1995, Asthma, Baby Jogger, Bartley Drive, CatEye Micro, Charles Finch, Dr. Kildare, Dr. McDreamy, Dr. Snaja Gupta, Fall Creek Valley Middle School, Forest Glen Elementary, Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indianapolis, Jeremy Finch, Kensington Farms, Lee Road, Louise Finch, Nate & Caroline, Peter Brown aka Peanut-Butter, Racing Stroller, Rescue Inhaler, Tollston Drive, Twinner, Twyckenham Drive, Walter Finch
The pressure had been intense but the pain was unbearable. The ground was hard and hitting it made my knees and elbow compete with the nausea to earn the title of the afternoon’s most annoying attribute. Additionally, it seemed the sirens in the distance were increasing in volume on a glacial scale. It was obvious that whoever was driving that ambulance was being paid by the hour and had no possibility of receiving a bonus for arriving quickly.
What I was feeling was apprehension and what I wanted was reassurance. Not just the vague, ineffectual but wholeheartedly welcome reassurance of Nate and Caroline but rather authoritative reassurance that everything was going to be alright. I wanted, no, I needed, some surrogate of Dr. Kildare or Doc McDreamy or Sanja Gupta to arrive on the scene, check my vitals and perform whatever medical miracle was required to make me feel safe; to make me whole.
I smiled. Even through the pain I smiled. My smile wasn’t some masochistic, macho machination. If someone had offered me a way to turn the pain off I would have taken him up on that offer. No, I didn’t smile because of the pain, rather I smiled from the irony.
I mean, who can resist irony? Not me, that’s for sure, and a score of years and four hundred miles ago I had sat and watched while a twelve-year-old kid thrashed and heaved, wide eyed in asthmatic anguish, all while thinking, “Really? All this drama? This isn’t some act?” He wheezed and sucked on his rescue inhaler in an obvious display of terror and pain and my response had been self-satisfied, smug disbelief. He’d suffered and I’d just stood and watched, shaking my head in horror.
Not horror for him. Oh no! Rather horror that he was that weak. My horror wasn’t in response to the pain and possible danger the kid was experiencing but rather a dumbfounded disgust that this kid was experiencing this kind of terror after riding his bicycle four miles at my running pace: That any child could experience an asthmatic episode by cycling at six miles an hour while cruising through the northeast Indianapolis suburbs that surrounded fort Benjamin Harrison.
My response of arrogant apathy to the poor kid’s horror was now smiling back at me as I experienced something awfully similar to what he’d experienced in his can’t breathe, gasping, wheezing, bug eyed terror. They say karma comes around, that paybacks are hell, that what goes around comes around? Well, today it was my turn to be tortured and terror struck. Probably even served me right.
Back in 1995 our running stroller got a lot of use. Both my wife and I used it to hit our local trails and streets probably three or four times a week. It gave us freedom, allowing us to take our two sons out for some fresh air and to transport them to our local park safely. It also gave the other parent some precious alone time when needed. Today was one of those ‘as needed’ days so I loaded our two sons, twenty-five-month-old Jeremy and fifty-four-month-old Walter, into our Baby Jogger double racing stroller and buckled their lap belts.
Their combined weight neared the jogger’s capacity of 80 pounds and pushing that sucker uphill was a chore. Luckily for me most of the immediate area was flat, though our destination, nearby Fort Benjamin Harrison, had some very definite elevation changes. I’d stretched previously, had an easily accessed water bottle fastened to the baby jogger’s handlebar and the boys were used to sitting and relaxing under the protective canopy that provided them with shade as we wound our way through the neighborhood. The plan was to navigate through our and the adjoining neighborhood, jog down to the fort, turn around and then return home. I was ready to run and that jogger was about to demonstrate its weight in gold to us once again in terms of providing an outlet for stress relief and fitness.
I had already kissed the misses goodbye before heading into the garage and now we were ready to start our run when one of the neighbor kids pulled into my driveway on his bike.
“Hi,” he says to me.
“Hey,” I return with a smile and a nod.
“Where you going?”
“Just for a little run. Down to the fort and back,” I reply, anxious to be on my way.
“Can I come?”
