By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“One of our clients brought up anthrax,” Rosberg says. “He wanted to know if it’s safe to breathe the air, and I said, ‘It’s very safe.’ But he also talked about what it’s like to feel afraid all the time. And then another guy, who’s recovering from paranoid schizophrenia, said all this brings back the feeling that someone is after him, because when you read the paper, it’s true.”
The woman in the lavender shirt is talking again. “Instead of killing bin Laden, if America stands together, and unites together . . . as a team . . . united . . . together . . .”
She falters, unsure how to get out of this loop, but after a second moves forward.
“If we’re proud to be Americans and be united, that might work better than killing one of their people.” She looks around. “I had trouble expressing myself.”
A quiet, doughy-faced man next to her follows up. “Maybe make them feel their own sense of what they did. Just recognize what they did and not do the same. Maybe just hold back.”
“But they have no conscience!” shouts an older man with dark, close-shaven hair sitting across the table. A former Marine, Rosberg tells me.
People always want to know if it’s scary, sitting in a room with people who have serious mental illnesses. I’m not scared here at all. I’m relieved.
Unlike the rest of us, the people here are under no obligation to approach this whole thing rationally, or pretend they’re in control of all the fear and sadness this is stirring up. Listening to them, we can understand why so many of us are walking around feeling fragile and not-ourselves, even if nothing has touched us directly.
“This is the first war I’ve been in since I was a kid — that one in 1972,” says a young man with a shaved head and a blond tuft of hair gelled straight up in front. “I never liked it. My dad said, ‘Watch it, I want you to know about it.’ But I didn’t want to watch it.”
A few minutes later, a woman with thick, dark eyebrows and a square face says flatly, “I’m going to be planetless.”
She says this to no one in particular, as people are already filing out of the room. The discussion is over.
As I head to my car, one of the guys from the discussion calls out to me. He’s a tall, bald black man, sitting on a bench, wearing silver cowboy boots. A yellow string is tied around his forehead.
“Let me ask you,” he says. “What else is going on that I’m not aware of?”
He looks at me, waiting for a reply. I am speechless. Isn’t this the exact question that’s been gnawing at me for the last five weeks?
I give some lame reply — “Uh, I’m not sure” — but he doesn’t seem to care. He just switches subjects and starts telling me about how he’s going to colonize the moon.
The Patient Zero of Hypochondriacs?
It started with dry mouth. The cottony, tongue-smacking feeling, like licking a piece of construction paper. Next came dizziness. Racing heartbeat. Woozy, blurry field of vision. Chest pains that progressed from mildly annoying Tylenol-stuck-halfway-down-your-throat to intense freaky. Reading the symptoms on the Web sites — solid, trustworthy sites, including the CDC’s, Johns Hopkins’ and the FDA’s — I think, no, I know, I have it: Anthrax. Or smallpox, botulism, tularemia, plague.
Maybe I picked it up when I moistened that envelope at the ATM. Or maybe when that woman coughed on me in line at the grocery. Oh, the countless doorknobs, toilet seats, salad bars, hugs, handshakes â and shared breathing spaces. Nausea? Check. Fatigue? Check. Coldlike symptoms including fever, cough and malaise? Check, check, check.
Twenty minutes later, I drive to UCLA Medical Center and check myself into the emergency room. I travel from triage to receiving to the little pink desk where they strap on the plastic ID bracelets, then back to triage. A portly fellow sitting in the waiting room informs the med tech that the wound from the lesion he just had removed in a biopsy two days ago won’t stop bleeding and could they please get it to stop? A teenage boy bends over, clutches his head between his legs and retches. A nurse named Jose takes my vitals and shuttles me into a curtained-off section. “Strip,” he says, handing over a cotton gown, “and keep the open part to the back.” As if it were even an option for me. In the cubicle next door, an old man strapped to a gurney screams, again and again, “Damn you! You’re always screwing things up!” The doctors, apparently, were trying to take his temperature.
I’m besieged by a flurry of nurses, phlebotomists, interns and residents. They take blood out. Put saline in. They stick electrodes here and there. They prep me for a CAT scan.
“Do you have any allergies?” Anthrax!
“Have you or anyone you’ve come in contact with been on a plane within the past two weeks?” Anthrax!