Have you ever had the sense that, if you were to tell someone about your life lately, they wouldn’t believe you? Welcome to my week! In trying to assess WHY on EARTH I could POSSIBLY be so tired, and why in the WORLD I am having totally wacked out dreams, I realized that maybe…maybe…this week has been a little strange. I assure you, everything I tell you here is 100% true for no other reason than I could not make this up if I tried. I’m exhausted and having dreams that are waking and keeping me up. There’s no energy left in my body for creativity. This is, as they say, just the facts.
So let me give you a little back story. In case you haven’t realized yet, my life is a little crazy. My baseline for “crazy” is likely a little different from other folks. I mean, just in regards to work, I can go from listening to a little girl sing a song I can’t understand that is supposedly about a carrot that lives in a submarine (and then seeing the little girl have a tantrum because she wants the submarine, and she wants a carrot in it, goddamnit!) to talking to a mother about how her son has never had any medical problems (nope, no medical problems…seriously, nope, no medical problems)…except for the asthma, 2 blood transfusions, 2 months in the NICU, 3 hospitalizations, being born at 33 weeks gestation, and the 2 outpatient surgeries. After that, maybe I’ll see the mother who tells me she doesn’t know anything about her kids development because she was incarcerated for 3 years and her kid’s only 4, and then I’ll round out the day coming up with a treatment plan for a little dude who masturbates 4+ hours per day. Yeah. This, my friends, is my normal, and that didn’t touch on life outside of work.
Monday was a normal day. Or at least, I don’t remember it. Monday actually could have been very memorable, but Tuesday wiped out all memory of Monday, so let’s just start there.
Tuesday. It started out as a normal Tuesday. Took the metro into work. Did not meet any crazy people on the train. I have to be to work early on Tuesdays because we have our weekly
two hours of torture fascinating lectures. I arrived on-time, listened to a boring-as-hell riveting lecture on movement disorders, and then went up to my desk. On Tuesday, two of my colleagues and I have to take a shuttle to another building downtown, and we frequently stop at Starbucks and talk for a bit before we go in for our meeting. This Tuesday, we did just that: caught the shuttle to our other building, went in Starbucks for a caffeine fix after the snoozer of a lecture lecture that managed to hold my rapt attention for two hours, and then we sat outside on a bench, enjoying the fact that we were outside while there was still daylight. Went to the meeting for two hours, hopped back on the shuttle, and made it back to the original building with 20 minutes to spare before my first client of the day.
Let me take a break for a moment and tell you about this client. I’ve only seen this client once, but I was warned by her prior therapist. This little girl and her cousin live with their elderly grandparents. Grandma brings them to session, and it wasn’t the little girl I was warned out. It’s grandma. Grandma has significant health problems and, in the words of the prior clinician, “I was worried every single session that granny was going to die on the couch.” When I told my supervisor who I was seeing this week, his comment was, “Oh THAT kid…is grandma still alive?” Seriously. She apparently had pneumonia for 6 weeks and didn’t realize it. When I saw her the first time, she didn’t look bad: she had been in the hospital, gotten the pneumonia cleared up, and she was back, better than ever I suppose. I was supposed to have a second session with them two weeks ago, but got a phone call from grandpa that they had to cancel because grandma was in the hospital due to a heart attack. Yikes. I didn’t expect Granny to come in on Tuesday, kinda figured they might no-show me…but they arrived 15 minutes early and were ready to go. About 10 minutes before their appointment, I walked past them in the lobby to grab some papers and told them I would be with them soon. Granny looked bad. I now understand why the previous therapist was worried. It just couldn’t be good.
So I go back to my desk, and frantically trying to pull together all my progress notes and make sure they’re all signed, dated, and copied. Progress notes are due at 2, and it’s now about 1:50. I’m standing at my desk, signing the last progress note, when suddenly, there is a noise. A loud noise, and it feels like the room shakes. Wow, I think, somebody must have a really aggressive, big kid in the lobby that just banged the hell out of the door. But the shaking continued. And continued. I look at my officemates, who stare back at me with the same open mouthed expression.
“Oh my God,” one of them says. “Are we having an earthquake?” We stand, frozen, staring at each other as things start to fall off of the desks, file drawers start to slide open, and the shaking intensifies.
