I have taken up running despite the reality that I’ve never been much of a runner. Something in my physiology is impervious to the runner’s high that others experience. I am flooded with all the other symptoms of running: sweating, fatigue, rapid heart rate and a desire to lie down in front of an oncoming car. Just not the endorphin rush. In fact, my body is so averse to running that my foot virtually broke itself the last time I endeavored to strain my cardiovascular system. The series of humiliating events that followed has kept me at a pace just above an amble for years. The mere telling of this tale causes my foot — and my pride — to ache.
I was married and living in New York City when it happened. Like all couples who live near Central Park unavoidably do, we determined to start running together. Greg was seated on the edge of our bed, fully dressed in wicking fabrics and listening to music certain to cause nightmares, waiting for me to finish getting ready. I padded by him in my bare feet. The small toe of my left foot caught upon his Nike and was pulled in a dramatic right angle to the rest of my toes. My reaction was stoic, bold, Academy Award-winning. Like Jodie Foster in “Nell.” As I moaned, my toe began to swell and pulse with heat. By the evening, a maroon bruise had crept up my foot, which I conservatively diagnosed as gangrene.
I knew that I should be airlifted to the nearest emergency room, but I was told that I’d have to settle for a taxi. It was, however, one of those nights in Manhattan in which a helicopter would have been easier to procure than a cab.
My foot throbbed in pain as Greg disappeared around the block in search of transport. I sat on the curb, despairing over the pain and the fact that I’d crumpled to the sidewalk on the exact spot every dog in the neighborhood chooses to urinate upon. Hunched over my knees for what seemed hours, I heard the sound of my name through the heavy air. I looked up in exhilaration, expecting to see him holding open a taxi door.
Instead he was sitting in the back of a rickshaw. The Manhattan rickshaw is the only form of transportation considered by locals more degrading than horse-drawn carriage. I once saw a grown woman wearing nothing but a T-shirt and shoes pushing a cumbersome plastic Barbie house up Broadway. I guarantee you she couldn’t find a cab and considered a rickshaw — and undergarments — a completely ludicrous proposition.
I asked the driver to take us to the closest hospital. Once en route, horrific tales of New York City hospitals sprang to mind — overcrowding and lethal strains of bacteria. I recalled the recent photos festooning every magazine cover of Sarah Jessica Parker emerging from Lenox Hill hospital with her newborn son.
“Actually to Lenox Hill!” I screeched without warning.
Greg looked at me, confused, and countered, “That’s on the other side of town. Why would we go there?”
I looked at him defiantly, settled into the soiled seat of our rickshaw, and explained my belief that my gangrenous leg should be treated at the same facility that ushered a celebrity child into the world.
I hobbled into the emergency room, fully expecting it to look like a Pottery Barn showroom with the likes of Mayor Giuliani and Kevin Bacon flipping through magazines. It was drab and dated. There were no mayors. There were not even disgraced congressmen. Certain that this could not be where a world-famous celebrity would have chosen to check herself into, I asked a security guard if there was a separate wing for high-profile clientele. He signaled to the woman who would take my medical history with a slow nod, surely to communicate, “Potential psychiatric admit.” Greg ushered me to a seat to wait our turn with the rest of the hoi polloi.
“Would you like some Combos from the celebrity vending machine?” he goaded. “I hear Matthew Broderick actually put his own quarters in there.”
After languishing long enough to be eligible for Medicare, they began my examination. Each time a practitioner would enter the room, Greg would mock my foolishness. “Is that the celebrity X-ray machine?” When an orderly swept the room with a mop, he wondered aloud, “Could there be any strands of Julia Robert’s hair in that bucket?” I listened, red-faced and purple-footed, as the ER doctor explained the treatment for foot fractures, which boils down to wearing a piece of athletic tape. As he completed my discharge papers, Greg paced the floor anxiously.
He raked his fingers through his hair and said, “Doctor, I just have one question.”
I winced, for I knew he was plugging in the coordinates for the nuclear bomb of public humiliation. “Does this sort of thing happen to … celebrities?”
I snatched my paperwork, called out something about making a large donation to the Sarah Jessica Parker Maternity Ward, and hobbled as rapidly as my foot could bear out of that hospital. Greg following behind, smirking triumphantly. Once we were tucked into a taxi headed for home, he produced from his jacket a token stolen from the exam room, to commemorate our time there.
A powder blue plastic bed pan. “I heard that Donald Trump used this.”
Erin Donovan moved with her family to the midcoast, where she constantly is told she says the word “scallops” incorrectly. She performs live and produces Web sketches derived from her popular humor blog “I’m Gonna Kill Him.” Follow her on Twitter @gonnakillhim.