What I’m Writing This Week
Mike Santiago is forced to take time off from his ER shifts to care for his own kidney injury. Being out of the game is not an option for him.
For all those who have to deal…
Out of the Game
Mike Santiago took a deep breath, settled back in the treatment chair. “Sorry to be late,” he said to the dialysis tech. “We were slammed with patients on my ER shift.”
“No worries, Mike.” The tech pierced Mike’s non-dominant arm with two needles and started the blood cleansing process. Blood out to the machine, back into his arm.
Mike leaned his head back.
“Hey,” the man in the chair to Mike’s left said. “My name is Al. I’m here every Monday, Wednesday, Friday at this time. Looks like we’ll be neighbors.”
“I’m Mike. Yeah, this is my first treatment. New to this whole thing.”
“There was a woman in your chair for the last couple of months. Her name was Ellie. She fell down the stairs at her home. She’ll be in the hospital for a while.”
Mike nodded. “I hope I won’t be here too long. Blunt trauma to my kidneys in a car crash. This should be temporary till my kidneys get a rest.”
“Good for you, man. I’m in this for the long haul. Kidneys are shot. My diabetes went undetected for too long. Screwed me up.”
Mike squirmed in his chair. “Three hours of this.”
“What do you do?”
“ER nurse. Dealing with COVID patients all day.”
“Shit. Hope you stay healthy. We need guys like you.”
Mike closed his eyes. His phone buzzed.
“Mike here…no, I can’t cover anyone. I’m getting dialyzed.”
He hung up.
“Won’t let you rest, huh?” Al said.
Mike licked his lips. “Haven’t had a day off in four months.” Mike pointed to his abdomen. “That’s how I messed up my kidneys. I fell asleep at the wheel.”
“You need to chill.” Al held up his iPad. “I’m watching TV. I can turn it up if you want to watch with me.”
“I left my tablet home. Sure. What’s on?”
“The Mandalorian. Know it?”
“Heard of it.”
“Sit back. Enjoy.”
Mike turned his head to watch the iPad Al held out for him to see. Al turned up the volume.
I know that voice, Mike thought after a time. The Mandalorian character. That voice?
Half an hour into the episode it came to him. He said to Al, “That’s the same voice as the The Lone Ranger. Not the Johnny Depp film. The original TV series with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels.”
“You’re too young to know that show.”
“My dad watched the reruns all the time.”
“You’re right, it’s the same vocal tone. Firm yet soft-spoken.”
“If I close my eyes, I see the Lone Ranger.”
Al smiled. “I’m guessing it’s deliberate on the part of the Mandalorian creators. He’s supposed to be a kind of lone ranger, roaming the universe looking for his people. Righting wrongs along the way. Both have their faces masked.”
“You sound like you’re in the business,” Mike said.
Al cocked his head. “Was in the business. A character actor. Retired a few years ago. Had to. Can’t do dialysis and be available for roles.”
“Enjoying your retirement?”
“As much as I can.” Al paused the iPad screen. “I got a small farm up in Ojai. Raise goats.”
“Any money in that?”
“I rent out the goats for brush clearance before fire season. They’ll eat through a whole hillside in a few days.”
I needed to be out of the game.
Al continued. “I got the farm early on in my career. I learned that I needed to be out of the game when I wasn’t working. Refreshing myself in nature. If you don’t have boundaries, you’re screwed in the entertainment industry.”
Mike leaned his head back. Without boundaries you’re screwed in any industry.
The tech came over to check Mike’s machine. “Want a blanket? It’s chilly in here today.”
“I’m good. Thanks.”
Al gestured around the expanse of the treatment room. Twenty-five treatment chairs, all occupied. “Look at this. See those faces. How many of them look healthy?”
Mike sat forward, studied the room. “Not too many.”
“You’re talking about quality of life.”
“Yes, I am. I feel pretty good. But man, three days a week, three hours each time, sitting here hooked up to a machine. For the rest of my life.”
“And if I stop, I’ll be dead in a week.”
Mike closed his eyes again, leaned back in the chair.
A beeper went off at Al’s machine. The tech stepped over, tweaked a few settings.
Al kept talking. “You know what I fear the most?”
“I’ll bite. What?”
“When I’m gone, all my memories are gone too.”
Mike sat up and turned to Al. “Don’t you have kids to pass them on to?”
“Yeah, I got kids. Grandkids too. And boxes full of old photos, old family films. That’s just stuff.”
Mike shook his head. “I don’t follow.”
“I got all these memories stuck in my head. Bits and pieces of my life. Stuff that means something only to me. It all goes when I go.”
“Can’t you talk it all into a recorder? Save it for your family.”
“Mike, you don’t get it. It don’t mean anything to anyone else.”
Al hesitated. “Here’s one. Years back I was living on the east coast while I auditioned for roles. One night, it was frigid out, almost below zero. I went out to meet a few guys at a bar. Just ahead of me a guy gets hit by a car. He’s lying in the street, his head bleeding. From his clothes, he was probably a homeless guy.”
“I go over to see if I can help. I see blood pooling around the guy’s head on the street…but he was lucky. It was so cold his blood was freezing. It stopped some of the bleeding. An ambulance pulled up in a few minutes. They took him away.”
Mike looked at Al. “And…?”
“That’s it. A scrap of memory. I got lots of these scraps. But they got no meaning. See? I spot a guy bleeding in the street one night. That’s it. Nothing more. When I’m gone, so is the memory.”
“Thanks for cheering me up, Al.”
“Just keepin’ it real.”
Mike smiled. “I think I get it, though. Maybe I’ll end up with lots of memory scraps too. Jeez, all the COVID patients who died on my shifts. I’ve already forgotten most of their names, but I see their faces. Their eyes, in their last moments. Dying alone…”
Al gestured to Mike in the treatment chair. “Like I said about myself, buddy, you need to be out of the game when you’re not working.”
Mike tilted his chair back, closed his eyes, took a long breath.
Out of the game when I’m not working…