Tuesday 25 Oct 2016

Gasping for Air
M Alan Roberts

The sun was beating down on me something fierce when I looked up and saw a white van coming down the dirt road. There's never any traffic here. I had been taking an afternoon break in the garden, getting some watermelon plants into the ground. I noticed a decal on the passenger door when I looked up. My first thought was that it was a government van carrying police inside, coming to raid my home. It wasn't though. The decal read Ty Cobb Home Medical Supply. For this trip, it was loaded with oxygen tanks, and a new walker, for my neighbour, Roy. Hes 73 years old and in really bad shape physically.

Roy had just returned from the hospital, again, earlier in the day. The night before, he showed up in my driveway at 4:00 AM, sounding his horn. I wrapped my blanket around me and walked outside to see what he needed. I wasn't wearing shoes and it was dark. My eyes weren't focused yet and I kept scanning the ground thinking that I was about to step on a hellish hill of fire ants. As I was approaching Roy's car, he informed me that he was having a stroke. He said he had fallen all over the house and that his left arm and hip were without feeling. He told me that he was having trouble breathing.

I was already on the way back inside as he was finishing his sentence. Dialing 911, I heard him out in the driveway throwing up. On my way back out, I placed the phone right next to the door so that I would hear it if the dispatcher needed to call me back. Its easy to get lost trying to find this place. Its about a mile down a dirt road past a set of 10 chicken houses. As I approached the car again, Roy told me that he was spitting up something like hot salt water. He was able to talk clearly and he didn't seem like he was in that bad of shape to me at least not like someone suffering a stroke. Still, he said that his whole life side was numb and without strength.

Roy used his still-strong right hand to reach into his pocket and pull out a pack of Wildhorse cigarettes. He fired one up as he told me he was having trouble breathing. I didn't even bother to say the obvious. I figure hes not gonna be around that much longer anyway. Whats the point really? After about 15 minutes, I heard the engine on the ambulance as it was coming down the road. I also saw the headlights were directed into the driveway of the house directly up the road from me. I told Roy to hang on a minute - I had to get my shoes on so that I could go and direct them.

My feet protected from hungry fire ants and sharp rocks, I walked to the end of my driveway, waved of my arms back and forth over my head, almost lost my blanket, and shouted out to them to get their attention. I saw the ambulance begin to move, maneuvering its way to turn around in the neighbours driveway. I walked back to Roy's car to wait with him. Two young paramedics went through the motions with Roy, placed him in the back of the transport vehicle, thanked me and then were gone.

Roy had just got back home about an hour before I saw the white van coming down the road. I watched as the oxygen man introduced himself to Roy and Roy's friend, Cricket, who was helping him. I walked over to my fence and waited because I knew he'd be coming to the rear of his van. When he did, I hollered out to him and asked if anybody could order some oxygen if they wanted it. I told him I like to breathe straight oxygen now and then that it pumps my cells up and makes them feel good. He told me no said that oxygen was a prescription item only. He told me that he believed that O2 was readily available to the general public in Japan, but not here in the US.

I went back over to the garden and resumed of my watermelon duties. But then I got to thinking about what he had said. I kept glancing over at Roy's place and waited for the time to be right to talk to the oxygen man some more. I walked back over to the fence when I saw him heading back for the van. Doing my best act stupid, I asked him if there was oxygen in the air that we breathe. He said that there was. I asked him if he knew the percentage of our atmosphere that is comprised of oxygen. His forehead wrinkled a bit and he ventured a guess: 21%. Rather impressive, he was right.

I asked him if he had ever heard of oxygen junkies or maybe people who illegally dealt oxygen on the black market. I asked him if oxygen gave people a buzz or something like that. He said that he had never heard of anything like that and sort of laughed a bit. So, I reiterated. I asked him again if he was sure that a doctors prescription was necessary in order to get a tank of oxygen. He said that he was quite sure indeed. I glanced up at the porch where Roy was sitting and saw him lighting up another Wildhorse cigarette.

The oxygen man seem to think that I was a bit strange. If he only knew! He walked back up to the porch where Roy was, having retrieved some of the sterile plastic nose clips used to deliver the O2 from the tanks. Roy paid attention to him as he was describing the proper procedure for operation of the tanks. I found it highly odd that a dying man would continue to puff away at a cigarette as these instructions were given. I saw him nodding his head in agreement with what the oxygen man was telling him.

After the oxygen man had finished his duties, he packed up his van, closed it up, got inside and headed down the driveway towards the road. The only way out of this dead end road is to turn left and go past my property again. As he did so, I stood up from my watermelon hill creation, looked directly at him and gave him a big friendly wave. I smiled from ear to ear for him. The oxygen man was a nice enough guy. He, like most, is just a person doing his job and never really thinks about the bigger picture.

It seems to me that just maybe there's some type of connection between the United States government, the American Medical Association, the tobacco industry lobbyists, the FDA, the American Cancer Society and other such agencies. Hmm, could it be that they are all in cahoots? Does it make any sense that I could walk into a store and buy a pack of Wildhorse cigarettes, but I'm unable to get a tank of oxygen? I guess its just me. Im probably just silly to believe that people should pay more attention to breathing before they're actually suffocating to death.

M Alan Roberts is a radical thinker. He has a gimlet eye for injustice, much as did Frederich Engels, a century and a half before. Still, Roberts finds a way to write effective SEO copy. This suggests both sides of his brain, his mind, work equally well.

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