took place when I was 16 years old. At the time, my best friend, Stephen (names changed just because it seems like the thing to do), lived with his family on a farm
, near the small town of Alexandria
. In those days, I would usually go to his farm during my summer vacation
. It always went the same way; I would tell my parents that I was just going to stay with him for a week, but one week turned into two, and two turned into four, and I'd end up staying there for the better part of the summer. It's amazing that his parents never got sick of me and kicked me out.
One night, his parents were off somewhere. I can't remember where. His girlfriend, Tracy (also not her real name), was at her house; her parents were off on vacation for two weeks, somewhere where there was no phone. Stephen and I were sitting around with his sister, Lisa, watching TV, or playing computer games or something. Then Tracy called up. She was scared and crying. She was home alone, and suddenly she'd lost vision in her right eye. Just out of the blue, poof, she couldn't see out of it anymore. Since there was no phone where her parents were, she didn't know who else to call, but there were no adults at our place either.
Fortunately, Stephen had obtained his driver's license the year before (he was a year older than me), and his parents had two cars, and they'd only taken one of them. We called Stephen's mother to tell her what we were doing, then got in the car and drove to Tracy's house to pick her up and take her to the hospital.
We got there at 11 PM, and it was just closing up for the night. I didn't know that before, but apparently hospitals in small towns close at night. There was no one there, except the receptionist. She started to tell us that there was nothing she could do for us, and we'd have to drive to Ottawa or wait for morning, but then she spotted some guy walking down the hall, about to leave.
"Hey!" she said, "You're in luck! It's the eye specialist."
In retrospect, I somehow doubt that the man in question really was an eye specialist (if he was, he was not a very good one, as you'll see as the story progresses). At the time, though, we were immensely relieved, as he took Tracy off into one of the rooms to examine her.
About 20 minutes later, they emerged. Tracy was crying again. He told us that she had a detached retina.
"Don't worry," he told us, "just take her to the hospital in Ottawa. They have a laser there that they can use to reattach it."
"Okay," said Stephen, "I'll get my parents to drive her there first thing tomorrow."
"Oh no," he said, "You absolutely must go tonight. If you wait for tomorrow, it might be too late, and she could lose her vision permanently."
Tracy started crying harder, and Stephen put his arm around her.
"Okay," said Stephen, "I guess we have to go tonight. Can you tell us how to get to the hospital once we're in Ottawa?"
He gave us directions, and we called Stephen's mother again from the pay phone, to tell her that we were all going to Ottawa in the middle of the night to save Tracy's retina. Then we got in the car and took off.
It was 11:30 at night, and an hour and a half drive to our nation's capital. The whole way, I recited all the Monty Python skits I knew by heart, in order to keep morale up. It seemed to help; Tracy wasn't crying anymore, and laughed along with the rest of us. At 1 AM, we got into Ottawa.
The hospital was nowhere to be found, though. We got off at the exit the "eye specialist" told us, but the street that we were supposed to get on seemed not to exist. We drove aimlessly through Ottawa (which has the most twisted, bizarre roads of any city I've seen), until at last we stumbled across the road we were looking for.
We drove up and down the road until about 2 AM, looking for the side street with the hospital. After driving the whole length of the road several times, we finally saw a sign for the hospital, clear as day. We'd driven past it several times without seeing it, due to fatigue.
So, there we were. At the hospital, at last. Of course, they didn't have an eye specialist working the night shift, but they found a general practitioner to take a look at her. She disappeared into a room with him, and emerged 20 minutes later.
"Well, it's definitely not a detached retina. Who told you that?"
"The eye specialist at Alexandria Hospital."
"Impossible. Even I can tell that it's not a detached retina. The guy couldn't possibly be an eye specialist. Anyway, I'm not entirely sure what's wrong with her. I think it's a shiny plate, but I'll need a second opinion."
To this day, I still have no idea what a shiny plate is, but we agreed to wait around for another GP to take a look at it. 30 minutes later, one showed up, and Tracy disappeared with him again.
This guy agreed with the first that there's no way she had a detached retina, and if the guy we'd seen really was an eye specialist, he needed to go back to med school. He didn't think it was a shiny plate, though, but rather some kind of inflammation. He wanted a third opinion, though.
Another 30 minutes passed, and another doctor showed up. Again, Tracy went off with him, and we waited. It was now past 4 AM. This guy agreed with the second, that it was likely some kind of inflammation. He told us that there was no immediate danger, but that we should see a real eye specialist in the morning.
This posed a problem, because none of us had much money. We asked if we could all stay at the hospital, but they said that only one friend or family member could stay overnight with the patient. We decided that Lisa would stay with Tracy, and Stephen and I would go find a motel, and see if calling his mom and getting her to give the motel her credit card number would be acceptable.
The first four places we tried had no vacancy. Trying to get anywhere in the spaghetti streets of Ottawa is impossible. We were both fading fast, and resorted to singing songs by Live and The Odds at the top of our lungs to stay awake. Finally, we found a motel with a vacancy.
"45 dollars," the guy said.
"Okay. Let us use the phone. We'll call my mom, and she'll give you her credit card number, okay?" said Stephen.
"No way. I can't do that," the guy said.
We pleaded, to no avail. We checked our wallets, and pooled our money. We had 25 dollars.
"How about we give you 25 dollars and we call for his mom's credit card number for the other 20?" we suggested. No deal.
Exhausted, we left, and decided to just go back to the hospital, and sleep in the car in the parking lot. Pulling out of the motel's parking lot, though, we suddenly realized we didn't have a clue where the fuck we were.
Another hour of aimless driving, singing Live and The Odds, and we finally found the hospital again. Sometime around 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning, we parked in the parking lot, put the seats back as far as they'd go, and tried to sleep.
A couple of hours later, we were awakened by Tracy and Lisa tapping on the window of the car.
"Awww... you guys look so cute sleeping there," they teased.
"Fuck off," we said, but they hadn't slept much better in the hospital, with the sounds of sick, screaming children filling their ears.
Tracy saw a real eye specialist. He did something to freeze her eyes, making her pupils dilate all the way, no iris left at all, so that he could look inside. In the end, he said it was not a shiny plate or an inflammation, and definitely, positively not a detached retina. It was something that sometimes happened to teenagers, he said. While they're growing, sometimes the eyeball grows slightly faster than the socket, and the added pressure can sometimes cause a rapid deformation, resulting in temporary blindness. He said that the eyeball would adjust and regain its original shape within 24 hours, and she'd be just fine.
And the next day, she was. In the meantime, though, she was now blind in both eyes for a few hours from whatever he used to freeze them, so Stephen had lots of fun on the way back to Alexandria, swerving the car suddenly and saying "Oh SHIT!" so that she'd freak out and ask "What? What? What just happened?" while the rest of us laughed. Not very nice, perhaps, but quite funny, and we needed a little comic relief after our tiring adventure.