I’m Going Home At Five

I was tagged with a plastic wristband, then wheeled upstairs to a room. After my children left, I was bored and asked if I could walk around with my dangling bag of saline on a pole. They let me walk the halls, but wouldn’t allow me into the waiting room.

That night as I listened to the chirping of machines, the low rumble of cart wheels, and the clank and swish of mop buckets in the hall, all I could think was, “I need to get out of here.” A man across the hall was hacking so hard it sounded like his lungs were going to come up his throat, and a lady’s moans sliced sharply through the quiet. “I don’t want to catch something from some resistant bug scouting the halls, and I don’t want to walk the halls while the chorus of snores and squeak of nurse shoes were the dominant sounds. Besides they will just tell me to get some sleep, again.”

The next morning before the limp breakfast sausage, dry scrambled eggs, burnt coffee and warm juice, hit the trays, I stopped at the desk on my morning walk to bug the  receptionist who was rubbing her eyes and holding a cup of coffee. “Where is the doctor who said he would see me this morning? When do I get the MRI?”

“They’re busy, it might be best if you wait in your room.”

“Well, just to let you know. I’m going home at five. There’s nothing wrong with me and I need to take care of my dog. Please let the doctor know.”

I picked at my cold breakfast, looked out the window at the lazy clouds, paced the halls some more, and asked the nurses hourly, “Where’s the doctor?”

Sarah and my best friend Margaret came to visit before noon, giving temporary relief to the nurses. One nurse who came to check my vitals, had a very kind mannerism which helped put me at ease, so my guard was down when she mentioned, “You might as well get some sleep because the doctor probably won’t be able to see you today, it’s Saturday.”

“But, I’m going home at five because there’s no reason to keep me here. My blood pressure is normal and they’ve already said my x-rays and e.k.g. were fine.

The nurse shrugged and threw her hands in the air, and then turned to my daughter. “Tell your mom she needs to stay.”

“Oh no, I can’t tell my mother what to do.” Before she left, my daughter said to call when I was ready.

The doctor never arrived. I heard the nurses talking to him on the phone about me saying I was going home at five. He told them, “She will have to sign against medical advice papers.”

I said I would sign if they weren’t there by five.

The MRI tech appeared around 3:00pm. He said he was pulled out of an E.R. and told to go to Community to give me the procedure. I still needed to see a neurologist, who supposedly wasn’t available that day. I began to get my things ready to leave. I called my daughter and asked her to come get me.

A few minutes to five, a neurologist arrived, and did a complete exam. I said, “You sure were thorough, have you been doing this a long time?” “No, this is my first time doing this alone. I just finished my residency.”

Finally, I heard the nurse on the phone telling the E.R. doctor that I passed the exam. But he wanted me to stay one more night to get the results from the MRI. I told them it was after five and I was leaving. He gave in. I went home.

They never found out what was wrong.

A few days later I was helping Sarah with a poetry event at Fox Coffee House. Dav walked in as we were setting up.

I walked up to him and said, “Hi, do you still want to go out for pie?”

A few months after we were married, I was in the front yard trimming the hedges. I felt the bushes sway and sounds become muffled. I climbed down and made it into the house. I plopped onto my office chair and began to look up my symptoms. I was sweating and nauseous when Dav walked in.

“Are you okay?” he asked “No, I’m not.” We barely made it to the bathroom. My reflection in the mirror was white as a sheet.

Conclusion: I was once more taken by ambulance, but to a different hospital. Hours later a doctor came in and said I had acute vertigo. I was sent home with a prescription. I finally was diagnosed with Meniere’s Disease by House Clinic in L.A.

Who Will Take Care of Joey

Who Will Take Care of Joey


A few days before the date Dav and I had made to go out for pie, I woke up feeling a little off, so I ate oatmeal and blueberries for breakfast thinking it was just hunger pangs. Then I drove up the hill to Costco for gas, but as I began to pump I suddenly felt the earth swaying like I was in a small boat in a wild storm. “I need to get home,”  was all I could think.