I’ve seen this kid cruising the neighborhood. My wife and I have said hi to him when we’ve been out and about but I don’t even know his name. All I know is that he’s a rolly-polly black kid, looks to be about twelve years old and that when we see him he’s almost always alone. He likes to circle the streets that wind through the Kensington Farm subdivision, causing no one any harm but appearing lonely and bored. I hesitate.
“Well, I’m going to run down to the fort. Are you allowed to go out on 63rd Street?”
Sixty third Street is not a busy road and it has a fine paved shoulder which is great for running or cycling on. Any place I’m taking my sons should be fine for a tween to cycle on but I’m a bit leery of telling an unaccompanied minor that he can come along on our little jaunt without first speaking to his parents. I’m hoping that he’ll tell me that he isn’t allowed to leave the neighborhood.
“Down to the fort? Sure! I go there all the time,” he responds, a tone of overt expectation in his voice.
“Okay. Well, I guess so then. I’m going to wind my way through the neighborhood until we hit Twyckenham, then take 63rd down to the fort and then come back.”
“Yeah? That’s how I get to school. I can go there.”
I nod and allow my sense of inclusion to override my apprehension and ask, “So you go to the middle school?”
“Yeah. Fall Creek Valley? I’m a be in seventh grade next year.”
I nod again. Seventh grade. Must be at least twelve. “Okay. If you’re sure it’s okay? I’m gonna run pretty slow though.” He just shrugs. “What’s your name?” I ask.
“Peter Brown,” he says.
“Okay, Peter. I’m Charles. This little guy’s Jeremy and the big boy’s Walter. You ready?”
Peter shrugs, I shrug back and we turn left out of my driveway, all of us on the sidewalk, me pushing Jem and Walter and Pete following closely on my heels. The sidewalk on Bartley drive leads to the sidewalk on Tollston which takes us to the trail that is contiguous to my back yard property line. Without Peter I would have just cut through our lawn but I really don’t want to give the kid the idea that riding his bike on my grass is something I want him to do, so I added a couple of hundred feet to my run. I’d know however far I went because I had slapped an old CatEye Micro cycling computer on the baby jogger and it told me my speed down to a tenth of a mile per hour and my trip distance to a hundredth. It even calculated my average and told me my max; not that my max speed would be very fast while running!
The trail was considerably wider than the municipal sidewalks and Peter began to ride next to, as opposed to behind, me. Soon he pulled ahead and I tried to ignore his see-sawing forward, coasting, and then pedaling frantically again as we caught up to him but the yo-yo effect was a little distracting. I plodded along, content to keep my speedometer bouncing back and forth between 7.3 and 7.4 miles per hour.
My house faced south and the trail behind stretched east to west. It intersected a north south trail that, if we turned right, led to the neighborhood swimming pool and headed back to Bartley Drive if we took a left. Peter was close at hand and I hollered to him, “Take a left here. I’m going to wind through the neighborhood!”
“Here!?” He hollers back. “I thought we was going to Fall Creek Valley?”
“I’m not going to Fall Creek, I’m going by Fall Creek. I just want to get a run in before it gets too hot. I’m going to wind around until we get to Twyckenham and then head over to Benjamin Harrison. You still want to come?” I ask, hoping that he’ll decline my offer.
“Sure, sure. I just got confused, that’s all.”
“Okay. No problem. Left here and then right on Bartley.”
The area was typical of a late Twentieth Century, single family home, suburban, planned neighborhood. Lots of twisting streets that circled around and connected with one another. I lived near the eastern most edge of Bartley Drive and the trail came out on the far western side. Once I was back on the street I moved into the street, running on the right side of the road as a concession to Peter who, riding a bicycle, was legally required to stay right. The eight o’clock, Sunday morning, late June traffic was practically nonexistent and I tried to concentrate on upping my pace a bit as we moseyed through the suburban streets.
The builder had provided us with plenty of streets to mosey through. We turned left, did a long, looping, half-a-dozen blocks that brought us beyond our first mile traveled and came to Alexia Drive. Alexia Drive would be an expected left turn if a destination rather than a journey was the goal of this morning’s run, but of course it wasn’t. The goal was to run four or so miles, not to go to Fall Creek Middle School or even Fort Benjamin Harrison. We got to Alexia and Peter turned left.
