell phone, while Tomek tried to help her and I held the umbrella over them. He lifted her head, and blood rolled down her face from her forehead, where she must have hit herself when she fell. It was completely surreal--was she going to make it?--and yet I felt calm and Tomek was acting calm. The girl who called the ambulance was a mess. Finally, Ala seemed to come to, she was able to sit up, even stand, but she could not remember her name or who we were or where we were. Fifteen minutes later, the ambulance came and whisked her away. Tomek and I, in silence, went in the car and followed her there. And that is how I ended up in the hospital waiting room thinking, "How did everything change so fast?"
It was all non-eventful at first. Boarding the train at Berlin on the Warsaw Express, I noticed immediately that the attractiveness level of the passengers downgraded, the language turned shrill, the bags and luggage were enormous. Oh yes, I was back with my people. I was going back to Poland.
I was sitting in a train car filled with Poles who smirked when the German conductor tried to speak Polish over the loudspeaker (even to me her accent sounded funny). Moments later, I get a phone call from Ania, my mother's childhood friend, from Lipno, Poland. "Welcome to Poland!" she screeched on the phone. I had to leave the train car to speak with her. No way was I going to speak broken Polish in front of this crowd. I could not hear her at all and yelled Polish nonsense into the phone but by the time I arrived to my destination, everyone in Poland (and my mother in America) knew that I had spoken to her and all about my great Polish speaking skills.
I met Tomek and Ala at the train station. I have only met Tomek once, seven years ago, when I came to Poland for the first time. This was my first time meeting his wife. Neither of them speak any English and so I dove in and tried to speak, only to find it incredibly hard and frustrating. I couldn't communicate anything. That is what two months of not speaking Polish does to you.
"You speak so well!" they said, but it was very hard for me to really say what I meant and tiring to follow their words, especially when they said "Do you know what we are saying?" and I never knew. With such limited speaking skills, I had to size them up in a different way. Tomek seems a friendly, joking sort. While Ala is very attractive and went out of her way to make me feel comfortable. She made us a delicious Polish supper, including the requisite plate of Polish ham, cooked ham wrapped in bacon, and potatoes in a yummy cheese. They made me eat and eat. No wasn't ever the right answer to "do you want more?" She also made a terrific cheesecake.
"Does your mom make cheesecake?" she said me. My mom is actually known for her cheesecake and I wanted to say that yes, she does, but it is different because the cheese in her cake is very heavy and yours is very light. I did not know how to say that, so I just told Ala that hers was better. It is not the total truth, but she seemed really happy about that answer. Sorry mom! It was good cheesecake though.
I had also mentioned to my mom a few days ago that I had a harmless cough, and so they handed me an entire bag filled with five different kinds of medicine.
"I'm not sick!" I said. They are not sure whether to believe me or not.
The two of them took me to a bar down the street, where we met a man and owner of the bar named Kayman who was built like a football player and had a foot-long beard that he tied in two braids. He sat and had a beer with us, sitting backwards in a chair, and he would pull his braids, his chin coming along with it, to have them hang over the chair back. He spoke so fast that I did not understand him otherwise, so watching this maneover was fascinating. I couldn't figure out if this person was related to us or not. I left thinking no. His bar was very cold, only a stove heater to warm the place, and it was decorated in a sixties theme, but there was also a very cool road sign that said "ul. Metallica." (ul., short for ulica, means road in Polish).
"My brother would love that!" I told him, Metallica being Pete's favorite band. I was going to take a picture, but then he went over to it, took it down and gave it to me, and I was completely surprised.
Happy Birthday, Pete!
I came home exhausted, but Tomek and Ala fought over my attention, showing me pictures and things that they thought would interest me. They had come up with their own "program" for me for the next week, and we planned to spend all day Friday in the city of Torun. This morning, everything seemed to be going to plan, but then ten minutes into my tour, everything changed.
The Polish hospital was like every other hospital that I have ever been in. Sterile looking and depressing as anything. Sitting near the emergency room door, I watched people coming. There was the guy who hurt his back, the old man with hands like limp roses against his chest, sad grandmas and grandpas looking minutes away from their deathbed.
Tomek was nervous and kept pacing and around and calling people on the phone. Then we found out that Ala was fully conscious and fine and we had to wait for the results of her tests. She came out to the waiting room.
"Why don't you take Yvonne to Torun as I wait for the results?" I couldn't believe that she suggested that. And that Tomek seemed to be considering. He said no because his jacket was completely bloody and he did not want to walk around like that. I breathed a sigh of relief. But then he insisted on taking me out to eat. And so we went to a mall, where they played Christmas music that seemed horribly cheerful considering the mood, and he bought me a pizza. He did not eat any, which only made me feel worse. We sat in silence, the only thing he said to me was "I don't know what is going to happen with the program now." They were worried about me, when they had bigger issues at hand. I tried to communicate that I did not care about the program but my words were not articulate.
We went back and found Ala in the waiting room, still waiting.
"I am upset you did not get to see Torun," Ala said.
"Don't worry about it," I said, "I just want you to be healthy." Finally the right words came out. She started to cry. I hugged her. We had to wait a few more hours, but the tests came out okay and the doctors let her leave. This might be wrong in translation, however, from what I understand, she has some heart problems and has a device in her heart and it did not work for a few seconds because of the weather or something and the blood did not get to her brain which is why that all happened. They advised her to see her regular doctor but said it probably would not happen again.
We drove back home and had a small dinner and watched tv. Ala seemed completely fine that made the whole thing feel even more surreal. She has no memory of what happened and so we repeated the story to her over and over, and Tomek finally revealed how scared he really was.
They still want to go on with my travel program. I am only concerned with Ala's health and am content to forget it or go off on my own. I even had my mom over the phone try to talk some sense into them, but they did not listen. We will see what happens.
When it comes to Polish hospitality, the guest is never the boss.
Ala, at the bar.
Kayman and Tomek.
What I saw of Torun.