Broken Fear

April 3, 2011
Rachel hates gym. Whenever she walks into any kind of gymnasium she shudders. The muscles in her shoulders tense and her steps become slower and more tentative. Her eyes dart around the room looking for any potential danger. Some people would call this behavior paranoid, even crazy. But Rachel knows the truth. Ten minutes in sixth grade changed Rachel’s attitude about gym class forever.
“Everyone line up on the black line! Hurry!” yelled Ms. Kutsche, our ironically overweight gym teacher. Her dirty white tennis shoes squeaked as she made her way back to her perch on the sidelines of Rachel’s middle school gym. Whispers of conversation floated through the heavy wooden double doors on one of the short sides of the rectangular room as students hurried to class and teachers herded kids to various parts of the building. Next to the doors on a perpendicular wall, girls streamed giggling out of their locker room while boys trudged sullenly out of theirs further along the white stone wall. Between these two locker rooms Ms. Kutsche slogged back into her makeshift office to retrieve her attendance sheet.
An audible sigh filled the air next to Rachel as she began to trek across the center of the gym. “I can’t believe they’re making us play a stupid game for only fifteen minutes! Why can’t we just talk?” Rachel’s friend, Emily, complained as she flipped her long, straight brown hair. Looking at the glum faces of the rest of the class cluttered in groups of three or four around the gym, Rachel noticed many of them shared Emily’s sentiment.
“Seriously Em, it’s only the second day of gym class in middle school ever and you’re already complaining?” Rachel retorted. “Hey, at least the fan is on,” she noted, as a particularly gusty breeze flew through the gym.
“Alright, who are going to be the taggers?” Ms. Kutsche asked. Silence hovered over the room except for the shuffling of feet across the floor. “Volunteers? Anyone? Fine, you and you.” Ms Kutsche pointed to Emily and a tall blond boy next to me.
Emily rolled her eyes and another audible sigh punctured the air as she slogged to the center line. Rachel bent down to tie her grey shoelaces so she wouldn’t trip when she ran.
“Go!” Ms. Kutsche hollered.
Rachel’s shoes pounded across the shiny wood floors dodging the two taggers. Darting off to the left side, Rachel almost ran into the pulled up bleachers trying to avoid Emily, who was barely making an effort to tag anyone. One final burst of energy and Rachel was across the black line at the opposite end of the gym.
As the rest of the pack slowed to a stop around her, bracing themselves for another round, Rachel scanned the room for new taggers captured by Emily and the other boy. A few people had been tagged on the far right side, where Ms. Kutsche rolled around in her office chair next to her makeshift desk. Rachel glanced back at Emily standing in the center of the gym, adjusting her red Badger shorts and checking the clock.
Following her eyes, Rachel glimpsed at the time. Ten more minutes, she thought, as the class prepared to run back to the other side of the gym.
“Seriously? Again?!?” Rachel’s other friend Kate sighed as she leaned against the wall, with eyes only half open. Rachel laughed when she saw Kate had not even bothered to change out of her jeans, flip flops and pink t-shirt. Other snippets of conversation permeated the air and rose towards the spider web-covered rafters.
“How do you like Mr. Stamler for English? He seems hard,” a girl next to me remarked to her friend in the corner near the boy’s locker rooms.
Another group of friends were making plans for the weekend, “Come on! We have to see that new movie that just came out! It looks so awesome!”
Rachel rubbed her eyes as the conversation died down and everyone took their places across the thin line. She lined her toe up with the starting mark and waited for Ms. Kutsche’s direction.
Startled by the sudden silence, Ms. Kutsche looked up from her magazine and exhaled noisily, impatiently looking at the clock. “And go,” she rumbled resignedly, wiping her thin wire glasses on her khaki pants.
The kids around Rachel lurched into motion as they heard Ms. Kutsche lethargically give the signal. Running off to the right, towards the propped up wooden bleachers, Rachel dodged several of the less enthusiastic taggers. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Emily leaning against the white stone wall, giving up completely
on the game. Ms. Kutsche glared disapprovingly in Emily’s direction, making a mark in her ever-present maroon grade book. Following Rachel’s gaze, Emily saw Ms. Kutsche’s condemning glower and non-chalantly rolled her eyes. Rachel laughed silently to herself. “If anyone was going to fail gym class, it would be Emily,” she thought.
Almost across the gym, Rachel started to slow down, preparing to stop just before the thick end line. Peeking to the left one more time, she saw a black and blue blur and what felt like a solid brick wall catapulted her forward onto both arms. Oblivious to the sickening crunch, Rachel hit the unforgiving floor. “I must have landed on my knee,” she thought as a shooting pain arose in her left knee. Rachel sighed, exacerbated, and attempted to get up to finish the rest of this godforsaken class. Only then did she glimpse her left arm. Rachel’s eyes swept across her forearm starting with her elbow. Revolted, her eyes locked upon the middle of her arm, where it seemed like the whole middle section was simply aligned an inch lower than the rest of her limb. Her arm had become a miniature half-pipe. Panic clouded Rachel’s vision like rain beating on a windshield. Snapping out of her reverie, she saw no one was coming to help her. No one seemed to even notice.
Huddled about ten feet away from her, Ms. Kutsche was speaking quietly to another boy, also spread out of the floor. A cry escaped Rachel’s lips. Not out of pain--- blissful numbness permeated her arm---but out of fear. At first nobody came, and then
everybody came. Friends of Rachel flooded the spot where she was lying. They must have moved quickly but Rachel only saw dreamlike people flowing in a blurry world.
“Back! Back! Everyone back away!” Ms. Kutsche bellowed, lumbering over to Rachel, “Someone, call the nurse! Now!” Her face pierced the hazy world and then floated back into Rachel’s blurry surroundings as, yet again, Rachel’s gaze lost focus.
Emily’s voice cut through the babble, “Rach, are you--Ew! Gross! Look at her arm!” she squealed as she came closer. Clearing past the cloud of pain, Emily’s face stood out among the frantic confusion but quickly delved back into the indistinct abyss of Rachel’s sight moments later.
In all the chaos and the noise, the blurriness and the confusion, this one statement made Rachel smile to herself. “That is so typical Emily,” she thought.

