When I drove a taxi the local welfare hospital would call taxis to transport people home since an ambulance probably cost about $500, whereas we cost about $20.
I had gotten a call to go the ER, but had no idea what was waiting for me. I never did.
The ER was around back and when I pulled in what I found was waiting for me, outside in her wheelchair, was a little old white-haired lady who looked to be 85 years old and weighing 85 pounds.
Turns out she has fallen down in her apartment and fortunately only bruised her hip. A broken hip at that age is pretty much a death sentence, since the bones very often don't heal and the person ends up confined to bed until they kick the bucket, which happens fast. I've seen it, since I worked in a nursing home for a year when I was 19 and 20 years old.
My mother, who smoked since she was 14 and had the hollow bones of a bird, once fell down and shattered her hip at age 63. The surgeon said it was the worst break he had ever seen. And damn if two years later she didn't fall down again and break the same hip. The surgeon told her not to break that hip again or she would be in a wheelchair permanently. She limped the rest of her life (more like staggered), slept upright in a recliner and was on painkillers until the day she died. But at least modern surgery saved her. One hundred years ago she would have been bedridden for a few months before she was gone.
I asked the little old lady if she could get into the back seat. She said, "I'll try" and then I quickly found out she couldn't stand up. She lifted herself up maybe an inch from her wheelchair before "ARGGHHHH!!!" came out of her mouth. So I tried to help her out of her chair and she still moaned and groaned and cried in agony.
I went into the ER, grabbed a nurse and explained the situation to her. The woman needed an ambulance. She got a frozen smile on her face, patted me on the arm and then said, "You're a big strong man and I'm sure you can handle it."
I walked out. I think I had a look of disgust on my face. I was on my own. But then, that was what driving a cab was about. I was always on my own.
I told the little old lady I could pick her up and put her in the back seat but it was gonna hurt. She said yes, go ahead.
So I picked her up while she screamed in agony and deposited her while she screamed in agony in the back seat of my taxi, then folded up her wheelchair and put it in my trunk.
I had no idea what I was in for in about 15 minutes.
I could tell from the address she lived on the South Side. When I got there I found she lived on the second floor of an old, four-apartment brick building. What the hell? Who put her in this place? At her age she was confined to her apartment. Did people bring her everything she needed? It wasn't like she was going shopping.
By the way, there was no elevator. These old buildings, built around the turn of the 20th Century, never had elevators.
Fortunately the other little old people who lived there - including a man - came swarming out of the building to help. They took her keys out of her purse and went upstairs to open her door.
There was no way in the world she was going to make it up those stairs. There were three flights even though she was on the second floor.
"I don't know how I'm going to get you upstairs," I told her.
"I can get on your back," she told me, which wasn't going to happen in a million years. I could imagine her losing her grip and tumble screaming down the stairs, to come to rest with a bunch of broken bones or else dead. "Dispatch, uh, I've got a problem here."
"I can carry you upstairs in my arms," I suggested, and she immediately agreed. I suspected this could open up the cab company to a major lawsuit if I dropped the old doll. I even called in and was told, "Do what you think is best."
So I did.
I hauled her screaming out of my cab and deposited her screaming in her wheelchair, wheeled her up to the door of the building, then picked her up in my arms. She stopped screaming.
The whole thing was just surreal.
The little old people opened the door and I carried her inside.
Guess what? It was a furnace inside the building. The little old lady wrapped her hands around my neck (which I figured had last happened to her about 25 years ago) and I started carrying her up the stairs.
It got hotter the more we climbed. I estimated it over 100 degrees in there. I had to stop to rest on the second landing, with the little old lady still in my arms and still clinging to my neck.
I once had a girlfriend who weighed 85 pounds but everything was in proportion. This little old lady, on the other hand, was a beach ball with spaghetti for arms and legs. Imagine carrying an 85-pound beach ball up those stairs. It was a lot harder than I anticipated.
Finally I made it to her apartment door, which the other little old people had opened.
When I walked into her apartment, with her in my arms, the air was ice-cold. She had a window unit going full-blast, and thank God for it because I was pouring sweat and blinded by the salt in it.
I deposited the old dame on her bed, still being swarmed by three little old people, rested a bit while I cooled down and caught my breath, then dragged her wheelchair upstairs.
I still had that unreal feeling, thinking, did I really do this?
I don't remember too much about the apartment but I think it was a studio. She didn't need anything more than that. I don't remember how much it cost at that time but I'm sure not much.
I never asked where she got her money from but I suspect she got Social Security but nothing else. Otherwise, she'd be in a better place. But whoever owned the place had the sense to fill it with old people so they could help each other. I suspect that poor guy who helped us had his hands full with three little old ladies fluttering around like little old birds.
I wondered how she was going to survive in her apartment. Food, bathroom, etc. I figured she'd be okay once her hip healed, but how long would that take? I didn't ask. It's not like I could do anything about it. It was up to her little old friends, I guessed.
I told everyone since I had done my good deed for the day I was going to leave.
The hospital gave us old-time IBM punch-cards to turn in to the cab company to get paid. The ride came to about $15 but I charged them another $15 for my time and effort and wrote an explanation on the back.
The hospital paid and I never heard a word about it. After all, I had saved them about $500 since the little old lady really needed an ambulance. And why wasn't she in a place with one storey or if more than one, elevators?
That wasn't the most bizarre thing I ever did driving a taxi, but it might have been the most dangerous one. I mean, my God, what if I had dropped her? Thump, bounce, shriek, bounce, shriek, bounce, shriek, bounce...then no more bounces and shrieks, just one last thump, then silence.
And you know what? Even if I had dropped the old lady and offed her, the taxi company would have paid the lawsuit and I would not have been fired.
Killing a little old lady by accident? No big deal. Just an everyday part of driving a taxi.