“Miss…excuse me, Miss…” Oh, he’s talking to me, I realize after the third “Miss…” breaks through my little coffee shop solo thought bubble. ”How do you spell Patricia? P-a-t-r-i-s-h-a? “Yeah, you could”, I reply, though most people would spell it …P-a-t-r-i-c-i-a”. A pudgy young man sitting nearby at one of those little round rocky wooden tables squints in concentration as he stores the name in his not-so-smart flip phone. “How’s the arm?” I ask him, glancing at a bandage on his totally tattooed arm. “Oh, yeah!” he exclaims, “You were there! You the one… “
On a previous day at Starbucks, I honestly can’t recall how long ago…was it 6 days or 6 weeks ago?… I was, of necessity, sharing one of the large square tables with a couple other patrons, trying to get some work done during my lunch break, when this young baby-faced fellow sitting at our communal table looks at my name tag and asks where I work. When I tell him, he shows me this wicked abscess on his arm “from a burn” and asks if he can come to our clinic. He actually has Kaiser but he asks - over and over - what the doctor will ask him about how he got this ugly red inflamed looking wound. I tell him – over and over - I’m not a doctor, but he really should see one soon, and to not worry about the questions – unless it’s a gunshot or knife wound from an assault, they won’t report it. A Queens ER tech at a nearby table joins the “Go to the ER today, man” chorus. But the guy is ambivalent, mired in some inner turmoil about what to do next. When I gather my things to return to work, he goes back to making calls from his cell in search of antibiotics.
“I had really bad staph, I got dialysis, they said I almost lost the arm…” he effuses, filling me in—or possibly spinning a tall tale, one he surely now believes. He reports visiting an ER that same day and if had he waited “they said I coulda died, I almost lost the arm…I wouldn’t have gone if you hadn’t told me to”. “Hey, it was you, not me, man. I didn’t drag you there – you’re the one who decided to go”. He kept shifting his locus of control, insisting if not for me (and the Queens ER guy) he would have been armless or dead by now, and so we eventually settled on the “God works in mysterious ways” theory. Then he went back to working his phone, working the system: “What! I gotta come in?...” I packed the un-read papers, picked up my coffee cup, and returned to work.