The bump of the gurney as we lowered it into the idling truck was enough to jostle the patient’s head to one side, revealing an ear that was all but swallowed up by titanium piercings. The rash that screamed beneath the tattoo that lined her neck was an indicator that we were just a few symptoms shy of anaphylaxis. She threw back a shock of Smurf-blue hair and groaned.
“I toed her I haith avocathoes,” she sputtered, her speech slurring with the swelling of her tongue.
Raphael was at the ready with an epi, and he turned a questioning glance my way.
Raphael is essentially my favorite EMT because he doesn’t attempt to challenge my authority every shift like some of the guys whose greatest professional disappointment seems to be having a woman paramedic for a supervisor.
“Drunk, allergy, or both?” he checked.
“Just allergy, I think, but hold on,” I jutted my shoulder to block him from our patient. I leaned in close and couldn’t help noticing that she smelled strongly feminine despite the tall Doc Martens and assortment of tattoos.
“One more time for me, what’d you just say?” I asked.
“Avocathoes. See puth one eh muh smuh -” she attempted to finish. She wheezed weakly, eyes growing wide with terror.
I whipped toward Raphael.
“Switch your gloves to nitrile. Let’s move on that epi!”
Another reason I love Raphael? “Wait, but -” doesn’t exist in his vocabulary. When I give an order, he snaps into action. Before I could slam the back door, our patient was already stabbed and Raphael was unwinding a chord to the nebulizer.
“You’re gonna be fine,” I smiled at her, even though Raphael is usually the one who makes the reassuring small talk. In another uncharacteristic move, I leaned in and squeezed her hand.
“Love you,” she murmured drowsily.
Raphael stifled a giggle. We get that a lot. From drunks, from those convinced they’re dying, from those who really are. For once, I didn’t roll my eyes.
We were halfway through our lunch, swinging our legs off the bumper at the Detroit River before Raphael brought her up.
“Why the nitrile gloves?” he asked tentatively.
“Avocado allergy,” I shrugged. “I mean, likely, anyway. From what she kept saying. If you’re allergic to avocado, you’re likely allergic to latex, too. They’re related.”
Raphael balled up his lunch bag and gave a salute.
“Professor Kendall! Lesson learned!” he joked.
I brushed non-existent crumbs from my lap.
“It’s called reading. Maybe you should try learning about your field sometime,” I pushed back. “Let’s wake up Franklin,” I motioned to our driver who always picked napping over lunching.
“Wonder how she’s doing,” he smiled expectantly.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I protested.
Raphael knew how to push just far enough without making me snap.
“I dunno, Kendall. You’re weird, but you were even weirder today. I mean, all I’m saying is, it’s a compassionate industry. You get a patient, you wonder how things turned out. Maybe you should check on her.”
“Raphe, here’s an idea. How ‘bout you shut up?”
Raphael nodded. “I’ve never seen you blush, Ken. Kinda hilarious.”
We walked our trash to a barrel.
“Just saying, no way she’s been released yet. ER was slowwww. You might wanna—”
I stepped on his foot, which was the most effective way to get him to shut up considering how clean he keeps his shoes.
“Raphe, get a life.”
He bent to wipe his shoes while I climbed in the truck. I slammed the back shut, forcing him to walk around to the passenger side.
“Check on her,” he mouthed from outside, and then let out a howl that was intended to sound wolflike, but from a guy Raphael’s size it was more of the puppy-whose-tail-caught-under-your-foot variety.
Aside from the rhythmic cadence of a heart monitor on the other side of the partition, triage was far calmer than usual. Hospital time occurs in its own strange vacuum, and though I’d had time to complete the rest of my shift, feed my cat, return library books, water my plants, and invent more excuses to not drive straight to Beaumont, she would likely still be stuck for hours.
Her face was hidden behind a large book, but I immediately recognized the affront of blue tresses that spilled down her shoulders. The agitated bounce of her knee told me she had probably reached the point in her recovery where she felt well enough to want to just go be miserable at home.
