Buck and I were on an early afternoon run, because being a pulp action crime fighter means staying in peak physical condition - crime is a heavyweight opponent, and it hits below the belt! We expected a little relaxing exercise - little did we know we were about to be drawn into a web of chaos and confusion, with not one, not two, but FOUR lives hanging in the balance!
We were running south on Coldwater Canyon towards Ventura, and up ahead of us we could see two women on the sidewalk. Suddenly, and without warning, one of the women collapsed! As she crumpled, she fell off of the curb and sprawled into the street. Naturally, we sprang into action and were there in a flash.
Both women were in their 50's or 60's, of "solid" Slavic/Russian/Armenian heritage. We quickly found out that neither woman spoke English beyond the most basic level. Their English was better than my Russian or Armenian, but, nevertheless, our communication was simplistic, at best.
When we arrived, the woman who fell was trying feebly to get back up to no avail, and her friend was just as ineffectual in trying to help. Buck and I each grabbed an elbow and with a mighty heave, hoisted her back on her feet. However, it was clear she was depending on us to stay upright and would collapse again without our support. As we tried to get her off the street, she could not lift her left foot to step onto the curb, nor would it support her weight so she can step with her right. Again, we had to physically lift her off the street and onto the curb. Her speech was slurred, and she was having difficulty with her left arm.
My keen analytical mind, the product of a billion years of evolution and a lifetime of intense training, reached one inescapable conclusion: "Stroke!" I pulled out my phone, intending to call 911. Buck and I may be pulp science-heroes extraordinaire, but our skills are more suited for punching Nazis and leaping chasms. Providing medical treatment for foreign stroke victims was a little out of our wheelhouse.
Fast as adder, though, the woman snapped out her hand (her good hand), and grabbed my wrist. "No hospital!" she said, panicky. "No hospital! I fine!" She was so insistent that I relented and put the phone away temporarily. With some difficulty, Buck and I determined that the women were walking to the Sportmen's Lodge, just a half block away. The woman who collapsed was regaining some slight strength in her leg, but we volunteered to accompany them there just to make sure she was okay.
As we started on our way, another woman came running up. She was younger, blonde, attractive and most importantly, a doctor! "I was driving by when I saw the woman collapse," she explained. "I parked and got here as fast as I could." Fantastic! I explained our situation and the woman's symptoms as best I could, and she concurred that a stroke was the most likely explanation. But she had no more luck than we at convincing her to go to a hospital, to which the woman remained adamantly opposed. So she decided to join our little band of citizen do-gooders as we took the two women to their destination.
There was a party or some sort of event at the Sportsmen's Lodge, populated by many other people of the women's nationality - all of whom spoke even less English than our charges. We set about trying to find someone there who would look after the woman, but with no luck at all. Out of this entire crowd of people, with all three of us asking for help, not one person would step up and help an old woman obviously in need of looking after.1
I turned to the woman she was with... Gone. Disappeared into the building as soon as we got there.
I appealed to the few people around outside. "Can someone look after her? Make sure she gets home at least?" No one would step forward to help. "Can I get a wheelchair for her?" I asked of the person in charge of the event, who spoke the best English.
"We can't give her a wheelchair inside. If she gets hurt, we could get in trouble." Weasel.
Standing outside the front door, I made one more appeal to the woman to let us call her an ambulance. "No! I fine!"
"You're not fine," I explained. "You've had a stroke. You can barely walk."
"No stroke! I walk fine," she said, lurching forward like a drunken Frankenstein's monster.2 She stopped her forward momentum by gracefully crashing into a wall.
"What about your arm and hand?" we argued.
"Hand fine," she said, holding up her right hand and waving her fingers dexterously.
"Your left hand!" I was torn between weeping and laughter at this point, from frustration and the hilarious ludicrousness of the whole situation.
"Left hand fine," she said, flailing her arm up and smacking herself in the head. That did it. Farce had won out over tragedy. The three of us - Buck, the doctor and I - admitted defeat. We had done our best, but even ace crime fighting skills and twelve years of medical school are no match for obstinate human apathy. We shrugged our shoulders and walked away. Maybe, hopefully, she would find support from her own people once we left.
We staggered exhaustedly back to Coldwater and shook hands. "You guys are heroes," the doctor said.
"Thank you, but it's nothing any honest citizen wouldn't have done," we said, posing with our hands on our hips, staring, chin up, towards the horizon. "It's doctors like you who are the real heroes."
"...Okay. Whatever," she said. "So, goodbye, I guess. Have a nice morning."
"You, too," I replied...
...as two cars crashed into each other 30 feet away from us.
At no point in my life have I ever more felt like I was in a 70's action television show. We all looked at each other, laughed and shrugged, and started running towards the car. Freeze frame. Roll credits.
But, of course, we we weren't on tv, and the new adventure was just beginning.
Part Two to come
1 I will admit that due to this debacle, along with a few other unfortunate encounters (that I will chronicle at another time), I have become quite biased - the sound of a Slavic accent still puts my hackles up and I'm inclined to start assuming the worst.
2No offense to Frankenstein's monster intended. He's a wonderful creature. He just can't hold his liquor.