The sound of harried footsteps filled the air and Rachel craned her neck to find the source. The nurse came into view, kneeling in front of Rachel with kind, dark brown eyes. Her black tennis shoes scuffed the floor as she plucked a paper bag from a pocket in her light khaki pants. “Breathe into this,” the nurse said while motioning for Ms. Kutsche to call 911. The nurse kneeled next to Rachel, warily looking at her misshapen arm.

Rachel took the bag and started breathing into it, as instructed. She snuck a peek at her disfigured arm and started hyperventilating as panic wrapped around her lungs like a cobra.

“In, out. In, out,” said the nurse, breathing with Rachel. Suddenly, the doors on the opposite side wall opened and sunlight streamed into every nook and cranny of the gym. Wheels clattered across the smooth floor, followed by the sound of two different
sets of heavy footsteps. The nurse rose, short brown hair falling out of its makeshift ponytail, and let the two white-uniformed men take over.

“Hi, we’re paramedics. Do you think you can get onto the stretcher by yourself?” said the shorter, blond man.

“I think so,” Rachel said, confident of her abilities. As she struggled to get to her feet with only one good arm, Rachel saw the nurse quietly conferring with the tall, black haired paramedic. Rising, Rachel stumbled as the world went blurry.
The blond man jumped forward, helping her with the last few steps. “One, two, three,” he counted down. On three, Rachel half jumped, half was hoisted onto the shaky white stretcher.

The taller paramedic rushed over and the two cautiously but efficiently wheeled Rachel out of the ill-fated gym. Once outside the school, Rachel gratefully breathed in the brisk autumn air. Trying to maneuver the stretcher, the two men came across the three stairs right before the driveway and the parked ambulance. These stairs cut across a short grassy hill and a four foot stone wall constructed by the school. They also proved a problem for a stretcher meant to roll over smooth flat surfaces. Decisively, the
paramedics snapped the wheels of the stretcher in so it looked like a thick rimmed ironing board.

Rachel’s mind was going a million times a minute but also could not comprehend anything past an indistinct haze of thought and emotion. Birds’ songs punctured the air
and the trees ruffling in the wind overstimulated Rachel’s senses. She heard the wheels snapping under her as the two paramedics lifted her into the air but the only thing she could see was the sun glinting off the ambulance’s bumper. As the ambulance doors came closer and closer, everything became increasing illusory. The blue sky seemed to be falling, mixed in with the brilliant white of the clouds. The ground seemed to be dropping, millions of miles below Rachel’s feet. Finally, the paramedics reached the ambulance and shoved open the doors.

“Bring her in,” instructed a shadowy figure in the front of the ambulance.

“One, two, three,” the two men counted in unison.

Rachel was raised into the ambulance with great care not to jostle her arm. She exhaled as the relentless beating of the sun gave way to a dim, but still fuzzy world.

“It’s gonna be ok,” said a mysterious figure in the back.

Rachel nodded lethargically as the blond paramedic, at long last, shut the double doors of the ambulance and everything went black.

The sound of rattling equipment brought Rachel back to consciousness with a jolt. Dazed and blinking, Rachel rubbed her eyes until her blurry vision gave way to the clear
world. Looking to her left, Rachel caught a glimpse of the street they were passing through the tiny square window. The trees now seemed suffocating, the grass all too green, and even the birds were singing an ominous melody.
“She’s awake,” an enigmatic voice called from somewhere behind her head.

