We’re on the third floor of an apartment building whose elevator doesn’t work. In the tiny efficiency apartment, layered with dirt, an old skinny man with dreadlocks says he didn’t call us, and why are we bothering him. The man’s body reminds me of a Biafrin child’s it is so emaciated. We’re here because a man who follows him as part of a church outreach group has decided he is just too sick to stay by himself.
“You got to go,” the thick-necked man says. “You can’t stay here. You got to go and get cleaned up and get checked out. We leave you alone, you’re going to die.”
“Give me my peace,” the frail man says.
The room is piled with papers, opened bill envelopes, a stack of several cases of Ramen, some half-full bottles of cranberry juice. I see a paperback copy of a book called “Ellison’s Key’s to Success” on the windowsill. On the bed is a library edition of Ellison’s How to make your first Million.” On the wall I see a taped photograph of a healthy man in a purple velvet shirt standing with two smiling younger men wearing earrings.
“You really should go in to the hospital and get checked out,” my partner, a precepting medic says. “You look like you have some gangrene on your feet. That needs to be taken care off.”
“You got to take him,” the man in the doorway says.
“We can’t take him against his will,” my partner says, “But I think he’ll agree with us all that the hospital is the best idea. They can cook him a warm meal, a change of pace from noodles, and get a nurse and a doctor to look you over. How about it?”
“I ain’t got no clean pants,” our patient says.
“Here’s some here,” my partner says. “They look like they’ll do. Let me give you a hand with them.”
The man is still reluctant to go, but my partner who is very patient, keeps at it, and slowly starts to move him along to getting his things in order.
The man in the doorway says to us, “What you all need is a beamer. Something you could just press and beam him to the hospital so you wouldn’t have to mess with all this getting him up, getting him dressed, carrying him down the stairs, everybody watching, just a beamer to beam him right to the hospital.”
“Well, that would sort of put us out of work now, wouldn’t it?” my partner says.
“No, no man,” the guy says. “You’d still need someone to come out and check him out and make certain he needs to be beamed, and that he gets beamed to the right place. You couldn’t put that beamer in the hand of any old fool. You’d need training like you people got. Couldn’t have him being beamed to the wrong doctor or into the wrong century for that matter. You’d still need the paramedics to come out and do their job. All I’m saying is it would make it easier on you and the patients – the getting to the hospital part, that’s all.”
“If you put it, that way, I guess it would be okay,” my partner says, as he gently slips the man’s pants over his blackened feet.
Later, as we carry the man down the stairs in our chair, barely feeling any weight at all, but watching his pained face as he looks at the water-stained stairwell of his apartment building like maybe it is the last time he will be seeing it, I think about the future, about the days when we might have beamers in our jump kits. I imagine myself waving a beamer like a magic wand. Maybe with enough practice, instead of just being able to beam people to the hospital, we’ll be able to treat them right there. Beam their ills and pains away. Beam fresh paint on the walls. Beam the Ramen into roast beef, the cranberry juice into wine. Beam away their hard luck. Beam them back to a happier time.