By: Ed Krizek
After the episode everything was different. No one really knew what happened. I certainly didn’t. There was an explosion in the warehouse. I was in aisle 12B looking for a piece of a cystoscope when I heard the blast. There were pieces of wooden shelving and a variety of medical supplies flying through the air. The orange light which emanated from the blast area blinded me briefly. For a while I couldn’t hear.
My memories are jumbled in the time afterward. All I know is that nothing in my life remained the same. Apparently, the explosion was caused by leakage from the valve on an oxygen cylinder. Understandable, yes. Acceptable, no. For most of us at All Purpose Medical things remained different for a long time after.
There was me, of course, dazed and confused trying constantly to figure out what had gone wrong. The tanks were checked twice a day, but somehow one tank managed to leak without anyone noticing. Bad Luck. I carried on as best I could, got another job, in a Sterns a now defunct department store. I sold men’s clothes while collecting unemployment and waiting on disability.
Besides me there were several other disabled workers. One of them was John. John was otder, graying hair, a pot belly. His skin turned gray after the episode. He suffered a lot of damage in the explosion. Surgeons put a piece of Dacron in his stomach after resecting his intestines. He wore an ostomy bag for a month after the operation.
When asked him how he felt all he said was, “I love life,” in a far away voice that sounded like that of a ghost
John went back to work at All Purpose but things were not the same. The warehouse had been completely rebuilt with brick walls. The company stopped carrying medical oxygen. As time went on All Purpose Medical became more efficient with its inventory system. John showed up for work every day. Colleagues would see him lumber in the back door and look at each other and shake their heads.
Then one day John collapsed on the floor of the new warehouse. His face looked blue. An ambulance was called. John was having a heart attack. I heard the doctors put five stents in his coronaries. He was out of work for a week then returned happier with more color in his cheeks.
He seemed more cheerful. I told him he looked great. He just smiled and went to do his job packing boxes of medical supplies to be shipped to customers.
I too was going through some PTSD changes after the episode. My brain was disordered and numbed. I couldn’t figure out how to do a return on the cash register at Sterns I was depressed. I didn’t enjoy reading anymore. All I did when I got home from work was eat and watch TV. I joined a church to try to meet some people and perhaps find out the meaning of life. I wondered why I had evaded death in the explosion as well as why unfair or unlucky things happen at all.
One day at my local, bar where I had been stopping on Saturday afternoons to try to break the boredom and stimulate my head into remission, in walked John. The half-smile on his face looked like the picture of a Buddhist Lama I had seen on the internet.
“How are you, man!” I stood up from my chair and shook his hand.
“Well. Very well,” he replied.
His handshake was firm but not tense.
“I didn’t know you came in here,” I said.
“I don’t normally,” said John calmly almost serenely.
“How are you feeling though, really,” I said. “I heard you had a heart attack.”
“I did. Five stents in my heart.”
“Wow! And after having to wear that bag too. That would be too much for me.”
“Nothing’s too much to live,” he answered. “I love life and hope to live as long as I can without too much suffering. You see after the episode I was lost and didn’t know what to do. Now I know that my time on earth is limited and you never know when your number is gonna
come up. I’ve been given a chance …”
“You’ve been given a lot of chances. It’s almost like your immortal or…,” I interjected.
“Yes,” replied John, calmly,” It does seem a bit odd. But I’m at peace with it.”
“Can I buy you a drink?” I asked.
“I don’t drink anymore, but you can buy me a soda.”
“OK,” Let’s move over here. I walked over to a small table toward the back of the bar. He seemed to glide along with me.
After we sat down and ordered John’s soda and my beer we talked.
You seem so happy,” I said. “How did you get that way after what you’ve been through?”
“Love of life” he answered.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, as you know I had a rough time of it after the episode. I was confused but still kept putting one foot ahead of the other. Moving forward or more appropriately just moving. You see there is no real forward or backward. Just what is.”
“But certainly you don’t mean not to have any goals?”
“No, not without goals but you use your goals to guide you. You cannot stress out about reaching them. Some of them you may never reach and that’s OK. But it is important to love life. Love yourself too. So many people tell you to love yourself the phrase has become a cliché. But there is some truth in all clichés. You may want to see the truth in the phrase and practice it.
“I am numb. I don’t feel anything,” I stated. “I just keep thinking about the blast over and over again.
Relax. Allow yourself to heal. Try some mediation or deep breathing. Try going to your church.”
“How’d you know about my church? I didn’t tell you.”
“There are some mysteries that never get solved, “ He answered in a soft voice.
Then John got up from the table, nodded in my direction, and moved quietly through the bar. It was sunny when he opened the door and his silhouette looked strangely transparent in the bright light.
A couple of weeks later after trying to love life and myself unsuccessfully, I journeyed to All Purpose Medical to see if I could find John. I talked to my old boss, Gary.
“How ya doin’” He asked.
“OK,” I answered. “Still waiting for disability to come through.”
“Is John around? I ran into him a couple of weeks ago and wanted to reconnect.
Gary looked quizzically at me, then he said,
“No John’s not around. He died of a heart attack about two months after the episode. Didn’t you hear?”
Dumbfounded, I said,” I thought they put five stents in him! I just saw him!”
“Your still not right in the head,” said Gary. John is dead. I went to the funeral.”
I left and wandered home in a daze. When I opened the door to my one-bedroom apartment I sat on the big blue wing chair in my living room, closed my eyes, took several deep breathes and tried to love myself and life, and remembered some mysteries are never solved.