“Where you going?!” I hollered, continuing to travel northward.
“Huh!? You said we were going to the fort!” he called back, retracing his steps and following behind me.
“No. I said I was going for a run and would turn around at the fort. I’m going to go somewhere around four miles. You don’t have to come with me if you don’t want.”
Peter screwed up the left side of his mouth and scowled. “No. No, I wanna come. I was just confused, that’s all.”
“Okay. No problem,” I wheezed, finding conversation a bit tougher at my slightly increased pace. “I’m going to loop through here, run by the pool and then head over to the fort.”
“Oh. Okay,” he said, nodding his head quickly up and down. “I’ll come too.”
‘Great,’ I thought, though I just smiled and nodded. I had been hoping that perhaps Peter, or ‘Peanut-Butter’ as I’d started thinking of him with his slow and sticky ways, might decide that there wasn’t much sense in accompanying us any further.
We wound our way around the neighborhood and my little speedometer odometer informed me that I’d managed to travel two miles at a 7.7 mph average pace; not too shabby for a fat 34 year-old-man pushing over eighty pounds of human cargo. After going by the neighborhood pool and trail and assuring Jem and Walter that the pool wasn’t open yet and that we’d be back later with Mom to go swimming, we returned to the east west trail and took it west until it ended at Welker Drive, just north of Alexia.
“Go left?” Peanut-Butter asked.
“Left!” I assured him, adding, “Then right on Alexia.”
We followed Alexia a block but instead of see-sawing in front of me Peanut-Butter was now see-sawing behind. He’d fall off the back, pedal furiously to catch me and then coast until he again trailed by twenty feet or so. He repeated this twice in the single block to Twyckenham where I had planned to turn right.
“Now where you going!” he demanded from behind.
“To the fort?” I replied.
“I thought,” he stopped speaking for a moment, breathed heavily and then tried again to speak, “I thought we was going by the school.”
“Well, sort of.” I answered. “I mean, not right by the school.”
“You want,” he panted, “you want stay off main road? There’s sidewalk goes school this way.” He pointed with his head to where Alexia turned into a cul-de-sac. “That’s way. I go. School,” he managed to exclaim.
“Really?” I gasped back at him. “Didn’t know. Okay. You lead.”
Peanut-Butter was right. At the end of Alexia was a sidewalk that connected to the back corner of Fall Creek Valley Middle School’s parking lot. We took that past the running track and then through the empty parking lot which took us up to Forest Glen Elementary and then out to Lee Road.
“Hey, Peanut-Bu, er, Peter,” I hollered out to him. “Good choice! This way we don’t have to be on 63rd Street heading to the fort.”
I was truly glad that he’d brought us this way because with Peter along I wasn’t sure that I wanted to cross over 63rd to make a left turn to continue to the fort. With Peanut-Butter’s short-cut we could stay to the right, get to the fort and not have to cross the somewhat busy 63rd. Peter’s plan was good, but it was becoming obvious that his energy level was nearly spent.
The string on his yo-yo was much longer now than it had been when we started. He dropped behind me further and more quickly and caught up far more slowly. My little cycling/Baby Jogger CatEye computer told me that my average pace had dropped from 7.7 to 7.3 miles per hour in less than a mile which meant that I’d really been averaging somewhere around seven mph for the last nine minutes. Not a big deal, just an important indicator of Peanut-Butters condition, or lack thereof.
When we got to the intersection of Lee Road and 63rd I decided to head home via the shortest, safest route; taking 63rd east, Twyckenham south, turned left on Alexia and followed Bartley Drive back to the house. My computer read 4.08 miles, the time was 37 minutes and eight seconds and my average speed was 6.5 miles per hour, a dreadfully slow pace.
My run results were bad but Peter’s countenance was far, far worse. He had allowed his bicycle to slam to the ground the moment we reached my driveway and he now sat in the grass sucking on his rescue inhaler hard enough for me to fear that it might break in half. My first reaction was disgust. Disgust not because he needed a rescue inhaler, but because an old man pushing two kids in a Baby Jogger had done this to him. That he was both physically incapable of cycling at a pace of six and a half miles per hour and not self-aware enough to know that he should have told me he had a problem before we’d started or dropped out before we left the neighborhood.
