Past episodes Reader's Guide to the Nostrum Universe Nostrum Correspondence Corner
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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
Nothing gets the juices flowing quite like a medical emergency. Of course, those juices have to flow in a certain logical progression, a series of response phases as predictable and as orderly as a Nazi wedding.
The first response to a medical emergency is no response at all. That is, the event is usually so outside the expectable that to begin with, no one is aware of its reality. This disbelief can last only a few seconds, or can be protracted almost indefinitely (witness the fans who still think that Andy Kaufman faked his death, based on his lifelong history as a professional faker). In the case of Melvish the Novice tumbling down the main stairway at Algren-on-the-Beach High School, half the people in the vicinity do not even bother to look in his direction as his small freshman body goes kloppetta kloppetta kloppetta kloppetta until reaching its inevitable halt at the bottom. Two Policians are walking up the stairs while Melvish is rolling down, and one of them is rather annoyed to have to momentarily get out of the way of this plummeting LDer, and makes a snide comment accordingly. A runner from Algren is sitting at the bottom of the stairs practicing the Hindu Shuffle so that he can amaze his friends with some newly learned card tricks, and looks up at the first kloppetta to see Mr. Lo Pat sitting at the top of the stairs with his eyes wide and his mouth open in a large round silent O, but doesn't even notice the avalanche that is Melvish until the Quilty novice is sprawled out next to him. It is this runner who is the first to react.
The second response is the attempt to analyze the severity of the situation. The runner/magician at the bottom of the stairs stands up and leans over Melvish's rumpled, twisted body. "What happened to you?" the runner asks.
Melvish looks up at the boy, who is still maneuvering cards from his right hand to his left hand without disturbing the top of the deck. Melvish recognizes skullduggery with the pasteboards when he sees it, but this is not the moment for a discussion of sleight-of-hand technique. "I fell down the stairs," he explains.
"No kidding. Are you all right?"
Melvish tries to pull himself up into a sitting position. One or two of his limbs do not seem to be amenable to the process. "I think I broke something," Melvish says.
"Does anything hurt?"
Melvish thinks for a minute. The shock of being one minute at the top of the stairs and the next minute at the bottom of the stairs has worn off, to be replaced by some very real pain in his left arm and his right ankle. "A couple of things," he answers. "I think I might have broken some bones."
"I'll go get somebody," the runner says.
By now the third response is occurring, which is the collection of a crowd of onlookers. As a falling tree cannot make a sound if no one is there to hear it, so any accident cannot be said to happen if it is not ringed by full contingent of mindless gawkers. These onlookers perform no actions to ameliorate the situation, and sooner or later must inevitably be told to stand back (and, in extreme cases, to go on about their business), but they are as integral to an accident's reality as wheat is integral to the reality of rigatoni. The onlookers at Algren include both Policians and LDers, but as yet no adults, nor any fellow Quilty debaters.
"Stand back. Come on, stand back."
Those words mark the beginning of the fourth response, the arrival of the Responsible Doer. In this case, the Doer is Nip Sazo, who breaks through the crowd to tend to young Melvish.
"What happened?" Sazo asks, bending over the novice's crumpled body.
"I fell down the stairs," Melvish replies.
Melvish and Sazo both look up. Mr. Lo Pat is no longer looming at the top of the stairs. "I don't know," Melvish says honestly.
"Can you move?"
Melvish nods. "Yeah. But I don't want to. My ankle is killing me. And my arm."
"Okay. Don't move then. I'll get somebody." He straightens up. "All right, everybody," he commands, "go on about your business."
The crowd of mindless gawkers reluctantly disperses.
"I'll be right back," Sazo says to Melvish.
The fifth response is the arrival of the concerned friends and loved ones, in this case Bob Cratch and Tom Abelard.
"What the hell happened to you?" Abelard asks, looking down at his teammate.
"I fell down the stairs," Melvish replies. At this point, that's his story, and he's stuck with it.
"I think I was pushed."
Bob Cratch whistles the screechy zweet zweet zweet of the Psycho soundtrack.
"Who would want to push you?" Abelard asks.
"I don't know. Maybe I pissed somebody off."
"Melvish, you piss people off every day of your life, usually more than once a day. I don't think that would explain it."
"Well, I don't think I just fell of my own accord."
Abelard and Bob Cratch look up the stairs.
"There's nothing there," Abelard says.
"There's nothing there now," Melvish says. "He got away."
"Who got away?"
Melvish shakes his head. "That's the mystery, isn't it. The man that got away."
Bob Cratch and Tom Abelard exchange glances. "Should I break out in song," Abelard asks, "or should you?"
"He wouldn't get it," Bob Cratch responds. "Way over his head."
"If he was smarter, we'd be funnier."
"Ain't it the truth. Ain't it the truth."