On the drive home I believe that I had angels guiding the car because I sure wasn’t. As I parked in the parallel space in front of my garage, my car seemed to bend like a slinky. Somehow I knew to keep my cell phone in my right hand as I opened the front door with my left. I let my dog Joey go in ahead of me. My legs buckled under me as the door slammed behind me. I couldn’t stop my descent and my head hit the floor. My little dog sat nearby while I made a few attempts to lift my head. I was able to call 911 and tell the operator I needed help. She connected me with a fireman who asked if I could get up and retrieve some papers from my room. I believe this was a test to see if I really could get up.


“I can’t even lift my head.”


“Turn on your side in case you throw up.”


I did as instructed and promptly lost my breakfast.


I heard the fire truck and ambulance sirens within minutes. I was the only person on the block with a door facing the alley. They quickly checked my vital signs and determined I needed immediate transport to the hospital. I could hear Joey barking anxiously. I asked one of the fireman to get on his level and call him. I heard him say, “Come here buddy, it’s okay.” My dog calmed down as the fireman picked him up and shut him in my room. I asked them to leave the door unlocked so someone could reach him if needed.


At the E.R., I was unable to lift one leg to cross the other or touch the doctor’s finger as instructed. Everything became a blur of rectangular lights  and far away voices as I was hoisted onto a cold metal table and slapped all over my head and chest with round sticky objects. I didn’t stop throwing up.


I could see white uniformed figures coming and going for what seemed like hours while a nearby machine beeps incessantly. Finally I was able to keep my stomach fluids inside, and the little pills that were supposed to do that job. I heard the garbled sound of people asking me questions which I was unable to answer. It was like being in a nightmare where you’re yelling but no sound comes out. Slowly I began to recover enough to answer questions and I was finally able to touch the doctor’s finger and cross my leg.


“Ms. Skarin, we need to keep you overnight for more tests.” The doctor said.


“What kind of tests, I’m fine now.”


“We are concerned that you weren’t able to lift your leg or touch my finger. We need to do a neurological assessment and an MRI, even though your x-rays and e.k.g. were fine.”


“But, I need to get home and take care of my dog. He’s home alone.”


“Is there anyone you can call?”


“Yes, my daughter lives in Lakewood.” My cellphone was brought to me.


“Sarah, could you go over to the house and feed Joey and let him out ”


“Why, where are you?”  I never asked her to take care of Joey.


“I’m in the hospital.”


“What? Why?”


“I fell and I couldn’t get up. I had to call an ambulance.”


“Mom, I’m coming right now. Which hospital?”


“Community. But, what about Joey, who’s going to take care of him?”


“I’ll call Jeremy and ask him to take care of Joey.” (I later found out that the firemen had locked all the doors with my dog still in the bedroom. My son didn’t have the keys so he had to pry a window open and move my microwave and toaster oven off the stand to squeeze in through the narrow opening. My son is 6 feet 3 inches tall.)


Gentlemen May I Serve YOU?

I thrust out my hand to grasp a yellow-stained one
I looked deep into eyes filled with blood-red haze
Gentlemen, I said, “may I offer you a glass of cold water?”
Toothless grins crack wide open face
“Why yes mam, yes!”

Please sir will you set the table, set it nice, and set it pretty
Put three pastries on the plate and an applesauce and banana too
Place the coffee cup in a left-hand reach and a milk right next to that
Place a water glass on the right-hand and fill it to the brim
Place a napkin atop the pastries, thank you sir, and thank you ma’am

Who’s coming to eat? Someone important?
Someone with status, with clout, someone squeaky clean?
Can we get an autograph, a picture standing next to him?
We’ll bring a group from church, and praise them for their service
We’ll put their name in our bulletin and ask for a special offering

Oh no! You won’t know him when he comes, perhaps no one will
He’ll sit down among them and break and bless the food
He’ll help fill the water cups and even wash their feet
But what does he look like and what will he do?
He’ll say, “Would you like a glass of cold water gentlemen?”
He looks like me and you. Mt. 25:34-40 &; Luke 12:37

Pull Off The Street

I glanced in my side-view mirror as a line of police cars and motorcycles tore by me, filling in the left turn lanes as they wove across the wide lanes of Imperial Highway, and a loudspeaker command “Pull off the street, pull off the street now”, filled the cab of my camper truck.


