P / P: Short Story: Happy Birthday, Luis

Written By: Lindsey Lee

WHERE: Sarasota, Florida
WHEN: Thursday, October 17, 2013
WHO: Me, My Dad, Uncle Todd,   & Luis



At 5am on Thursday morning, I was sitting on the ground of the shower, listening to Waxahatchee, trying to decide if it was too early to go into the room my dad and uncle were sleeping in to tell them that I was pretty sure I needed to go to the emergency room. I had been really sick for about five days now (first diagnosed with viral Pharyngitis, then self-diagnosed with possible tonsillitis) and it had been slowly getting worse and worse. I’m not a doctor but, I’m pretty sure when you can no longer speak and are close to not being able to breathe, it’s not a sign that you’re on the road to recovery.

My lymph nodes and I rolled around in pain on a double bed, covered with a cheesy seashell decorated bedding for another three hours or so, before I decided I might die if I waited any longer. Air is important (some would say the essence of life) and it was getting harder and harder for me to force it down my swollen, infected throat. My dad happened to wake up at that exact time, and when he ran into me in the hallway he was greeted with a swollen, crying 23-year-old leaning against the wall in the dark. I couldn’t talk at all, but I just kept looking at him. What I should have said was “Take to me the hospital right now, dad. I think my airway may be obstructed.” What I actually said was “DAD I’M SO STRESSED OUT RIGHT NOW”….the use of all capitals here is misleading, ‘cause I could barely produce audible words. It was more like

“dad, I’m so stressed out right now”

Twenty minutes later, my uncle and dad were driving me to an urgent care center about 7 miles away from the house. We had no idea where we were and my dad and uncle commented on all the creepy houses along the road and all the creepy “swamp people” that probably inhabited them. I laid quietly and miserably in the backseat, spitting in a cup to avoid swallowing and hoping my doctor wasn’t a “stand your ground” racist.

Because this whole trip had been going perfectly, we got to the urgent care center where I realized I had forgotten my I.D which I blamed on my throat-pain induced, sleep deprived delusion. Uncle Todd, being the nicest uncle in North America, drove back to the house to get it. It was a long wait. My dad was freaked out by all the germy, swamp people in the waiting room. I could barely hold my head up at this point. I was kicking myself for forgetting my I.D. and feeling bad that my uncle had to go back and get it. I started having to countdown before swallowing (if there was no cup to spit into). Sometimes, I would have to count down twice if I couldn’t work up the nerve. The care center had a huge menu displayed beneath the window where the receptionist sat typing away on her computer. The menu was a list of all the center’s most popular services with the prices listed next to them. My dad pointed out that the menu specifically listed “Fish Hook Removal” as a service, which he really enjoyed. It cost $150. I wondered why that was a separate category from the service listed above it: “Foreign Object Removal- $136”.

When I was finally seen, the new and correct diagnosis was swift and just. The really sweet, blonde (and probably casually racist at dinner with the fam but didn’t show it in public) doctor heard me try to explain my symptoms, took one look down my throat with a light and exclaimed “Oh my god! You got it baaad, girl! That may have been viral five days ago but it’s full on BACTERIAL now.” She told me that she was surprised I could still breathe at all and that I’d come just in time. When she tried to describe the level of swelling in my throat, she made a motion with her hands that looked like she was wringing out a wet dishtowel.

I appreciated her enthusiasm and her ability to immediately validate that I was in fact getting sicker and was not crazy, and that coming to see her was the right choice. She promised me relief within 12 hours after getting a couple shots and three prescriptions for antibiotics, a steroid, and a throat numbing solution.  I was on the road to hydration! I was feeling something other than blinding pain and hopelessness for the first time in almost a week! The sickness had been identified and now modern medicine was going to swoop in in all it’s glory and do the damn thing.

