Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Guru in the Elevator

It was this time a year ago. I was in the thick of allo transplant recovery, meaning I was tired, uncomfortable, irritable, frustrated, nauseous and in pain – a regular emotional biatch.

This particular morning I was particularly tired, swollen, hot and weak and was not at all eager to make the trek from Hope Lodge in midtown to Sloan-Kettering on the Upper East Side for a 9 a.m. clinic appointment. At that point the clinic appointments were essentially daily, and it was getting old and exhausting.

Every couple has their sticking point and ours for the summer of 2011 was cab hailing. A certain woman begged every night to call ahead to schedule a cab for door-to-door service. It would be a bit more expensive, but would save a whole lot of headache. A certain man with his certain manly stubbornness was confident that every morning getting a cab would be a breeze. He wanted to walk a block to the commuter epicenter of Herald Square and stick his hand out amid the chaos.

We woke and got dressed. Though it was already 80 degrees and humid at 8 a.m., as usual I was wrapped in jeans and a sweater trying to combat my lack of warming red blood cells, hair and body fat. I was a chilled waif.

The tension was already starting to seethe between us as I absently ate my toasted waffle with a side of six pills and a gagging spoonful of chalky anti-fungal rinse to wash it down.

I covered my face and nose with my requisite yellow mask and snapped my fingers into my germ protective blue latex-free plastic gloves – the picture of fashion. Shuffling on my stick-thin legs Craig and I made our way out of the Hope Lodge building and up 32nd street to Broadway, eyes peeled for an open yellow cab.

Finding an open yellow cab at 8 a.m. on a weekday right at the hub where the Long Island Railroad, New Jersey Transit, and a slew of subway stops dump is like finding sea glass in desert sand. It’s a fierce competition among people stepping into the street with fingers extended into the air, legs poised in a stance of arrogance and urgency. The available cabs are few and far between, most already occupied, and getting one to stop for someone who looks like they’re carrying a communicable disease makes the challenge damn near impossible.

I was quickly losing patience and energy was fading. Craig stood there tirelessly on the corner with his arm out as cab after cab whizzed by or as others cut right in front of us just 10 feet ahead and weaseled their asses into a ride.

“This isn’t going to work,” I said. Time was ticking and we were losing our traffic buffer that would get us to my appointment on time. I loathed being late. The later I got to clinic, the later I got out. 

“We should have called ahead for a cab, ” I rubbed in to add salt to the already pulsing wound. “I told you we should have called last night. We’re never going to get a fucking cab here.”

Craig stood stoically, arm outstretched and unwavering as I danced around him like a nagging bumblebee. He wouldn’t even acknowledge me. My angst and frustration were getting to dangerous levels.

10 minutes passed.

5 more minutes passed.

No cab possibilities.

“We should just start walking,” I yelled through my mask, which muffled the severity of my tone. “This is the worst place to get a cab. It’s never going to happen.”

Craig quipped back at me telling me to be patient and that we had plenty of time.

Patient? I thought. Things didn’t have to be this difficult if somebody wasn’t so stubborn and we could have just planned ahead.

“Why wouldn’t you just call the cab company like I asked?” I yelled as I started to roll into temper tantrum mode right there amid the suited businesspeople all around us. The question was rhetorical at this point. I was just feeding fuel to a fiery situation.

Five more minutes passed with no signs of a ride. The frustration was escalating. I was hot and then cold and then nauseous and then woozy. I was still getting transfusions of nutrients at this point, functioning (barely) with scant potassium and magnesium, never mind a body wrecked by chemo and not enough blood cells to sneeze at. I hadn’t taken a normal shit in days and was unstable and getting angry.

“I’m going to the Penn Station cab line,” I announced to Craig. Penn Station was a long avenue block from where we were standing, but I knew that there were guaranteed cabs there. There would also be a guaranteed line of people waiting to get into those cabs, but at least it was a sure bet.

“That’s ridiculous, Karin,” Craig said, his voice now escalating. “Just wait.”

My mind was made up. Now my stubbornness had set in.

“I don’t know what the F you’re doing, but I’m going to get a cab to get to my appointment,” I bomb dropped and started on my way. Ooooh, this is a good way to get him back, I thought evilly, because obviously the whole New York City cab inefficiency problem was Craig’s fault.

Now it was a competition of who was going to get in a cab first. I didn’t give a damn if we took separate cabs up Manhattan: that would make my original idea of door-to-door service be the much more economical choice.

I was on my way, weaving through the throngs of people pouring out of Penn Station going against the grain at a real fast clip. I had only recently found my legs again and hadn’t walked much more than the minimal steps required to get through the day. But that morning I got my sprint back, spurred solely by determination to prove a point.

My sunglasses were steaming from the forced air coming up through my mask as I choked on its staleness and my hands began to moisten with sweat and itch within their plastic encasements. I pushed on, fast walking my bony little ass to the corner opposite the cab line – which was about 30 people deep – when my cell phone rang.

What?!” I angrily breathed into the phone at Craig.

“Where are you?” he asked. “I have a cab. You need to get here.”

I could hear the cab driver in the background yelling at Craig to get in amid the honks and hollers of drivers trying to get around him.

“I’m already at Penn Station,” I quipped, which wasn’t entirely true.

He couldn’t believe that I had made it that far that fast. I turned around to head back to him and the cab he had snagged, but of course didn’t tell him that. I thought it would be more emotionally effective to hang up on him.

I shuffled up the street dodging people with rolling suitcases and men hocking over their tables of framed Justin Bieber photo prints, bootleg movies, peace pipes, chinsy phone cases and plastic Empire State Building replicas.

It only took a few yards before I started seeing stars and thought I might damn pass out in a puddle of street piss. My cell phone rang again, echoing violently through my throbbing head.