My next response was fear for Peter. I had never seen anybody have this severe of an asthmatic reaction before and I was concerned for him. My concern for him immediately turned to concern for me as I asked him, “Are you okay? Good Lord, why didn’t you say something?”
Without waiting for an answer I unbuckled Jem and Walter, walked them to our front door and rang the bell. Louise answered, head tilted to the side, obviously bewildered as to why I hadn’t come in through the garage rather than ringing the doorbell. Handing her Jem, I simply said, “Would you take the boys in please and bring me a glass of ice water? We had a tag along come with us and I think he overdid it a bit.”
Louise looked at me, offered her arms to Jeremy who slid from mine to hers without a fuss, and then poked her head out of the door and caught a glimpse of Peter who now lay flat on the grass next to our driveway. “Is he okay?!” she asked, concern obvious in her voice.
“Yeah, I think he is. I guess he went too hard. Can you bring us the water please?”
“Sure,” she said, elongating the word and taking Walter’s hand. “Be right back.”
I vacillated between walking back over to Peanut-Butter and waiting for Louise with the water and indecision won the day. She opened the door, raised her eyebrows at me, poked her head out onto the front stoop and looked at Peter with knitted brows. “He’ll be fine,” I said, taking the glass of water and walking toward the prostrate boy. “Just give him a minute.”
“Hey, Peter? How about some water?” I asked the still gasping child.
He nodded, took the glass, downed another hit form his inhaler and then drank.
“You okay?” I asked.
With obvious difficulty he managed to say, “Yeah. I got asthma.”
I thought, ‘No shit, Sherlock,’ but what I said was, “I thought you might. Are you okay? Do I need to call your folks?”
Peter shook his head vigorously and went back to his inhaler. “No. No. Don’t. I’m fine,” he finally managed to gasp.
“You sure? You want me to walk you home?”
Peter took a long drink, handed me the glass, stood and shook his head. “I’m fine. I’m a go now.”
The announcement that his departure was imminent increased both my relief and anxiety. I wanted him out of my hair but at the same time I somehow felt responsible for him having followed me when he shouldn’t have. “Okay,” I said, “If you’re sure you’re up to it, then okay. You take care, Pete. Thanks for showing me the shortcut behind the middle school.”
Pete nodded, inhaled deeply a few times, picked up his bike and walked it west on Bartley Drive, back toward school, the fort, and I hoped, his home. I opened the garage door, stowed the Baby Jogger out of the way and went inside to tell Louise what had happened. It had certainly been a strange morning.
Now, over twenty years later, I’d had another strange morning. I’d been experiencing some chest pain lately, really pressure more than pain, but I had been pushing through it. ‘Had been’ being the operative phrase.
During this morning’s bike ride I’d felt a bit dizzy and light headed but that had happened in the past and nothing serious ever followed. Today, however, I went from dizzy to tumbled on the ground and then when I regained consciousness I found myself in the unpleasant situation of having a well-meaning older couple standing over my sprawled on the pavement form.
“Are you okay?” the woman asked. “You’re lucky we came along when we did. You were out cold. Did you hit something? Nate called an ambulance and moved your bike out of the road. They should be here any minute.”
I barely nodded as my eyes went from the woman to the man, trying to focus on either one of them but having little success doing so.
A male voice, no doubt Nate’s, said, “Move over a little Caroline. That way we can block the sun for him. How you doing, young fella? You must of hit pretty hard!”
I tried to smile and nod but neither was very effective. I heard the sirens in the distance and somehow my thoughts went back twenty some odd years to that June day in 1995 when I’d watched poor Peter struggle with his breathing, hoping that he’d be fine, but the hope more centered around my convenience than around real concern for the boy.
“What a louse,” I tried to say and Nate and Caroline just nodded.
“Yeah, you betcha!” Nate declared. “I bet you do feel lousy. Now just hold on son, cavalry’s coming, and we won’t go anywhere until we’re sure you’re safe.
I just nodded. It was good to know that there were still good people in this world.