Finding a matching chair by accident

January 08, 2006|By BOB MAGINNIS

If only I hadn't seen the chairs.

I'll explain in a minute. First, some background:

On Tuesday I left work a few minutes after 5 p.m. and drove up Hagerstown's Summit Ave., toward home and dinner with our two sons, the eldest of whom was coming by for a bowl of his grandmother's delicious homemade vegetable soup.

At the Washington Street intersection, I noticed a small pickup truck a few cars ahead. In the back was a set of chairs identical to ones we'd bought for the kitchen several years ago at a used furniture store.

Made of oak, with padded seats, they were sturdy and comfortable. But the store had only had three left. Was this person in the pickup taking the chairs someplace to sell them or donate them?


The truck turned right at alley next to Ingram's Men's Wear. Maybe I'll ask about the chairs, I thought, and turned along with the truck. Its driver pulled into the parking lot of an office building that fronts on Washington Street. A woman got out. I hailed her and asked her about the chairs.

She'd bought them at the same store where we got ours, she said, for her new office downtown. There were five in the set, which she took even though she needed only four.

Would you sell me one for $20, I asked. She agreed and we exchanged business cards, so that if and when she got tired of them, she could call me. I loaded the chair and got ready to go.

The alley from Summit was one-way, so I headed up another to Washington Street, which I crossed. When I saw that traffic was backed up on Antietam Street, I went left to the next alley, which runs alongside the District Court building. Traffic was backed up there as well, so I motioned to a driver in the westbound lane that I would like to cross the road and go into the alley that runs down next to the Baltimore Street car wash.

That's the last thing I remember until I woke up inside an ambulance, with a paramedic inserting a needle into my left arm. He seemed familiar, but I couldn't be sure. It was hard to see because my head had been immobilized and I couldn't raise it up to look around.

In the emergency room, they took blood and urine samples, than attached a new drip and a blood pressure device with a cuff that inflated every minute or so. My wife was there almost immediately, saying that John League, publisher of The Herald-Mail, had called her and my eldest son had driven everyone in. The soup and the grilled-cheese sandwiches were left to cool on the stove.

My first test was an x-ray. Even though it was early on a Tuesday, I passed patients in the hallways, some with their families. Nobody looked happy to be there.

The x-ray guy's voice sounded familiar and he said he'd been working there for more than 40 years, so I might have met him previously. I posed with my mouth open for several shots, as he attempted to get a good picture of what he said was a crucial bone.

Joking, I asked him whether the x-rays would affect my ability to father more children. No, he said. I'm sure he knew that becoming a father again at 56 would affect my health far more adversely than any x-ray.

Then they took me upstairs for an MRI, where the woman who administered it told me she had been at the hospital for 35 years. Then they covered me with several small blankets and wheeled me into the hall to wait for an attendant.

Back downstairs, the same people were waiting on gurneys in the hallways, some looking unhappier than they'd been when I left, while others dozed. Somewhere close by I could hear a doctor and a patient conversing about a painful medical condition.

Yes, Virginia, there are privacy concerns in the existing ER, although my own were confined to the need to keep the back of my gown closed when one of the physician's assistants took me for a walk down the hall.

Shortly after 10 p.m., they told me that all my tests came back fine. In almost four hours, everyone on staff had been unfailingly polite and professional, reassuring my wife from the first that everything would be all right.

They advised me to take the next day off and have someone observe me for symptoms of post-concussive syndrome. Being home on a weekday was, as always, boring, but I resisted the urge to make phone calls and self-medicated myself with homemade cookies, potato chips and other health foods.

Late in the day we found out which towing yard the van had been taken to and we drove over to empty it of personal belongings, including the Indiana Jones-style hat my wife bought me. On the passenger side, above the rear wheel, was large dent made by the impact of the car that hit me. I almost made it across that street, I thought.

To the friends and well-wishers who called, thank you. To the people I was supposed to see on Wednesday and couldn't, I apologize. I considered pitching out the chair so it wouldn't remind me of that bad day. But I decided to keep it instead, to remind me that there are no guarantees if this life that we will have another day, or even another minute, to do all the things we take for granted.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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