Rachel’s view was suddenly crowded with an indistinct figure, haloed by the light streaming in from the window.

“How are you feeling?” It inquired. Moving into the light, Rachel could see the shadow was the blond paramedic. Crouching beside her stretcher, his brow furrowed with trepidation as he steadied himself against the opposite wall. “Don’t worry, we’re almost there,” he stated as he checked his watch.

Rachel nodded, trusting, and glanced back at the small window. Focusing her eyes, she recognized the buildings and roads as the ambulance hurtled down the street. The route she had taken thousands of times to go to her doctor’s office or to her favorite restaurant now seemed to darken with foreboding. The ambulance then turned onto a smaller poorly constructed road next to, she realized, her own hospital and the whole vehicle began to shudder over an infinite number of potholes. Rushing back from consulting the driver, one of the paramedics supported Rachel’s stretcher so her arm would not take the brunt of the jostling.

The ambulance pulled hastily into its designated driveway as a flurry of chaos inside the vehicle commenced. Anxious voices wove together as Rachel picked out fragments of rapid commands.

“Go to the left!”
“No, not your left! My le-!“
“Just be careful! It’s a bad break!”

Rachel caught her breath as she finally heard someone say the truth. Overwhelmed, she closed her eyes welcoming the darkness. This comfort did not last long for the wide double doors of the ambulance were shoved open and colors danced on the insides of Rachel’s eyelids. Hypnotized, she watched the flashes of color change from red to orange to pink wishing she was anywhere but there. Abruptly, Rachel felt her stretcher rise and tilt startlingly to the left.

“Shi-! Shoot, I mean shoot,” a voice swore as Rachel’s stretcher was righted.

Reluctantly, Rachel blinked her eyes open and reality brightly streamed back across her vision. Four feet below her, the concrete path led to a pair of sliding glass doors that opened with a Whoosh as the four paramedics hurriedly ran Rachel into the far too white hospital. The wheels clattered onto the tile floor, causing the desk attendant to look up from her computer. Recoiling slightly at the sight of Rachel’s arm, she looked up expectantly at the paramedics and, as if on command, the blond one peeled off to her desk. Not even hazarding a pause, the remaining paramedics rushed the stretcher further
into the bowels of the emergency room. White walls, white uniforms, white doors all flew by as Rachel sluggishly observed her surroundings. Closing her eyes to escape the white-washed world, Rachel exhaled audibly and relaxed the worry lines on her forehead.

Again, Rachel’s calm did not last long as the stretcher came rolling to a stop in front of one of the infinite white doors that lined the hallways. In the middle of the door,
a small window looked into the spotless room. Rachel watched as a hand grabbed the shiny silver doorknob and pushed the door open, revealing a barren room with three cots. One of the cots hid behind a filmy cream curtain while the other two had the curtain pulled back and the sheets immaculately tucked. Wheeling Rachel back to the furthest bed, the paramedics were followed in quick succession by a nurse dragging an IV pole. The paramedics stopped before the bed collapsed the short edges on the side of stretcher.

“Okay, can you stand and lie down in the bed?” the black haired paramedic asked.

Still shaky, Rachel responded, “I think so.” Hesitantly, she raised her left leg to hang over the side of the stretcher and used her good arm to lift her other arm as she sat up. Swinging her right leg to sit on the side of the stretcher, Rachel stood and cautiously stepped over tiled floor to the edge of the cot. Clumsily sitting back on the bed, the nurse rushed over to Rachel’s side fiddling with switches and attachments on the machines surrounding the bed. Glancing back to the foot of her bed, Rachel noticed the paramedics
had left, leaving her alone in the cavernous room with the preoccupied nurse. A voice snapped Rachel out of her thoughts.

“How are you feeling? We need to get some fluids in you so be ready for a small pinch,” the nurse stated matter-of-factly. Of course, those were exactly the wrong words to say as Rachel glimpsed the sharp needle the nurse was holding. Rachel’s breath quickened as her vision distorted and the needle seemed to be never-ending. “On the
count of three. Relax your muscles. One, two, three,” the nurse said. The needle broke the skin as Rachel looked away in abhorrence. Holding her breath, Rachel squeezed her eyes shut as the nurse tore off a piece of white tape and secured the needle in the crook of Rachel’s right arm. “Hold on a minute sweetie. I need to check on something. I’ll be back in a moment,” the nurse said in a soothing voice. Avoiding looking at either the needle in her right arm or the disfiguration of her left arm, Rachel stared at the ceiling as she heard the nurse’s footsteps exit the room. With the click of the door, Rachel realized the room was empty. Once again, no one was by her side.

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