The nurse came back in all smiles with the syringes. She was optimistic and excited to inject a huge dose of steroids into my ass cheek so I could finally get back to feeling normal. I smiled at her and attempted a muted “yay”, when there was a sudden loud commotion just beyond the door, past where I could see. The nurse turned and looked concerned, told me she’d be back, and closed the door.

The next thing I heard was several urgent, but calm commands coming from multiple female nurses and doctors***. They were talking loudly to what I guessed was a man who was unconscious for reasons that were unknown to me at the time. They were all yelling, “You need to talk to us sir!” and “Sir can you look at us? What’s your name? We need you to talk to us!”  The tone of their voices told me this was a real emergency, but there was no panic. Just the rush and urgency of fucking true medical professionals.

These questions and pleads continued for a while until they were able to get him to say his name. His name was Luis. The questions moving forward were more personalized and they told him they were going to give him a shot. Luis said nothing. They told him this shot was going to hurt, but that it was going to make him feel a lot better. Luis said nothing. For 5 seconds it seemed like there was complete silence. Nurses were prepping the shot, Luis was still non-verbal, I was pressed up against the door with my pants partially down and ready for the shots. Silence. And then I heard this deep, loud scream come from outside. Considering this was a new voice, I figured it was Luis. This scream was unreal. It didn’t really sound like pain, it sounded like Frankenstein’s monster finally being brought to life. It sounded like what it must feel like to be a man on the brink of death who has suddenly has life forcibly injected back into his body. It was the “YYAAAWWW!” of life. I don’t know what kind of shot it was, but I was picturing the adrenaline shot scene in Pulp Fiction and I’m choosing to stick with that image. After the shot of life, Luis was able to start mumbling some words and the nurses and doctors were thrilled! Luis was back! They were asking him some more basic questions, just to see how aware he was, and one of the questions they asked was

“What’s your birthday Luis?”

“October 17” Luis replied

The nurses quickly corrected him, assuring him that they asked what HIS birthday was, not what today’s date was. And Luis said, “Today is my birthday. My birthday is October 17.”

More silence followed, this time a stunned silence, my jaw is dropped and so are my pants still for some reason. A voice finally breaks it, “Happy birthday!”

Turns out, Luis was on the job and he was weed whacking, and he accidentally weed-whacked a hive full of bees. Hundreds of bees attacked Luis’ head, face, and neck. Luis had never been stung by a bee. Turns out Luis is allergic. Happy birthday Luis!

Now, during this time I was torn between a combination of disbelief and sadness for Luis and a (sort of shameful) feeling of selfishness. What was happening to Luis was clearly an emergency, but didn’t the doctor just tell me she was surprised I could breathe? Didn’t I really need those shots? At one point I was afraid that maybe they had taken my shots and given them to Luis. What if they only had enough life-saving serum for one patient? It’s a small clinic! I’m hoping those covetous feelings were brought on by my genuine fear that I might die in that room, or possibly by the fact that my brain was starting to become deprived of oxygen.

Eventually an ambulance came for Luis and I got my shots.  I had secretly hoped the injections would force me to emit a “YYAAAWWW!” of life like Luis had, but life isn’t always fair. I got my prescriptions and walked right out of there with a band-aid on each cheek and new appreciation for the perils of professional landscapers. My dad and uncle were drinking Dunkin’ Donuts coffee outside the waiting room and were thrilled to hear that I was a few antibiotic scripts away from perfect health.

“What a way to start our day” my dad said.

“Tell me about it, and it’s Luis’ birthday.” I replied

“Who the fuck is Luis?”



*Waxahatchee is the really beautiful musical project of Katie Crutchfield, who you might know from P.S. Eliot. Her music is perfect for shower crying, bathtub crying, public outdoor crying, crying while riding your bike, and apparently for having viral turned bacterial throat infections.

**I did not have tonsillitis. I had even managed to convince other family members my doctor was wrong.  He wasn’t wrong, I was wrong. I should not be allowed on the internet when I’m ill.

***This center was entirely female-run and staffed from what I could tell which is unrelated to this story but pretty cool. Go lady doctors!


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