“Knock, knock,” I announced, feeling instantly moronic. What could you really say when you were knocking on a pastel, houndstooth fabric?
She marked her spot with a tissue and dropped the textbook into her lap.
“From the ambulance?” she started. When not inhibited by a swelling tongue, her voice was an unexpectedly elf-like chirp.
“Yeah,” I shrugged. “I had to swing back by the hospital so I thought I’d check on you.”
“Well, I’m Annalise,” she began. “And it looks like you saved my life. So, I’m glad you came back so I can thank you.” She smiled for the first time. “Thank you. I mean, really. You’re probably used to this because you do it for your job, but it’s kind of a big deal.”
I was doing a lot more smiling than I normally do.
“Kendall,” I extended my most professional handshake. “It’s no big deal.” I glanced at the hand that found its way into mine, the cool of her many rings pressing into my palm. “Do you remember what happened to you?”
“Avocadoes,” she sighed.
I laughed. “Well, I figured. Did you know you were allergic?”
“I always thought I just hated them. My ex-girlfriend was obsessed with them, and maybe that should have been a sign. She was always a food trend follower. She wanted so badly for me to fit into the world of avocado toast and steel-cut oats, when really I’m just the toaster waffle and sugar cereal type. She’d tell me I just needed to train my tastebuds or that I should stop thinking I hated foods without trying. I mean, I already have one mom, and I was tired of her trying to take over the job. I’d tell her I liked the flavor of the toast, but it just wasn’t worth the way my mouth itched. I thought avocados did that to everyone.”
She was a rambler. She knew it, too. She looked suddenly self-conscious and I remembered I get too quiet when I’m drinking people in.
“That’s probably more than you wanted to know.”
I smiled. “No, really. It’s—you’re good. So, why’d you give up on your avocado ban? Last ditch attempt to preserve the relationship?”
It was her turn to laugh, and honest to goodness, it was like a peal of high-pitched bells. The kind of laugh you’d either find to be nails-on-a-chalkboard or love with all your being. I couldn’t get enough of it.
“It was completely involuntary. She was coming to drop off some of my stuff from her apartment and I asked her if she wanted to grab food together after. I wanted to stay civil. She offered to bring carryout so we could eat in the park, and I thought, you know, what a serene end to this chapter. She had smoothies with her, and we toasted our friendship.”
My eyes widened.
“Oh, no. It’s not like that,” Annalise assured. “I mean, she was mad at me. Really mad for dumping her like I did. But she was more terrified than I was when I started to grow hives and balloon up. She told me instantly that she’d ordered my smoothie with avocado because all that pineapple and coconut masks the flavor. She was trying to prove I could consume avocado and grow to like it, if I’d only devote myself to the task. She wanted me to not give up so easily.”
“Sounds like she was talking about more than just the avocado,” I offered.
Annalise smiled sadly.
“She’s the one who called 9-1-1, but when she saw you guys turn into the park, she booked. I should probably call and tell her I’m not dead.”
“No thanks to her,” I shuddered.
Her recount of earlier events appeared to have exhausted her.
“But many thanks to you,” she muttered. “Wanna stay a bit?” she yawned.
And I did. For good, in fact.
A month later, when her hair had transformed from blue to green, I shifted nervously in a folding chair in the tattoo parlor where she had a cheerful avocado added to her sleeve. She pinched my elbow and squeaked as the needle met her skin.
“I love you,” she announced.
My breath caught and I covered her hand with mine.
“You look a lot cuter than you did the first time you said it,” I teased.
“What are you talking about?” she demanded.
“Nothing,” I grinned. “Just an allergic reaction.”
Sarah Pettigrew is a freelance writer who lives footsteps away from the Detroit River and who runs a free community meal program in her neighborhood. She lives in a messy house where it’s impossible to dodge the many stacks of books that accrue on every step and surface. She has a ridiculous husband and four heroic children who are all intent on making the world a more colorful and just place to live in. Sarah has written two middle reader novels that are still looking for their publishing home, she contributes columns with local papers, and she blogs at soupmama.wordpress.com.