“What?!” I quipped again. I knew damn well what.

Where the hell are you? I can’t hold this cab for long; the guy is screaming at me,” Craig pleaded.

“I’m coming!” I spat into the phone, this time keeping our connection open so that he could hear my labored breathing as I lumbered the rest of the way up the block – good dramatic effect.

The cab driver was off his rocker in anger, yelling: “Get out of my car! This is not your cab to hold!”

Craig was holding the back seat door open, totally manipulating the situation. I heard him pleading with the driver saying that I was just a few yards away, that I’d be right there.

Other cabs were driving by slapping their hands on “our” cab yelling in anger at this driver who was holding up traffic in a no-stopping zone. But Craig held strong and didn’t let go of that door.

I could see him in the distance in steamy chaos and I started to feel a little bit bad for taking off – just a little bit though. Even so, hell no was I going to admit it then.

I rolled into the back seat somersault style and the cab driver sped off with us plastered by momentum to the back headrests, yelling incessantly. It was probably a dangerous choice to get behind the wheel with him, but we were finally on our way still with the potential to make it on time if the 5th Avenue traffic cooperated.

Not a word was spoken between Craig and me but a whole lot was said. We were each seething and leaning against our respective windows to get the absolute greatest distance between us possible. I really didn’t feel well but admit that I amped up my labored breathing and moaning for further dramatic effect, grumbling frustrations and ‘told-you-sos’ under my breath just barely loud enough for Craig to hear.

He said nothing, but his eyebrows were so furrowed their centers were touching and his back was as rigid as a plank, neck arteries pulsing.

The cab driver let us out at the hospital entrance and peeled away leaving us in a cloud of city smog.

Craig walked about 10 feet ahead of me. It was as if we were to be too close we would each implode in anger. I labored behind, super slow for effect, so that he would have to hold the elevator door open for me.

A man stepped in the elevator car with us for the ride to the fourth floor. He was in his mid-fifties, easy, breezy and relaxed looking. I wanted to bite and hiss at him.

He looked at me in my mask and gloves and said: “I used to be like you,” and proceeded to tell me that he was a transplant patient 15 years ago.

Last year's anniversary on a rickshaw ride
through Central Park and Times Square.
La dee fucking dah, I thought to myself and gave him a half sneer, which he couldn’t see through my facemask anyway.

He looked at Craig and said: “You want to smack her yet?”

What? Who is this guy? I thought totally shocked at his remark.

The elevator door opened on the clinic floor and the three of us stood in the vestibule.

“A year from now she needs to take you on a vacation for having to put up with all her crap,” the man said to Craig.

I stood there like a doofus knowing full well that this man remembered the many days on his own drug-fueled post-transplant emotional crazy train and could tell I was conducting my own engine that day.

“Do you know what happened today?” Craig asked, breaking into a smile.

“Yes; yes I do,” the man replied and walked away down the clinic corridor.

It broke the spell and we both took our guards down and actually looked each other in the eye and smiled – kind of.

A year later we’re taking that vacation, celebrating our 5-year anniversary today on our way to Bar Harbor, Maine, with Sam Dog in the back of the Jeep, for a week of playing at Acadia National Park – the land of no cabs, no traffic and no stress, but rather lobsters, ocean, trails and sunrises.

For all the crap I gave him last year, Craig never did smack me. I guess that man in the elevator was right. He damn well deserves this vacation – and then some.   


  1. Congrats on your 5th year anniversary! We just got back from Acadia celebrating our own 5th year anniversary (Aug 11, when is yours?)! Not sure if you have ever been there before, but I'm sure you will both love it...fabulous hiking, great restaurants in Southwest (go to XYZ if your stomach can handle it and eat at the bar), biking, kayaking, gorgeous views, etc. It is a great place to get away from everything. Hope you will blog about it upon your return. Have fun!

  2. Oh yeah...had to mention one more great place (if you get this..hopefully you are actually unplugged by now) that wasn't in any of our books or anything...a local actually told us about it. Called The Ledges-it is a swimming place on Echo Lake (big rock by the water). Park at the Acadia Mountain trail head and take the little trail down to the pond). Great place to go in the late afternoon when it is less crowded!

  3. Best wishes to you and Craig on your 5th anniversary! Acadia is the perfect place to spend a memorable vacation! Peter and I love Acadia/Bar Harbor and we go their every year in the fall. The Pond House in the park has a wonderful menu and it is a great place for a romantic dinner. Their popovers are spectacular. Asticou Gardens is breathtaking. It is glorious when we visit. We can't even imagine what it is like in full bloom. As Elena mentioned, Southwest Harbor is a great place to find great restaurants and it is a great place to explore. Bass Harbor is beautiful with its light house and with Wonderland trail - one of my favorite trails. Of course the jewel in the crown is Acadia and we go there everyday for at least a tour thru the park. I would say that well over half the time that we are in the area we spend at Acadia. It is a magnetic place that keeps drawing us there. This summer it seems that all our friends are heading to Acadia/Bar Harbor. I am sooooo looking forward to our fall vacation. Have fun! P.S. If you get this after you are home, it will give you more reasons to return!

  4. I loved this story! I had no idea where you were headed with it but like the great storyteller you are, you wrapped it up just right!

    Enjoy your 5th together. May you celebrate your 50th as joyously!
    The other Karin Diamond

  5. Great story! I can so relate to it even tho I am on the caregiver side. I love your line...La dee fucking dah,... How many times I have wanted to say that to the cheery sunshine, dancing bears that thought they were making us feel better!!! You hang in there Karin... and slap each other silly every once in awhile... Keep being a bitch too... keeps our men on their toes!