Sunday, November 26, 2006

Meeting Miss Una

I checked myself out of the Black River clinic against the advice of the sole doctor in attendance. They had no x-ray equipment and no plans for treating me that day so I wanted out and I wanted to get to an actual hospital.

Or so I thought.

No ambulance service was available so Peter hailed down a local driver who insisted on the incredibly acceptable amount of $5 U.S. to transport me to the hospital in Savanna La Mar, some 40 minutes away. I had a makeshift splint on my leg, a shot of demerol, and delictately-split designer jeans, so we were off. Before we were allowed to depart, the nurse insisted on a $3 U.S. payment for services rendered. Done.

The hospital in Sav was not what I expected. I was wheeled in on a gurney, along a sidewalk lined with what seemed like hundreds of people, all ages and sizes, and all curiously interested in the white woman being wheeled past to the ER entrance. I guess it is human nature to stare down into the face of someone on a gurney as they pass, but it is downright bizarre to be on the receiving end, with stranger after stranger just staring you in the face.

After a long wait, various questions and inspections, I was admitted to the women's surgical ward and ascended to the 2nd floor in a rickety freight elevator. I was to spend the night; there were no x-ray technicians on duty on a Sunday so I would have to wait until morning to get a diagnosis for my shattered right leg.

The ward was large and full, with nearly 50 women occupying the narrow beds. An aisle ran down the center of the building, and there were several clusters of 4 beds on either side, broken up by low dividers. The walls were a bright, gaudy turquoise blue. The windows were not windows at all, but slatted wooden shutters, open to the outside, without screens. Remind me to tell you of the bird which flew in one side and out the other, the next morning.

I saw the bed reserved for me, but it had no sheets. It seems we had to provide our own. As I lay on the gurney by the nurses' station, a cockroach crawled along the guardrail. Hmmm. I wasn't certain that I had improved my situation.

Peter had disappeared briefly after I was admitted and suddenly re-appeared, bearing in one hand a small plastic bag filled with peeled oranges and cut-up pineapple and in the other, a small neat suitcase. Behind him stood a tiny, older woman with a cluster of short braids peeking out from under a turned-backward baseball cap. She wore a delicately flowered short-sleeved shirt, and a dark cotton skirt which hung below her knees. I couldn't see her feet.

"This is my mother."

Oh my. I offered my hand and introduced myself. And she shook it with a shy smile. I was surprised to see that although she had most of her teeth, several were black and rotting. A few had long gone. But Miss Una had packed me some sheets and proceeded to help make my bed. After the orderlies gently moved me from the gurney, I made room for Miss Una to sit near my feet. She gently smoothed the sheets but didn't speak much, except for a single word or two, and only when Debbie or I spoke to her.

Under the circumstances, small talk was virtually impossible. She was inscrutable. I offered her one of the oranges Peter had brought me. We both chomped away on them, it was a good alternative to conversation.

Meeting Miss Una
Ink and watercolor on paper
Purchase a print of this painting here.

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