“Everybody get in the doorways,” shouts “Helen,” the supervisor-on-duty from the other side of the hall. We all move to the doorway, and as I’m walking, I realize I’m moving sideways and not forward, and I have to lean on a file cabinet for a split second to get my legs back under me so I don’t fall. For the first time in my life, one thought only is going through my head: This is real. People die in earthquakes. This could be it. One of my other colleagues, “Anna,” is still sitting at her desk with the phone in her hand, open-mouthed, staring at us. I grab her hand as I walk by and she stands and follows me.
There are five of us in the doorway, trying to squeeze together as much as possible, squeezing each other’s hands, touching each others’ shoulders, just to connect. We barely know each other, but we need that connection. Another colleague, “Matt,” opens the heavy door to the staff only part of the clinic and, as he does, a ceiling tile smashes down in front of him. “Holy shit!” he exclaims, and jumps into the doorway nearest him.
“GET IN THE DOORWAYS,” yells Helen, trying not to sound panicked.
“It’s alright,” he says. “We are.”
Boxes of files fall off of the top of the cabinet near us, stacks of papers and coloring pages fall to the floor, and prize boxes fall off the tops of shelves and crash onto the ground, and the intense shaking subsides.
We are silent for a moment. “Are we still moving?” Anna asks.
“Stay where you are,” says Helen. “Nobody move. Just stay put.” She sounds considerably calmer. Almost like she’s breathing again. We don’t move.
“We are still moving, aren’t we?” Anna asks again.
“I think so,” I say, still feeling the slight tremors under my feet. It’s like that feeling when you’re on a swing that you let just slow to a stop, when you’re just barely moving.
“Holy shit,” Matt says from the other doorway again.
“Is everybody okay?” Helen asks. “Who’s out there?” We tell her.
“We’re fine,” we say, still not moving.
One of the administrative staff, “John” pokes his head in, frantic. “Is everybody okay?” he asks. He walks around, sees where we are, observes the damage, and tells us not to move. John and Helen go out into the clinic. A minute later they return.
“Everybody out,” they say. “We’re evacuating. Go down to the playground.” We turn and go down the four flights of steps, starting to talk and breathe and laugh to diffuse the anxiety of it all. Outside, we start looking for our clients. Mine is nowhere to be seen. I keep looking. And looking. And looking. I can’t find them.
I wait as I see a few more people come out of the building. Not them. I wait. And I wait.
“I don’t see my client,” I say nervously to Matt. “Grandma had a heart attack two weeks ago, she can’t walk well, she’s got a cane…I don’t know if she could make it down the steps.”
“Holy shit,” he says again, the rest of his vocabulary apparently gone.
I wait what feels like 3 more hours, and then go to approach the supervisor, ask her what the hell I should do. As I walk up to her, I see Client, Cousin, John, and Grandma come out of the building. Grandma looks completely done in, and John looks like he had to carry all 250 lbs of her down 4 flights of steps. My client and her cousin stand close to grandma, wide-eyed and silent.
Resisting the urge to hug them or John, I approach them, calmly and professionally. “Are you guys okay?” I ask, looking at grandma first.
“I can’t do steps,” she wheezes. “I gots to sit down.”
I look around. The closest place to sit is in a cement covered walkway. Probably not the best idea, but granny looks like she is seriously going to collapse. “Let’s get you a seat over here,” I say. “We might need to move in a moment, but let’s get up here so you can sit down first.”
We take slow, painstaking steps to the bench. Grandma sits down and I let her catch her breath. She looks up at me, confused. “Felt like an earthquake,” she says.
“I’m pretty sure that’s what it was,” I say. I look to my little client, still wide-eyed and clutching her grandmother’s purse. “That was pretty scary, wasn’t it?” I say to her. She nods, chin quivering. “But feel right now? Nothing is shaking.” I stomp my feet on the ground. “It’s okay,” I tell her, taking her hand and looking in her big brown eyes. Cousin sidles in to be part of the conversation. I take her hand with my other one. “Earthquakes happen when big things like rocks move waaaay down deep underground. It makes things shake like we just felt.” They nod again. My client has a significant cognitive disability and language disorder, so I’m pretty sure she’s not understanding. We take a deep breath together, and their little shoulders drop a bit. “Look,” I say pointing, “Granny is okay, Cousin is okay, Client is okay, and Autodidact is okay.” She nods again. I ask grandma if she is okay to move. It’s quite a walk to the picnic benches.