At this point Nip Sazo returns, heralding the sixth and last phase of the emergency, namely, the Arrival of the Trained Professionals. "I called the ambulance," he says. "They'll be here in a minute."
"I told you something like this would happen!"
Sazo turns to see Mr. Lo Pat whirring along the hallway toward the accident scene.
"They have no adult supervision," Mr. Lo Pat says sternly, "and now there's a medical emergency, and who is here to take care of it?"
"I'll go with him to the hospital," Sazo says.
"You have a tournament to run, my good man. You can't leave in the middle of it."
"Then who will go?"
Mr. Lo Pat shakes his head. "It's obvious, isn't it? I will have to go."
"No buts. Just keep an eye on my Lodestone students. I'll be back as soon as I can." He rolls over to Melvish. "Well?" he asks. "What happened to you?"
Melvish looks up into the eyes of his attacker, but there is no recollection of the precipitating event that sent him to the bottom of the stairs. And if there is any relief visible in Mr. Lo Pat's eyes, Melvish does not recognize it. "Would you believe I fell down the stairs?"
"How did it happen?"
Melvish pauses. "I don't know. One minute there I was , and the next minute there I wasn't."
Mr. Lo Pat sighs. "I knew something like this would happen. I just knew it."
"I don't want to go to the hospital. I want to at least find out if I broke."
"From the looks of it, you at least broke your arm. That should be enough breaking for one day."
"It's starting to really hurt," Melvish says.
Mr. Lo Pat gulps involuntarily. "I'm sorry," he says. He looks over at Sazo.
"The ambulance should be here any minute," Nip Sazo says soothingly.
At those words, the sound of a siren is heard approaching from the distance.
Everything will be all right. Soon. Sort of.
Which is why Nip Sazo is something of a nervous wreck. He has survived his entire coaching career without any serious medical mishaps until now, when a student has decided to take an injurious dive down the main stairs of Algren High School. Couldn't he have waited till next week and taken his flier at the Venerable Bede? Sazo does not bother to put on his coat to fight the autumn chill as he goes out to the car to fetch the last of his ferrets. He is too distracted thinking about the possibilities of other disasters to worry about his own health. If all of this weren't bad enough, the ballots will be coming in soon from the fifth round, and he will have to schedule the elimination rounds, plus print out the results of the prelims. A two-ferret situation if there ever was one, he thinks as he opens the trunk of his car.
He wheels toward the speaker, his breath taken by surprise.
"They told me inside that you are running this tournament."
Sazo nods. The man is big and darkly tanned and mostly bald, wearing oversized aviator-frame sunglasses. He is wearing an open black overcoat over a business suit.
"My name is Starbuck. Tom Starbuck. I'm an attorney. I represent Hamlet Buglaroni, of Nighten Day school."
Sazo's eyes open wide. "You got here already. The ambulance only left five minutes ago."
Starbuck moves in closer. "What ambulance? What are you saying? Did something happen to Buglaroni?"
Sazo tries to think. "Wait a minute. You said Nighten Day?"
"Okay, then. This kid was from Quilty. I know that. So he isn't yours."
"What happened to him?"
Sazo shrugs. "He fell down the stairs. Broke his ankle, I think. Nothing life-threatening."
Starbuck nods. "That kind of thing must happen all the time with you people?"
"What do you mean, you people?"
"You know, high school people. With kids. They're reckless, as a general rule. I've got kids myself. I know the breed."
Sazo is beginning to believe that the arrival of this Hamlet Buglaroni's attorney is unrelated to the recent event. "So what can I do for you, Mr. Roberts?"
"The name was Starbuck. And what you can do for me is allow me to audit the tournament today, to get a feel for what goes on here."
Sazo smiles. "I have no objection to that. I love for people in the community to get a feel for the debate life. The kids are mostly gathering in the cafeteria now, waiting for break round announcements. You can probably find your client in there." He turns back to the trunk of his car. "You wouldn't mind helping me carry these cages back into the school, would you?"
Starbuck looks over Sazo's shoulder. There are half a dozen ferrets in separate cages in the trunk of his Oldsmobile. "You want to bring them all in?"
"I was going to bring in two, but maybe I'll do four, just to be on the safe side. You can't be too sure about these things, you know."
"No, I don't know. But I guess I'm going to learn."
"I guess so. Welcome to the wonderful world of debate, Mr. Christian."
Will Mr. Lo Pat abandon Melvish at the hospital?
Will Melvish suddenly remember the face of his attacker?
Will a ferret poop on Starbuck's oxfords?
If we were funnier, would you be smarter?
Will the war with the Evil Webmaster ever end?
Reach for the steers in our next cow-punching episode: "Wagons, ho! Or, what are those women doing in those conestogas?"
Go to the next episode due Mar 1, 2000.