My own job became more hectic when the owner purchased two more businesses—a small marina on Lake Union, for which I would only manage the checking account, and the British motorcar dealership in Seattle, which I was to visit two or three days a week to audit their accounting records for signs of embezzlement before the buy-sell agreement was final. That task required trips across Lake Washington and back on the floating bridge, with its toll booths and gridlock traffic. I grew weary of it within the first week.
I also began to notice uncharacteristic behavior by my boss.
One day he came back from a late lunch to slouch down in a chair in my small office. "D’ya need anything? Check signed?"
"Ahh . . . as a matter of fact, yes," I answered, almost struck speechless by his sloppy posture, half-open eyelids and slurred words. Could he be inebriated? I wondered. "We could use a new desk-chair for the receptionist."
"Get it. Anything you want." His eyes closed, and for an instant I thought he was falling asleep. "You can get anything you want." His eyes opened again.
"Good, thank you." The recent request of the Parts Department manager for a back-counter phone joggled my brain. "Parts really needs a phone installed on their back counter."
"No!" He sat upright in the chair and glared at me. "Absolutely not!" With that, he rose and left my office for his own on the upper level.
I decided to go ahead and order the needed phone. It just didn’t strike me as efficient or good for business that the mechanics, the paying customers, or a telephone caller should have to wait for service.
Often, after I arrived home from work, I’d change clothes and do some yard work. Mike would mow the lawn while I prepared flower beds and planted seeds for colorful annuals. I enjoyed contemplating future flowers instead of automotive accounting, and it helped to reduce the stress from my job. I soon discovered that last year’s landscaper had heaped clods of weedy sod together to create our raised beds. I spent endless hours pulling the trailing white roots of what someone told me was Johnson Grass. It was a thankless job, and I finally surrendered to applying an herbicide. It wasn’t long before we discovered that the dwarf cherry trees we’d specified were, in fact, not dwarf. Another landscaper mistake—to be expected when both of us were away at our jobs while the work was being done.
My evening art classes ended in June, about the time that Mike’s target-shooting matches began. Weekend ones we would attend together, staying in our truck and camper along with our German shepherd. Duchess was still a well-mannered traveler but, now fourteen years old, no longer the robust dog that could jump onto the tailgate of our truck with ease. She’d try a couple of times, then let Mike lift her up into the back of the camper. These short retreats from the work-world were refreshing intervals for us, away from the pressures of daily routines.
That summer was particularly hot around Seattle, with temperatures nearing one hundred degrees. Although I worked in an air conditioned office, Mike spent his workday out in the sun on road jobs where the fresh asphalt surface temperature could be 150°F. or more. The type of weather that caused his appetite to fail and his body to burn extra calories coping with the heat—prime conditions for insulin trouble. Each day my worry meter peaked at the top of the scale, regardless of my attempts to concentrate solely on my job.
One day the inevitable happened. My desk phone rang, and I picked up the receiver. "This is Helen."
"Hi Helen. This is Gary Meyer, Mike’s supervisor at the county." He sounded anxious.
"Yes, Gary." I knew the name. My heart began to pound. "Is something wrong?"
"Yes. He’s acting really strange, not making any sense. Tipsy when walking. We suspect his ulcer is bleeding again. He won’t let anybody near him, not even the paramedics."
"Where are you? Exactly?" I asked, my heart throbbing, my hands cold.
"The job shack at the Kirkland project, on 128th."
"I know where that is," I said, pulling my purse out of a desk drawer and rising from my chair. "It’s probably an insulin reaction. I’m on my way." Damn!
"No," he responded before I could hang up the phone. "We think his ulcer is bleeding again."
They could think whatever they wanted. I realized then that they probably had no idea Mike was an insulin-dependent diabetic. We never told anyone. "I’m on my way," I responded, then added, "I should be there in fifteen or twenty minutes. Don’t make any sudden moves toward him."
I hung up the phone, grabbed my demo keys and called to Flo that I had an emergency to handle as I sped through the outer office toward the service department. I picked a quarter out of my purse, slipped it into the slot on the pop machine, and punched the button for "Orange Soda." That in hand, I rushed to my demo and headed for the freeway. Dear God, let me get there in time.
In minutes that felt like an hour of driving, I pulled up at the job shack and parked. Two fire department aid units were there and three or four other vehicles. I unfastened my seat belt, seized the cool can of soda, exited my car and, wiping my sweat-soaked forehead on the sleeve of my shirt, hurriedly climbed up the two stairs into the job shack.
There he sat, behind a large metal desk, holding a crowd of twelve to fifteen onlookers at bay with his clenched fists at the ready and the look of a killer in his steely-eyed glare.
I stepped close to him, popping the soda can open as I moved forward. "Hi Mike. You’re having some trouble. Know who I am?"
"Yeah," came his uncertain reply.
"I brought you something cold to drink. I figured you might be too hot." I held the can out to him, poised so that the opening would face his mouth should he attempt to drink.
He took the can. He took a drink. Then another.
I was checking my watch, noting when fifteen to twenty minutes would be up, when a paramedic spoke.
"We need to get him to the ER, ma’am."
Another added, "He could be bleeding inside!"
"No," I calmly responded to the first paramedic, then looked the second one in the eye. "His face would be pale. This is an insulin reaction. He should start to come out of it in another few minutes."
I gave Mike’s shoulder a light rub as a sign of encouragement, a sign that a friendly force was present. He looked up at me and took another sip of soda. I was glad he was thirsty and glad to see his still-clenched fist start to relax.
The onlookers watched in silence as the minutes ticked by, not one of them daring to make a move.
I checked my watch. It was approaching the fifteen minute mark. "Mike? How you doing now?"
"Better." He began scratching the top of his head, and I knew he was nearly back to normal. "What happened?"
"You were slipping into a reaction," I told him. Gary called me at work, and I came right out. You need to thank these people who tried to help you in spite of your combative behavior." I would share the story of his resistance with him later, when we were alone. I knew he’d take pride in his report of detaining a passel of people, including four paramedics, and add it to his repertoire of medical tales.
He took another sip of the orange soda, then cleared his throat to speak. "Thank you, everyone, for trying to help me. Sorry I caused a ruckus. I didn’t mean to."
The collective sigh of relief in the room was unmistakable. People smiled as, one by one, they approached Mike to shake his hand, pat him on the back, and offer phrases like, "Just glad you’re okay," "You sure had us scared," and "It’s okay, buddy. It’s over now."
Gary was the last to speak. "Well, Mike old boy, that was some adventure. The workday is pretty much over, so if your wife will take you home, I’ll follow along with your county truck. I’ve got a summer-hire with me today, and she can follow in my county car and take me back to the office."
Once at home, Mike and Gary visited in the shade on our back deck. He shared his astonishment at how quickly Mike came out of the reaction. Mike, I believe, felt a little embarrassed that so many people tried to help him, not knowing what the problem was. He’d never had a one-on-one talk like this with his supervisor, and I was certain that their working relationship would benefit from it.
Gary refused my offer of a snack, but I fixed one for Mike, then retreated into the house while they talked on. I had a conversation of my own to complete.
Dear God, thank you for getting me there on time. Now that his secret is out at work, please help Mike to take better care of himself. And, please, don’t let the county fire him for not revealing it sooner. Thank you.