“I don’t know if I can make it,” she tells me. “But I’ll try.” We inch our way across the parking lot until we get to the picnic bench. I tell the girls to stay with granny and go back to find out what’s going on.
Somebody does an inspection of the building: apparently our floor, the 4th floor, was hit the hardest. There are several ceiling tiles out, and 2 light fixtures fell, one of which hit another client in the head. We’re told it is safe to go back into the building. We look to Helen. “What do we do about our clients?” we ask. We’re all talking at once, telling her how many clients we have left for the day, how many of us have clients here now, what time our clients are expected to come. She stops us.
“Are you guys okay?” she asks for what feels like the hundredth time.
We start telling her again, asking what to do about the clients who are here now, if we should see them, should we bill for half an hour, can we bill at all, can we get a hold of our other families…
“No,” she says stopping us. “Everybody stop and listen to me.” She looks at Anna. “You start. I am asking you: are you okay to see clients? Are you emotionally okay to see clients right now.” Anna stops, quiet for a moment.
“I…well…I have a client coming at 3,” she says.
“Okay,” Helen says, giving up on us. “Let me go try to call some other supervisors, see what they say, and go look upstairs and see what’s happening. Just tell your clients to wait out here.” About 10 minutes later, Helen comes back to tell us we’re closing and to tell our clients to go home. I go talk to grandma, make sure she has transportation to get home, help her get into a cab, and go upstairs.
The fourth floor looks…well…it looks like an earthquake happened. There is debris everywhere. The office is a mess with papers and files and open drawers. We’re told to call our clients and cancel the rest of our appointments, but we can’t dial out. We try, document that we tried, and Helen tells us to leave. We congregate in the hallways, trying to figure out where everyone is going. The shuttle that takes my colleagues home isn’t running, and public transportation has stopped. There is no way I was getting on the metro anyway…I mean seriously, a shooting silver bullet underground not even an hour after a freakin’ earthquake just doesn’t sound like a good idea to me. This also means that I have no way of going home.
Everyone else lives close enough that we can walk, although we have to walk down a relatively sketchy street, in a pretty sketchy area. We decide that we will walk everyone home, have them check out their houses and be sure they’re okay, and that I will go to “Corinne’s” house while I figure out what to do. A group of 6 of us leave the office and start walking. Everywhere, people are out on the streets talking, surveying the damage. There are bricks lying on the sidewalk, a collapsed chimney, pieces of gutters in our path. People look at us as we pass. “Are you okay?” we ask, as they stare at us from their front stoop.
“Things just got shook up,” one lady with a naked baby says.
“We all right, praise the Lord,” says an older woman sitting with 5 children around her.
We make our way over to Ann Street. A group of men to our right is yelling about one guy owing somebody else money and we keep walking. Somebody jumps into a car to our left and pulls out into the road and, suddenly, there is a loud, horrific noise, followed by silence, and then by strings of expletives. Apparently, the man who jumped into the car didn’t look before pulling out, and a car that was plowing down Ann Street far too fast hit the front left corner of his car and pulled off half the bumper. They immediately start yelling at each other, and Matt, as the only guy in the group, says, “holy shit,” and then tells us all not to stop, not to look, and to keep walking. All of us in our dress shoes and work clothes speed-walk down Ann Street as fast as possible, rubbing new blisters into our toes with every step, but not daring to stop and fix the shoe.
“A f***ing car accident? An earthquake AND a f***ing CAR ACCIDENT right in front of us?!” we exclaim, in turn, as it sinks in what just happened.
We drop everyone off, one by one, at their apartments. They run in and come back out to tell us: “everything’s fine. A couple pictures are crooked, something fell off the shelf, but it’s all fine.” We’re amazed, and we keep walking.
When only Matt, Corinne and I are left, we go to Corinne’s apartment, where I finally get a hold of my father, who is fine, and then my mother, who is also fine, and had been at the hospital in Baltimore down the street visiting my grandmother. I ask if she can come pick me up when she’s finished and drive me to the metro station to get my car. A policeman we asked on the walk home said he wasn’t sure when the metro would be opening again, but that it would definitely be down for a few more hours at least. At Corinne’s apartment we turn on the television and learn that it was a 5.9 earthquake that shook us.
“Holy shit,” says Matt.
A while later, my mom comes to pick me up, and it takes us 2 hours to get home and out of the grid-locked city. Aside from a small aftershock that woke me up that night, Tuesday is over.
…To Be Continued…