My heart skipped a few beats as I looked  in my rear view mirror at the backs of the two men sitting stiffly on their haunches inside the camper shell.


I pulled to the curb, and once again  heard, “Pull off the street.” I glanced at Ahn sitting next to me. She was faced forward and motionless.


Before we could blink, the figures of two armed guards, with rifles pointed, filled the side windows. I rolled down the window and said, “Wh-what do you want?”


“We told you to pull off the street.” “Why didn’t you follow orders?”


“I didn’t understand what you meant.”


I could see the back door of the cab lift up and two more men with rifles pointed at the men inside who had automatically raised their arms. Just as quickly as they came the men retreated while barking one last order to, “Pull around the corner.” I finally understood and complied.


We parked around the corner and I quickly ran to the back and lifted the door. Tran and Thanh, the brothers of Ahn sat like statues. Their hands hugging their knees and their eyes rounded and still. I said, “Are you okay?” When they didn’t answer I knew they weren’t going to. I closed the back door and we left for work at a construction site a few miles away.


Neither Ahn, nor her brothers spoke the rest of the day. They worked like robots and ate their lunches with heads bowed.


I left them at their doorstep after work, but didn’t go in as I normally would to greet the rest of the family. I waved and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.” They nodded.


I heard on the evening news that Mondale had come to town with a motorcade. He was there to visit L.A., because he was going to run for the office of the President of the United States. I think most of us have forgotten about you already Walter, except those of us who were traumatized by your pompous entry. Next time, please take a cab.


The two brothers and the sister who worked for me were also friends of mine. Our church had sponsored them in the early 1980’s, after living in Camp Pendleton California after they fled Vietnam during the Communist takeover in 1975.

I was asked to volunteer to help the family adapt to California culture. The entire extended family all lived in a two-bedroom apartment. There were three brothers, a sister, and sister-in-law, the mother and father, and grandparents. One of the brothers was married to the sister-in-law and they had a one year old baby. So, ten people in one household.


The oldest brother was the cook and he would invite me over when they had barbecues. That was definitely the best Vietnamese food I have ever tasted. Barbecued meat thinly sliced and tender that was wrapped in mint and then lettuce leaves and served with savory bowls of noodles. They laughed at my attempts to sit on the chair on my haunches and slurp the noodles directly into my mouth.


When we went to work at a construction site the brothers, Tran and Thanh, would gather scraps of wood to make furniture for the family. They made me a very intricate table with an attached display shelf from the wood. I kept it for many years.


I took Tran and Ahn to a mall one day. Tran wore shorts and Ahn wore long black pants and they both wore flip-flops. They walked with hands clasped lightly behind their backs. They didn’t enter the shops, but instead stayed close to the rails away from the shops and just glanced sideways with eyes wide as they walked past.


One day Tran asked me to go with him to the laundromat. He brought the families clothes in a drawstring bag. He asked me how to use the machines.


“You put your clothes in the machine, then you put the soap in the slot for soap and it mixes in when the machine turns. The last thing you do is put your coins in the coin slot and push it in.”


He looked puzzled. “You put water in. You wash like this.” He held a piece of clothing up and rubbed it together.


“Oh no, you let the machine wash them. The agitator swishes them around in the soap.”


I knew how difficult it was assimilating into a culture that was so different then theirs but I think understanding how we spoke was the biggest hurdle. They were fast learners and good friends. Eventually they moved to an area where many other Vietnamese had settled.