Yesterday was incredibly frustrating. There is a St. Patrick’s day Parade on the East side of the city every year, and this was no exception. Whenever there is an event like this, everything gets closed off. Common thoroughfares are rerouted or turned into one way turns. Some avenues you cannot access unless you come from one direction and make a right/left, but not if you came from the other side, you’d have to turn back.
I had an appointment with my pain management Dr. yesterday afternoon. Usually it takes me 20-30 minutes to get across town. I live on the West side near the southern end of Central Park and I was going to Mt. Sinai up near East 98th street. This trip took me ninety minutes. After my Uber drove around my neighborhood for 20 minutes without getting more than eight blocks away from where we’d started, I realized I was going to be horrifically late. I called and surprisingly they answered (I’d sat on the phone for over an hour last time just to make my appointment). I explained that I was stuck in traffic and would probably be at least half an hour late, but would that be alright? The receptionist asked the Dr. and he said they would likely be able to fit me in. Everyone was having a hell of a time because of the traffic. I thought, well at least that’s something. Not a guarantee but we have none of those in life anyway.
So we attempted the 66th street transverse. Too much traffic, said my driver. He started uptown and then crossed over to the West side highway. That got us quickly to 96th street, where we attempted to head to the transverse once again but a kindly gentleman in a livery car going the opposite direction opened his window, asked where we were going, and suggested we take an alternate route because they weren’t letting anybody turn into the transverse except from the North on Central Park West. I exhaled loudly, frustrated, tired, in pain because car rides hurt my back, and tired. I just wanted to get to this appointment because I felt like it was the only thing that I could look forward to helping me and being kept from it by fate and traffic seemed cruel.
So we turned up Amsterdam and rocketed to 100th St. where we attempted to get to Central Park West. At this point I’d been in the car for almost an hour. I was trying to accept that there was nothing I could do and I would get there when I got there. Then I noticed something odd. We kept getting honked at. This is not that surprising because, even though it is technically illegal, everyone honks in NYC. It’s just what you do. At first I didn’t think anything of it. Then I looked at my driver. His chin was to his chest and his eyes were closed. He was nodding off. The honking roused him and he drove forward again. I didn’t panic. I know how I feel when I’ve been driving a long time. But I was concerned. I asked him, “Are you ok?” He said yes, just that in traffic since his brain is very active he gets bored and that makes him sleepy. I nodded in understanding but some small part of me starting screaming, “This is how you die!”
I decided that I had two options: I could get out of the car and try my luck with another Uber, or I could just ride this out and hope for the best. I had lost hope about getting there in any sort of timely manner but finding another car just seemed like a hassle I didn’t want to deal with. I figured, if this was the way I was meant to go, so be it. I also figured that driving at 2 miles an hour around the city was probably not a very dangerous way to travel so the chances of serious impact were slim to none. I stuffed my panic down and continued on our hellish commute.
The 96th street transverse was also packed. My driver, with no communication, turned away from the transverse and decided to go up and around the park. I think this took just as long or longer than any of our previous plans but he kept changing his mind. Finally around 105th st and 5th avenue I gave up, said, thank you for the ride, and got out to walk the final few blocks to 98th because it would just take less time.
I arrived for my 2:30 appointment at 3:30. The front desk asked me to have a seat and said they would try to see me but the wait could be up to an hour. At that point I was so demoralized by the trek that I was fine with whatever they could do for me. It turned out I only had to wait half an hour and my favorite pain Dr. came to get me. I thanked him profusely. We talked for a few minutes, caught up on the basics, and then he pushed and pulled me to see what was going on. Within two minutes he figured out it was my shoulder, had exercises to recommend, a steroid shot that I would need to come back for because they were too backed up to do it that day, and a course of anti-inflammatories, muscle relaxants, and lidocaine patches for me for the bad days. I heaved a sigh of relief. There was a plan, there was hope, there was help.
When my back hurts everything else falls away and I have trouble even thinking straight. To know that these things he was suggested would potentially bring me relief was enough to make the entire trek to the office worth it. The funniest moment for me was when he was going through the list of medications he could give me. I’m on 7 different medications, 6 of which I take every day, and most of them have serious drug-drug interactions. So he went through the list and said, nope, nope, nope, OK maybe this one, nope, nope, oh here’s one. I laughed to myself. What’s wonderful about this Dr. is he doesn’t judge at all. Some medical Drs. are very wary when you have psychiatric disorders that you’re either scamming for meds or you’re truly nuts and don’t deserve the same kind of care as a “normal” person. He’s not like that. He knows my pain is real, he knows why I have it, and he is still so kind and professional that he wants to make it better. If anyone wants a pain management Dr. in NYC, let me know. This guy is amazing.
I left the appointment, scheduled my follow-up for the steroid shot, joked around with the front desk for a little while, and went to stand downstairs to look for a cab. This proved to be an incredibly futile effort. Not only was I not the only one on the street corner, there simply were no empty cabs passing by us. While I waited, I figured I would call an Uber and just hope that they might get here before I found a cab. I think I stood outside for a good half an hour, first hoping for a magical lit up cab and then waiting for my very kind Uber driver to arrive. He called me twice to update me on his position and traffic, which I thought was very nice. Eventually his glorious Toyota Camry pulled up, with its rear door dented and painted an awful shade of gray and I thought it was beautiful. I was so grateful that he was there. I hoped for the best.
What followed was one of the most interesting conversations I’ve had in NYC. My driver was originally from Pakistan but had been educated in the U.K. He had been a successful business man and lost it all, twice. He was a world traveler. He only liked to have money in his savings so that he could explore. He’d driven from NYC to LA, from Paris to China, from the UK to the Middle East, from Melbourne across Australia, all over New Zealand. He had been caught in a landslide on a road in China for over 40 hours before he was rescued. Last week he flew to Richmond, VA just to have the coffee there. Sometimes he goes to Miami just for lunch. He’d seen and done and been and lived and adventured, enjoying every moment of it. We talked about how New Yorkers never smile, how everyone is always in a hurry. He said I didn’t look like a New Yorker because I was smiling. He thought I was a very good listener and very patient. I said life was too short to be anything else. He agreed. He was only driving for Uber because his finances were tied up in his business collateral which the U.S. government needs to see when you are attempting to move here, but it had been delayed because of our fine President Trump’s new regulations and the general attitude we have toward people from Pakistan.
This man was clearly very smart, a world traveler, had a wonderful outlook on life. I could see him being the center of a documentary and I was very tempted to give him my contact info. In the end I opted to take his stories as a gift, as a fine wrap-up to an otherwise stressful afternoon and a fateful reminder that there is good in this world, there is so much for us to explore, and we should make of this life what we can. He talked about success in terms not of financial gain but in making those in your life happy. He said, you find your true friends when you lose all of your money. I believe that. I added that for me success was being able to help people, even if just one person. He agreed and told me of his philanthropic efforts to help teach children in his home country by donating money and creating funds for them. He wanted the next generation to have more. I was so amazed at this man’s spirit. He was a light, a genuinely good soul, and I hope the best for him.