It was a friggin drill, with medieval claws, perfect for removing, well, you know.
November second, two thousand and three -
He thought the pain would kill him. How could the human body endure this? The fear, though, was just as bad. The entire world was ripped away from him. Gone. No sun no. No color. No light. No darkness. Just, nothing. He was suffocating. He was breathing like a fish thrown onto the deck of a pushed him and laughed at him.
Suddenly, the sounds of the street were all around. There were cars and small trucks. He could hear old ladies talk about the marketplace and the sounds of kids playing.
The rest of that day of the dead was about staying alive.
You know when you're so scared that suddenly everything is surreal? Part of you cannot believe what's happening is actually, um, happening. You know it's not a dream though and that realization makes your stomach feel like it does when you go on one of those rides. You know, the kind where they drop you and you fall straight down. What is it? 9.8 meters per second of acceleration every second? Gravity, constantly pulling, no, sucking you down towards the fire pit at the center of the earth.
I had never been involved in a dangerous situation. So accidentally running into a coup d'etat sets off every panic button in my being. I was supposed to volunteer for a free clinic; I had had this sudden maternal desire to make the world better for a few people. What is wrong with me? I am now in the streets of Mexico with my horrible sense of direction and my only recently acquired understanding of Spanish. The clinic? Who knows? Maybe they had to move or abandon operations all together. It should be here and it's not.
My rental car will eventually run out of gas. I think I already have. Got to pull over and collect myself. Where is the map? Papers, too many, old wrappers, shopping bags and who knows what else take up the passenger seat and the floor of the car.
What? Through the windows and the locked doors of my little coup I hear a pleading voice. It's a kid in a yellow shirt and it's Spanish, yay. "Señorita, señorita!, que necesita ayuda. Es una emergencia!" He's riding his little bicycle towards me. He has to be no more than ten years old and he sounds desperate. I'm nervous and scared. Yet, here I am rolling down the window for a total stranger in a foreign country in the middle of some sort of revolution; smart. He continues talking but it's way too fast. Why the hell did I take French in high school? That new Rosetta Stone program was helpful, though. 'Concentrate, damn it.' Apparently, there is a "persona herida." He beckons me and I drive, slowly as he pedals his little legs off. We do this for three or four blocks, past fires and in the dust. Is that a body? I don't want to know. I look straight ahead and ignore the dead. It's, horrifyingly akin to the way I look away from road kill in the U.S.
There he is, slumped against a brick wall. The setting sun has made him into a silhouette and I can't see details until we get closer but he seems to be dressed like someone out of a Sergio Leone western. He has about four guns on him. Am I hallucinating? Have my nerves finally driven me over the edge?
After pulling over, I follow the kid to him. My stomach is in knots. I am not a trauma physician and medical school was a few years ago. Is he conscious? What if I can't save him because I forgot something basic? Ok, he's breathing. That's good. ABC. Airway breathing circulation. It's C that could be a problem. He's bleeding from multiple wounds and looks pale. I touch him on the chest. "sir?," um, "señor?". He looks American but who knows? He doesn't respond. Or was that a tiny flinch? Probably not. Okay we have a wound in each thigh and his left upper arm. What is it again? Add bullets in the body and bullet holes. The number should be even. Yeah that's it. The bleeding on his face is not a gunshot wound. WTF it looks like the wound is confined to the area behind his large black Ray Bans. Almost surgical. I grab at the sunglasses and a gloved hand materializes around my wrist. It hurts. How could he be this fast and strong?
"Don't " It's not a request. It's a command. And I get the feeling that there will be consequences if I ignore him. Not that I could. He has not let go of my arm.
"I'm sorry, I'm a physician and I'm trying to see how bad your injuries are."
"I know" He has this grim determination. "Just,... Don't. You don't want to. Okay?"
"Ok, let's get you to a hospital." I don't want to waste any precious "golden hour" time arguing with a guy who is obviously out of his cranium with blood loss and agony. But why does he seem so controlled and calm? Part of me realizes that he knows exactly what's going on. He knows how severely injured he is.
Still, he's not logical. "No." It looks like it takes an effort for him to talk. "You say you're a doctor? Can't you treat me? Or at least try to keep me alive? "
"I'm not a trauma specialist. I have been doing outpatient medicine, not surgery. I
have zero experience with gunshot wounds."
"Fuck. Just do your best. If I die, at least this will be over and I won't feel like shit." His pale death pallor suddenly develops sallow undertones. "Crap." He starts heaving and I help him sit upright so that he can throw up without choking. This is going to be delightful.
Yet, somehow, it's not the worst thing, to be needed like this. I did come to this god forsaken country to help people. This wasn't the exact plan, but it looks like there aren't too many other options. I can't just leave him and I think he has more than one reason for staying away from he hospital. And yeah, it still feels like some sort of dream or a Dali painting. I'm on an adrenaline induced autopilot. No time for endless introspection and obsessive attention to detail. Feels good.
The kid has been watching us the entire time. "We have to get you out of here. Can you help?" I look at him. He jumps into action. He obviously understands some English. I just wish he was bigger and stronger. Hell, I wish I was bigger and stronger. How the crap are we going to get him into the car?
I pull the car up as close as I can and I grab a bottle of water. "Can you drink? He is obviously dehydrated. The vomiting did not help. "Not too fast." He was obviously thirsty. I grab a paper towel from the car and help him clean up a little. The blood is pretty much crusted onto his face but some comes off. The paper towel turns dark red. We are going to need medical supplies. And where the hell are we going to take him?
"Can you stand at all? I don't think we can carry you."
"Whatever. Just do it." He looks resigned and weak. This is not good. What if he doesn't make it? I push that thought back into the recesses of my brain and look at the kid.
"We have to help him into the back seat."
Somehow, with grunting and groaning on my part and some wincing on his, we get him into the car. He lays down in the back seat so gingerly it hurts to watch. Fuck. I can't believe this.
"Is there some sort of hotel we can go to?"
"We get out Culiacan first. I can't stay here. The people who did this to me will finish what they started." He's so coherent, it's scary.
Oh great. People still want to kill him? Isn't what he's been through, enough? Also, I'm sure whoever wants to get him will not hesitate to get me and the kid out of the way. Ok, now I hate this. Really, I do.
Yet, there is still that adrenaline rush. The kind that helps you focus like a laser and do what you need to do in order to survive.
The pharmacist did not ask questions. We got pain meds antibiotics saline, gauze, medical tape and more water. I also got him some Gatorade and crackers. He would only vomit more if he took the meds on an empty stomach and I doubt he's eaten recently.
Turns out, I'm supposed to call him Jeff. The kid is Albert, or Alberto. He isn't picky and he speaks some English. I realize that I want to know more about this surreal cowboy but I know he's not in any shape for a conversation at this point. Frankly, it would be more merciful if he was unconscious, which I think he is, intermittently. He's quiet, now. Of course it's hard to tell with those sun glasses. What the hell is going on under those dark lenses? It doesn't look like a fall or a gunshot. Did someone hone in on injuring his eyes? What was he involved in that someone would do that?What kind of person was he and whose side was he on? Ok, I know. I don't even know exactly what's going on or who I'm rooting for, so why should I care?