Friday, May 21, 2010

Do Emergencies Matter?

The rain wept down, not hard enough to justify an umbrella, but somehow hard enough that after the brief walk from my car to my door every inch of my clothes held a frosting of wet. Inside I shook off, wiped my face on a towel, and immediately advanced on the kitchen. The smell of spicy-sweet bar-be-queue, one of my favorite foods, came out of the crock-pot, and while the insides needed a stir or two, dinner was well on its way to ready. Deep in consultation with my kitchen scale and a bag of tator tots, I heard something. Unsure, I asked my husband what it was, someone at the door maybe? Not the door, he confirmed, but then it came again, a quiet tapping, hesitating.

We made it to the door at the same time. Neither of us thinking to push aside the heavy coats, umbrellas, and caps that hung over the peephole. We don’t have many visitors and in a building where someone has to be buzzed in the weak tapping raised an alarm. Opening the door we found our neighbor, a frail Asian man, stooped and wrapped in a worn blue bathrobe.

“Need,” he began, but then ran out of breath. “Help,” he exhaled. In his hand, wedged awkwardly between the steel walker and his palm a cordless phone shook. His whole body shook and he repeated his phrase, “Need…. Help.”

Panicked, with visions of dead bodies and EMS, we rushed out of our apartment and into his. We’d never been inside but quickly passed the polished dark wood, the stunning purple orchards, and the clean white carpet. Asian character newspapers scattered on an ottoman were the only thing out of place. After our quick sweep we returned to the man who pointed the phone at the television and repeated his plea for help. Thinking he meant the room behind the TV, I swallowed my fear and checked: no body in the kitchen, no body in the dining room. Back in the living room the nature of the emergency became clear.

“Twenty-four,” the old man insisted, pointing at the TV. He then pressed the buttons on the phone with a violence borne of frustration. My husband, a man with patience I will never muster, calmly reached over and replaced the phone in the man’s hand with the television remote. While my heart rate returned slowly to normal a long debate took place about how to get to channel twenty-four.

An emergency had forced my elderly neighbor into the hallway, to knock on the door of someone he didn’t know. That emergency was not knowing how to change the channel on his TV.
Back home, I wondered about the nature of emergencies. I’m still wondering about it now. By nature, I’m a private person, I wouldn’t knock on one of my neighbors’ doors unless there was a grave injury, blood spilling, or some catastrophe. But the rules that make something an emergency are a little less clear. I miss a call from my agent, clearly that’s an emergency. Skip an evening’s work out, stop making a healthy snack, and get to that call. A friend calls in crisis, maybe not an emergency, certainly not enough to make me delay dinner, but maybe enough to keep me up too late, on the phone talking until I know I won’t get up in time the next morning to meet my writing goals.

Some emergencies send people into a spiral of unhealthy eating, skipping exercise, and isolating themselves. Other emergencies just elevate stress levels, breaking down the body’s natural defenses and leaving it vulnerable to illness and injury. But are they worth it? Are they really emergencies? What makes an emergency in your world? Can you separate the real emergencies from the not so important ones? When you do, can you find a way to diffuse the situation before it causes more problems?

I’ll be preparing for emergencies by putting a ready to go healthy meal in the freezer for nights when I lose my cooking time. I’m going to plan a few quick work outs for when phone calls eat up my exercise time. I think a few low impact, easy to do half-asleep routines will come in handy for the mornings after an emergency. As for writing, editing and organizing means I’m still accomplishing things on days when I’m too wiped out to be creative. I can’t stop emergencies from happening, but I can change how I handle them.


When she’s not cooking, buying, or dreaming about food Rachel Kleinsorge writes steamy paranormal mystery romances. She is currently waiting for the call from her agent, the amazing Carolyn Grayson, while working on her next novel.


Sally Kilpatrick on May 21, 2010 at 7:12 AM said...


This is great food for thought. I'm afraid I'm one to drop what I'm doing at the hint of an emergency. I definitely need to do a better job of thinking ahead.

I LOVED your story. I was on the edge of my seat wanting to know the emergency--and to think it was the need for a new channel. I feel so bad for that older guy; he just wants to watch his program.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on May 21, 2010 at 9:11 AM said...

Good advice, Rachel. I hate it when things pop up (emergencies or not) that derail my plan for the day/routine. But it's good to have fall-back plans for when that happens.

While reading your story, I thought the neighbor wanted to find the show 24 to see what Jack Bauer was up to. :) Though it is sad that he was confused enough to think his phone was his remote.

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