The Lousiest Neighbor


The fireman’s radio has reported that it was a sofa fire, and he says it’s out, so he gives me his oxygen. In a few minutes another fireman stumbles through the door carrying the big red tote that has the entire fireman’s basic emergency equipment and an oxygen tank—the last oxygen tank available. He has just run up eight flights of stairs with it. All he knew was that a woman was trapped on the eighth floor and needed oxygen and he ran with it. While some firemen get me set up with oxygen and a mask, another fireman checks out the one who just ran up the stairs. He’s got his butt against the wall, hands on knees, bent over gasping.

So now that we all are on oxygen, the next step is to get me evacuated. Sandwiched between firemen, they clear the way for me and my chair. The hallway is very black, but not as black as before. The firemen went in where they could neither see nor breathe without oxygen. How scary is that? Now, the hallway is lined with fat fire hoses and there are two or three inches of water on the floor. What the firemen don’t know is that the bottom of my wheelchair is not sealed. Wheeling through puddles violates the warranty on the chair, not to mention creating a real possibility of shorting out, so I go slowly.

We pass Ray’s apartment, three doors down from me, where the fire took place. The door is absolutely black, as is much of what I can see inside. The only bright spot is the window that has been punched out. We get to the elevator and go downstairs. The elevator doors open on bedlam in a packed lobby: police, firemen, EMTs and stretchers fill the space. Residents have been moved down the hall to the Community Room. I am channeled to a Rural Metro EMT who asks me if I want to go to the hospital. What could they do, I ask? I’m already on oxygen—what else can be done? The EMT doesn’t answer the question, merely asks again if I want to get checked out.

I have spent the past 106 days in hospitals, including three trips through the ER. I would rather go back to my smoke-filled apartment than spend another five minutes in an Emergency Room, so I wheel away to visit my neighbors and see what else can be learned. Dana Natale, our manager, is on the job, wearing a long black leather coat and black leather baseball cap turned sideways on her blonde curls. She and her husband were in a sports bar watching the game when she got the call from Adam that McCarthy Manor was on fire. She is now busily shepherding her tenants, taking calls from her bosses, and talking to the fire chief.

I have CFIDS. What I most need—and need rather desperately—is to get flat on my back in a warm quiet place, which is certainly not McCarthy Manor at this point, so I say that I am going over to the Ronald McDonald House, two blocks away. I am told that first I have to sign some papers for Rural Metro. The EMT approaches me and says that he wants to re-check my vital signs and then have me sign papers. What “re-check?” There was no check in the first place.

And I am not signing his bloody papers because if I do then Rural Metro will bill you, the taxpayer, another $1000 for their supposed “treatment” of me. Fact: I did not call the ambulance; I did not need the ambulance; I did not use the ambulance—and I will not let you be billed for work that Rural Metro did not do. If you need an ambulance, call TLC. They provide all the same stuff that Rural Metro does but they do it on a base of moral integrity. Dave Butler, the director, wouldn’t let it be any other way.

So I wheel out into the night, which isn’t as dark as was the hallway outside my apartment. There are yellow tapes wrapped around poles, and a plethora of fire trucks, ambulances and police cars—a neighbor says that there were thirty emergency vehicles—and I wheel over to Ronald McDonald House. It is very new—I went to the grand opening about a year ago—and has four floors with many rooms and each room containing two double beds. Since their mission is to provide housing for people faced with medical emergencies, I figure this will work out well.

Wrong. I wheel into the Ronald McDonald House and there is no one there. The first floor has two open kitchen areas—both empty—and various living rooms and lounges furnished with big leather sofas and chairs as well as huge flat-screen televisions. At the grand opening, I was most impressed by the enormous amount of money that had been spent on furnishings. The Ronald McDonald House furnishings are at least on a par with, if not superior to, the best hotel I’ve ever been in. At the grand opening, each room had a sign on it identifying the donor, Pediatric Cardiology Assoc., Welch Allyn, the Jim Boeheim Foundation and so forth. The wives of prestigious men, including the wife of Sr. Asst. District Attorney Trunfio, have done an excellent fund-raising job.

So I sit in the lobby and a woman comes out of an office. I tell her about the fire and my need. She says no, I can’t come in, but she will ask—and she disappears and returns with another woman who also says no, they will not give me shelter but she will call the manager. While I wait, a young woman comes into one of the kitchens. Her five-day-old four-pound baby is in Crouse Hospital’s NICU. Then the official woman comes back and tells me that I will have to leave. Once again, there is no room at the inn. Not only will they not offer me a bed but also I am not allowed to even sit in the (empty) living room or lobby. WTF? WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BEING A GOOD NEIGHBOR?

Your neighbor’s house is on fire and you won’t even offer shelter? Unbelievable. As I wheel back into the darkness, I wonder if the people and organizations that donated to this—hello?—CHARITABLE ORGANIZATION—have the foggiest notion that the Ronald McDonald House is the lousiest neighbor anyone could have. [To be continued]

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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