The sun came out – just for a few hours – and I wept tears of joy. It’s been dark and flooding and heavy for so long, and I didn’t think I was going to see a blue sky for at least another week. Yet, there it was, waiting for me as I caught the bus to go downtown.
On the bus already was an old, frail, white man at the front in his wheelchair. Both legs were amputated from the knee down, khaki pants tucked neatly under stubs. He looked lost and confused, but then again so did so many others I shared the bus with every day as we leave “pill hill” and the myriad hospitals that fill it. Yet, this man seemed particularly distraught, and the others who say close to the front talked to him in soothing voices.
The hospital-issued wheelchair he sat in was the first clue something was the matter. The second was the semi-torn-out IV in his arm. He wasn’t supposed to be on the bus but had decided, on his own, that it was time to go. Go home. One of the men chatting with the escapee alerted the bus driver. A nurse confirmed that a man with an IV in his arm like that should not be going home, but going back to the hospital. The man soon realized his attempt to flee was discovered, and his distressed grew. He began to wail and cry as the bus pulled over next to the children’s hospital:
“I want to go home!
Roll the bus, roll the bus!”
His cries became more frantic and became less convincing in his commands:
“I don’t want to go back to prison! They’ll lock me up. Don’t make me go back!
Roll the bus, roll the bus.”
The men at the front – one sporting a Veteran’s ball cap – told him it would be OK. The driver told emergency services to come quickly, please. She was calm, but adamant. She turned to reassure the man that help was on the way.
“No. I want to go home. Move the bus. PLEASE.”
He was crying hard, begging for his life.
I stood in the back and choked back tears.
The driver eased the man off the bus and stood with him until help arrived. She gave him a cigarette – forbidden on a hospital campus – and smoked alongside of him. Offering a small pleasure to a man who had none. Two policeman walked up slowly towards the two, doing their best to look gentle despite being visibly armed. The man was calmer now, and the driver got back on the bus.
As we pulled away, I heard the cries build again. Cries from the man who had to go back:
“I just want to go home….Please.”
His voice was weaker and less insistent. Defeated, but still with hope.
According to the man in the Veteran’s cap, the man’s home was a shelter on the edge of the city.
The bus made it down the hill before it stalled out. The driver stared ahead and said that it was her grandfather – mad at her for making her passenger go back. She said she was sorry. Passengers said she did a great job and thanked her. The bus started up again.
At the next stop, a woman got on, yelling at the driver for being so late. The driver smiled at said, “I’m truly sorry ma’am, but sometimes the unexpected happens.”
The sun was still shining.